While wandering the half mile to Sprinkles in Scottsdale on a bizarre weekend trip across the country, a group of men appearing to be in their mid to late twenties walked by. As they did, one decided to stop and get in my face, yelling some hybrid hyena-banshee noise. The guys cackled at my startled response, which was jumping and barely managing to stop myself from punching him in the face. As they strutted away laughing, I wondered why it was suddenly hard to swallow and what that sinking, hyper-aware feeling was growing in my stomach. It was familiar.
It was the shame of objectification. It was the terror of someone’s entertainment at my expense.
With this small experience and the “me too” hashtag, movement, or whatever you may call it overwhelming the internet, many other memories, similar and significantly worse, have wedged their way back into my consciousness. It seems that every moment of sexual harassment (including assault) shares the same root. When thinking towards next steps of such overwhelming problems, understanding and cutting out the root is the first step.
The root of all sexual harassment and/or assault is not uncontrolled sexual desire. The root is selfishness. It is using the fear or shame of another person for your own gratification. It is disregarding the desire and autonomy of another person to fulfill your own.
In order to address these issues in our ministries, we must teach our students to lay down their desires and carry the respect and honor of Christ. In regard to this, I have identified a few practical steps the model and teach this to my students.
No jokes/pranks at the expense of another person
This will look and feel like being a stick in the mud, at times, but it will encourage respect and empathy. Whether it comes to jumping out to scare a friend or telling someone a fib to “freak them out,” that’s a no. This teaches students that it isn’t okay to take joy from someone else’s pain. As “playful” or harmless as a joke or made up story may seem, the point is still to insight fear in order to receive entertainment. This is the same root as using intimidation to solicit sexual contact or gratification from an unwilling or hesitant part.
No means no
I say this so often, some of my students will say it before I get a chance. In a way, it has become a bit of an eye-rolling matter to them, but they have it engrained in their brains. If it’s tickling, hugging, and holding onto someone to take their hat (or whatever other random things my middle school boys do), it is unacceptable for our students not to honor what someone wants with their own body. With middle and high school students who are navigating these new ways of relating to their peers and adults, their understanding of boundaries and appropriate touch is often blurred at best. It may seem overbearing, but setting these parameters helps students understand healthy boundaries. They see their body as their own and learn how to say no and feel empowered. They also learn to respect the desires of others before it comes to sexual relationships.
No pressuring or bribing
This is one not everyone will agree with, but put some serious consideration into the effects of this on how a student views their autonomy and learns to trust themselves. Moments of trauma have many effects on their survivors. This includes guilt, which leads to a lack of trust in self. We are called to be a place different from the world. I want my students to learn, heal, and encounter Jesus in safety. One aspect of this is understanding that a student knows themselves better than I ever will. I challenge and encourage them to step out of their comfort zones, but pressuring or bribing is off the table, because I don’t know them better than they know themselves. Often, it is a choice to check my pride and trust that Jesus loves them more than I ever will, and that learning and healing comes with the power to choose it. Pressuring or bribing a student tells them their instincts or assessments are incorrect, conveying the message that they shouldn’t trust their judgement. Rather, we should aim to love and encourage our students in wisdom.
As people who love and lead the next generation, it is our job to love them toward the people Jesus has called them to be. It is our responsibility to teach our students to be people of honor, empathy, self-control, and compassion. This starts with the culture we create and perpetuate with our students.
Sidney Hays is the Student Life Coordinator at Northstar Church in Loveland, Ohio. She is a University of Cincinnati alum and is returning to get her Masters in Social Work. She is passionate about bringing people, especially students, in and helping them find their place in God’s story. Mental health, foster care, psychology, Reds baseball and One Direction are some of her favorite topics of conversation. You can connect with Sidney on her BLOG, TWITTER or INSTAGRAM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.