Some good can come from something bad. This time it's the huge shift in consciousness around sexual harassment and assault, ushered in by the interminable list of high profile predatory personalities. Starting this past fall with producer Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexual harassment and assault, a stunning number of TV personalities, actors, news anchors, chefs, journalists, and politicians have been accused of sexual transgressions.
The mile-long list of pariahs includes actors Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck, TV hosts Matt Lauer (no less!) and Charlie Rose, comedian Louis CK, chef Mario Batali, Senator Al Franken, candidate a Roy Moore and of course, Mr. Trump himself. These situations have resulted in a loss of positions and power for them, shattering the silent complicity that protected them for millennia.
It has the feel of an epidemic. Every week brings scores of new testimony from women publicly sharing their experiences, including the avalanche of women through the #MeToo campaign. But with all the accusations and public outrage, not much attention has been paid to how to prevent sexual harassment or assault in the first place. Many of us grew up with workplace policies and harassment training for employees in place. Little good they did. The power dynamics were not stacked in favor of their success.
But actually, sexual abuse has been epidemic for some time. Sit down for a heart to heart with good friends and chances are very high that they'll all have sexual harassment/assault stories to tell. That's why #MeToo has had a resounding 1.7 tweets as of last October, and more than 12 million posts, comments, and reactions regarding "Me Too" on Facebook. A startling one in four girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18. The experience of sexual abuse for a young girl can have devastating effects: distorting her self-concept, her orientation to the world and her capabilities. High rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, dissociative disorders, interpersonal dysfunction, sexual problems and suicidal ideation have all been associated with women who survived child sexual abuse.
Nobody told us about how to prepare for sexual abuse. For centuries these things were not spoken of. But the time to change all that has come. Young girls should be taught at an early age, to protect themselves and reduce their vulnerability to sexual assault using prevention strategies early in their school years.
Project BOLD: Teaching Empowering Self Defense
Girls Inc. does exactly that. Teaching self-defense and empowerment to young girls decreases sexual harassment and violence. Multiple studies have proven that comprehensive education is the most effective and long-term solution to harassment and assault prevention. Trained, experienced educators are needed to help young girls realize they have the strength to stand up to this epidemic.
The New York Times reported research that has shown that empowering self-defense programs (ESD) like Project BOLD have decreased assaults by half." Compared with a control group, ESD-trained young women reported fewer attempted assaults and experienced fewer and less-severe completed assaults.
Girls Inc's Project BOLD uses an empowering model of self-defense. Girls learn to sharpen their instincts, to listen to their intuition and sense dangerous situations. They learn how to set boundaries and to boldly and forcefully say "no" to unwanted advances, de-escalation, and negotiation skills they can practice every day in school and at home, and finally nonviolent self-defense techniques---physical, martial arts skills to stop unwanted behavior at times when their voices are ignored.
While the majority of sexual harassment/violence prevention strategies are focused on increasing knowledge or changing attitudes, having little or no effect, Project BOLD is experiential. Project BOLD teachers complete a training before teaching empowerment and self-defense techniques to students (typically ages 12 to 18). Their short-term goal: helping girls get away safely. Giving girls the mental and physical strength and skill to stand up to inappropriate behavior is the longer term, overarching goal.
Since most schools don’t offer these courses yet, organizations like Girls Inc. of New York City have a vital role to play in sexual-violence prevention. Bold Girls Inc. role models provide girls with the mindset as well as the skills/techniques to challenge a culture of sexual assault and to teach them how to deal with inappropriate comments, unwanted touching, and coercion. Honest discussions about age-old sexual power dynamics are part of the program. Project BOLD sexual awareness/assault curricula, as well as professional, well-trained staff, to teach empowerment and self-defense strategies to give girls invaluable skills throughout their lives. Also stressed: girls sexual awareness/assault education should not be about blaming girls and women for their clothing choices or seductive behaviors or about thinking all men are predators.
This is a watershed moment in time. We are poised to take advantage of this epic culture change to teach; to provide strong smart and BOLD leadership to make the shift in societal norms forever permanent. Let our voices continue to be heard, to end the ubiquitous sexual harassment and assault that begins at puberty, to create a new culture of respect and a clear knowledge that sexual abuse, on the street, in the workplace, the community, in schools or in the home, will no longer be tolerated.