It's increasingly clear that rape culture in America is a problem that isn't going to go away, no matter how much we wish Brock Turner would be the watershed moment that marked a turning point. We now have a man who declared proudly that he grabbed p*ssy as president; nothing says more about the priorities of American culture than that. Fortunately, the situation has galvanized many people into action — and one of the organizations on the forefront of consent education for America's teens is SafeBAE (Before Anyone Else). If you didn't know about them, you need to.
SafeBAE is unique in many ways; it was founded by four young women who were sexually assaulted as teens in high school, and have gone on to try and turn their trauma into insight. Jada Smith, Delaney Henderson, Daisy Coleman, and Ella Farion have a vision: an America where people are educated fully about consent and sexual assault young, in a bid to stop rape culture in its tracks. Together with sexual assault activist Shael Norris, they're genuinely changing the world.
The importance of good education around consent and sexual assault can't be overstated, but, particularly in abstinence-only environments, some American schools are resistant to producing that material themselves. SafeBAE's program, with educational videos and recommendations for activist "squads" and what they can do in their school, is rapidly gaining public attention.
Bustle got the chance to speak with the co-founders of SafeBAE on their journey, goals, what's next, and what they really want to tell teen survivors of sexual assault. Here's how they're tackling rape culture — and what we can learn from their methods.
Why Talking About Consent Early On Matters
When it comes to making a real change in the way people think about consent, a new movement is gaining momentum: talking about it early. Consent workshops at colleges are being deemed too late to make effective change when so many people are becoming sexually active earlier, and when impressions about sexual activity are formed in adolescence.
"If you wait to have the conversations with students until well after they have gone through the early stages of social development around dating," the four leaders of SafeBAE tell Bustle, "the die is cast. Trying to unlearn rape culture has yet to be done. But if you reach students before or just as they are really starting to tackle these issues in their socialization, you can help to reframe how they see their peer culture."
The organization did considerable consultation about the best ways to tackle rape culture, and found one theme that ran strongly through every recommendation they sought: "Every student, faculty member, direct service provider was clear about one thing — we cannot be waiting until college to have discussions about consent and healthy relationships." The main obstacle was "the myth that talking about these issues leads students to having sex early." To spread the idea further, consent advocates need to battle against notions of youth promiscuity and the "benefits" of abstinence.
The New Idea: Student-To-Student Communication
One of the intriguing things that SafeBAE brings to the table is a new model: giving students themselves the power to talk about rape culture and educate other pupils about consent, rather than leaving it to teachers. "For decades," SafeBAE says, "the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has been an issue gaining momentum, but it was only when students really took the charge that the tipping point came about in post secondary education. This is really what laid the foundation to be able to have the conversation in secondary education." It's an interesting innovation on any previous models of sex education, but can it really work?
SafeBAE certainly believes it can. They believe that it is "crucial for the message to come from other students. The unprecedented coming together of these young survivors in a public way, in order to prevent what happened to them from happening to anyone else, is a message all students can hear and digest." It's unquestionably powerful that survivor testimony may be able to influence other kids, and while it's still unclear whether that experience has more influence than adults trying a top-down approach, it's a hopeful start.
The other aspect, SafeBAE points out, is that students often "desperately want to be change-makers in their communities," to make real differences and have genuine debates. It's an urge that SafeBAE is harnessing to help create genuine grass-roots action; all four of SafeBAE's goals ("engage students to take up action in their schools, demand their rights, petition for consent education and support survivors to be able to come forward") are based on students leading the way, though SafeBAE itself provides the materials for ways they can get involved.
What An Ideal World Of Consent Education Would Look Like
So what's the ideal time to talk about consent? What model should we be pushing for? SafeBAE, like other thinkers including Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, believes that it should begin in childhood. "In an ideal world, consent education would begin in pre school as students begin to discuss bullying and consent for simple things like sharing and chasing on the playground," SafeBAE tells Bustle.
As children develop empathy, according to this perspective, you can also help them to develop notions of their own boundaries and what they shouldn't do to other people. It's commonly believed that children start to become empathetic from around age four, but often don't fully understand empathetic concepts until six or seven. Starting consent education young could tie into this natural development, according to SafeBAE: "When you teach children from an early age how to be compassionate and empathetic humans that have autonomy over their bodies and a responsibility in their treatment of other people's space, it makes the segue into conversations about sexual consent much easier laster on. Bullying and sexual assault take place when one human being sees another as an object or an "other" not in need of compassion or the same kindness you would show a friend."
What To Do If You Want To Help
SafeBAE's resources are mostly focused on high school students, but there's one particular way in which you can get involved: hosting screenings of the film Audrie & Daisy, which was released in September, and which features the co-founders of SafeBAE themselves. They've also worked on a curriculum for high school students in those schools that screen the film. SafeBAE also, however offers a different kind of help: a direct line to survivors of assault, teen or otherwise.
Part of SafeBAE's message is that it is always available to provide help and support: "The most important thing to know is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You are believed. You are supported. There are many other survivors out there just like us. One of our pending goals is to create a survivor network to share information, support one another, and raise awareness."
All images courtesy SafeBAE. If you want to find out more about SafeBAE, visit their website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.