Teens are demanding sexual assault awareness courses, with demand skyrocketing in Ireland.
Some 16-year-old boys are taking charge of their schools to educate them on how to recognize and respond to harassment.
A law professor who developed the course said she’s had instances where students who took it stated, “Now I know I was raped on my debs.”
Professor Louise Crowley, Lecturer in Law at UCC, launched her Transition Year Viewer Intervention Scheme in seven schools in Cork last year.
But after an increase in demand, 48 schools across the country are now teaching the program to boys and girls around the age of 16.
For the past month Prof Crowley has trained 140 teachers across Ireland to deliver the course, which teaches students how to recognize an incident of sexual assault or harassment and how to safely intervene.
She said that in some cases, teenage boys have asked their teachers to introduce the course to the school.
“This teacher emailed me and forwarded an email she received from a fifth grader at school that said, ‘I just heard someone from UCC on the radio. As boys in the class, we would really love it if we could learn that,” she said.
“The guys themselves picked it up, it was phenomenal and really impressive I have to say.”
Prof Crowley said the premise of the course, which she wanted to ’embed’ in schools by training teachers on it, was ‘that if you observe something unacceptable and ignore it, you’re playing a part of the problem’. .
The course, originally designed for college students, was modified and made age-appropriate for secondary school students after those who completed the course said it was too late to start it at the third level.
Prof Crowley said the bystander intervention program has also made young people think differently about their own experiences, sometimes only realizing afterwards that they may be survivors of sexual assault.
“I’ve had experiences with students coming up to me and saying, ‘Thanks for the training, now I know it wasn’t my fault, now I know I was raped at my debs,'” she said.
“They live with that pain where they’re like, ‘It was my fault, I was drunk… I didn’t say no loud enough…’ all those myths that are out there. There is a real freedom they gain from knowing. My pain is that it’s too late, they didn’t have information, they weren’t given the chance to learn and understand their position, the law, their rights.”
The program is being introduced for transition year students because they have room for it in their curriculum and they are of an age where parents are receptive to having them educated on the subject.
At Maria Immaculata Community College in Dunmanway, Co Cork, school chaplain Elaine O’Sullivan and first year director Sinead Meade were trained to deliver the course.
“I think we’re teaching them about right and wrong. We teach them dignity and respect. It’s about helping them to intervene in a safe way when they witness wrongdoing. I found that very powerful,” said Ms. Meade.
“I think what we feel here is that we have to prepare them for life.
“Sometimes it’s about looking at and tackling difficult issues, and the most important thing is getting people on board who know the subject,” said Ms. O’Sullivan.
Caroline Lynch, a teacher at Bandon Grammar School, was recently trained to offer the program to her students.
She said her school chose to teach the course because it “embodies everything that we would want our students to”.
“We want them to have empathy,” she said. “We want them to stand up for each other. And we also want them to be empowered.”
Tadgh Connery, 21, a senior psychology student at UCC, is now promoting the third-level bystander intervention program on his campus, but believes it should be introduced at a younger age, especially for boys.
Mr Connery attended primary and secondary schools for boys in Cork, which he said he liked.
But in hindsight, he feels uncomfortable with some of the “boy culture” that can prevail in such settings.
“I remember sitting in a classroom at lunch and listening to guys comparing the number of girls they moved after one night,” Connery said, adding that he was “uncomfortable” with the conversation.
He said he understands that secondary education needs to be age-appropriate, “but it’s never too early to teach people respect”.
He said there has been an increase in men enrolling in the college-level program, “but we could always have more.”
“It’s not all men, but it’s often men who commit these acts and that’s something we need to address,” he said.
Anne Cleary is a teacher at the Coláiste an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork, who introduced the course.
She said the course “empowers” the boys she teaches and it “gives them a voice to speak and they all participate.”
“What the guys are saying is, ‘I get it now,'” she said.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/teenagers-demanding-class-on-how-to-tackle-sex-harassment-41598747.html Teens demand lessons on how to deal with sexual harassment