Sexuality Education is a Life-Long Process

by Sarah Elliott, Sexual Violence Specialist, The Advocacy Program at Umbrella (Newport Office)

Having just completed my first WholeSomeBodies workshop, I believe that this is the key to getting sex education into schools. After seeing participants’ realize how much the world impacts us as adults, and even more so as children, it’s evident that this is a workshop anyone working with children should attend.

As an undergrad, in order to graduate I had to take “Seminar in Educational Inquiry” and complete a final research project. I did mine on why sex education needed to be taught beginning at an early age and continued as a set program throughout the school years. At that point in my life I had never done advocacy and the only sex education I got was the “puberty video” in sixth grade and family health and wellness my junior year of high school. I had taken Intro to Psychology and Human Growth and Development as college courses but other than that, I had no idea what the world of sexuality education meant. I recently read over the paper I wrote, dated December 3, 2008, and from what I have learned since working here and attending many trainings, I was actually on the right track. Some of my information is not quite accurate and could use updating, but for the most part, even at that point in my life seven years ago, I knew something needed to change. I also knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy thing to do. In my 2008 paper I said,

“Sex ed is difficult to teach because controversy surrounds the subject from religious, parental and societal perspectives. If a parent does not want his child to learn about sex, can the school override him? Students are sent to school to learn what is right, so is it all right for a parent to deny his child the right to learn, when sex ed is only a subject Continue reading

The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate at AWARE, and trusty four-legged sidekick Marley

Many of you who are reading this are well aware that domestic violence has a significant impact on the physical and psychological well-being and healthy development of children, even if the children are not the direct victims of that violence.  In this post, I’d like to turn your attention to another resident of the home who experiences the same negative impacts of domestic violence, but may not always be viewed as a victim of domestic violence.

The Connection

From hermit crabs to horses, domestic violence can have a profound impact on our pets.  Many people consider their pets to be a part of the family and that makes violence directed or threatened at our pets all the more serious.  The National LINK Coalition works to educate people on the connection between human and animal violence.   They see animal abuse and neglect as the tip of the iceberg in domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse situations.  In other words, animal abuse is generally a warning sign that the perpetrator is capable of other forms of violence if he Continue reading

Great video on how kids’ brains are built!

Hi Friends – taking a minute to connect you to Let’s Grow Kids!

Let’s Grow Kids, a Vermont statewide public education campaign, aims to raise understanding of the importance of the earliest years in the lives of Vermont’s children. Funded by a collaboration of private foundations, Let’s Grow Kids is working with Vermont communities, organizations, businesses and individuals to create positive lasting change that will allow all of our children to succeed in life.

Did you know that our children’s earliest experiences literally shape how their brains are built? Science tells us that during the earliest years, when the brain is developing most rapidly, children need nurturing relationships with adults and stimulating learning opportunities, like reading, singing, talking and playing, for healthy development.

Watch this excellent 4-minute video by The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative explaining the brain science of early development—and the factors that contribute to preparing our children for success:

How Brains are Built: The Core Story of Brain 

To learn more about early childhood development, check out Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide public education campaign about the first years, at

Let’s Talk About College: A Look at Sexual Violence in Campus Culture

by Ally Manousos, Prevention Program Coordinator, Sexual Assault Crisis Team

It’s the time of year when high school seniors are cramming for tests, applying to colleges, and anxiously awaiting acceptance letters in the mail. They’re getting ready to embark on a new phase of their life, full of independence, growth, and learning. For anyone who has a loved one on this journey, they know there are plenty of mixed feelings; there’s excitement, nostalgia for their little one becoming an adult, and at the back of their mind (if not on the forefront of their thoughts) there is a small aching fear about everything that could possibly go wrong. Recent statistics show that 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence while attending college. Considering the fact that sexual violence is a historically under-reported crime (so the stats may be higher than we realize), and that around 24 million people are enrolled in college in the United States, this is not a statistic we can take lightly.Featured image

Ending campus sexual violence has been at the forefront of many discussions in the media lately. With the establishment of the recent White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, this issue has gained national attention signaling positive change and action to improve the lives of many thousands of students. The Task Force is responsible for the new Campus SAVE Act, which holds colleges and universities more accountable than ever before when it comes to responding to sexual violence. This is great news because it is forcing colleges and universities to review their policies and ensure they are meeting the needs of victims who want to report. However, although stricter requirements from the administration may slowly help with reporting and adjudication, this is not solving the root of the problem- rape culture is rampant on college campuses nationwide. Rape culture is “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm. In a rape culture,both men and women assume that sexual violence Continue reading

5 Things About Sexting that Aren’t Legalese

by Amanda Rohdenburg, Director of Advocacy, Outright Vermont

1. First things first:  Sexting is a slang word created by pushing ‘sex’ and ‘texting’ together.  So then ‘sexting’ is a sexual text exchange, sometimes including nude pictures.  It can happen through a whole range of social media (Facebook, Twitter), electronic devices (computers, camera phones, tablets), and applications (i.e. SnapChat).

2. All ages of people send these types of messages, not just teens.  Members of Congress, celebrities.  It’s endorsed openly in popular magazines; in 2013 Cosmo published an article listing partial nude pics among activities on so-called first base. The roots of the abuse of this media aren’t in the technology or the kids; they’re embedded in the same sexist, violent bedrock that supports all kinds of sexual violence.

3. Consent is a huge concern when it comes to sexting. Consent can only exist when there is a balance of power including: awareness of consequences both positive and negative–AND what it means for the relationship; Continue reading

I’m Not So Sure How to Say This: Is Preventing Rape Different from Promoting Equality?

by Kerry Holden, Violence Prevention Specialist, Umbrella

 The Green Dot Bystander Intervention Strategy was touted to be bold, fun, effective, and interesting. What people forgot to tell me was it is blatantly not feminist and, in fact, purposefully left the educational path of gender socialization, historical and persistent sexism, and healthy relationships. In just the first hours of the training, I heard something along the lines of:

“If we continue to follow the expectations that the majority have of feminists, of people who come into classrooms, community centers, and onto campuses to discuss gender inequality and socialization, we will continue to be ineffective and the sexual assault numbers will continue to rise. We need not to turn every single citizen into a social justice-blaring, femi-nazi, though that would be pretty awesome, but what we do need to do is stop rape. And we need to stop it now.”

The training continued to put words and research to a phenomenon I had not yet described but know all too well: individuals tend to tune out and opt out of participation in my presentations. Violence prevention, rape statistics, media literacy, gender socialization- I could not imagine how the topics could be more interesting. Fortunately for me, there are always a solid handful of individuals who endeared themselves to my social-justice framework and had done some research and thinking of their own. But males, popular students, jocks, drama nerds, red necks, loners all remained elusive to really diving into the material. You name the clique and I promise you, I have tried to get them on board.

Admittedly, I was relieved to hear my experience was not unique. Though, as stated and restated throughout the training, it was my responsibility to change my experience and that of the individuals with whom I work.

If someone has tuned out of your presentation, it’s not because they’re a real jerk or basking in their male privilege or because they hate women. It’s because your presentation is boring and, likely, they’ve heard it all before.

The Green Dot Bystander Intervention Strategy operates on one basic premise: most people fundamentally disagree with violence of any kind. If you can agree with the one premise, you too can prevent sexual assault and interpersonal violence. Do you think violence is terrible? Don’t think rape is okay? Happen to greatly enjoy your male privilege and refuse to own up to it? Great. Let’s end rape.

Here’s a scenario that nudged a shift in my thinking:      Continue reading

It Takes a Village: Understanding Gender Bias and Shifting Masculine Culture

by Matt Renaud, Youth Advocate and Prevention Educator, AWARE

Over the past couple of months, the work I’ve been doing in some of the area schools has begun overlapping with some of the work I’ve been doing in other aspects of my job as  Youth Advocate & Prevention Educator.  In Hazen Union School in Hardwick, which is the combined middle and high school for Hardwick and surrounding towns, I’ve been collaborating with the school counselors to deliver a curriculum that we pieced together from a number of different sources.  We’re calling it “Understanding Gender Bias” and the goal is both prevention-oriented and also response-oriented, as the eighth grade in particular has been experiencing some gender stereotyping and sexual harassment issues.  A number of 8th grade boys have been wearing t-shirts that say either “Cool story babe, now go make me a sandwich” or “If you can read this, you should get back in the kitchen.”  Both of these shirts have been referenced in a previous blog post by Tori Nevel from Wise.  In addition to wearing these t-shirts, some of the same boys have started identifying as “meninists,” arguing that boys and men are oppressed in this society just as much as girls and women are.  As of yet, I have not been able to locate any empirically validated research supporting this argument.

The “Understanding Gender Bias” curriculum recently came to an end, as we had reached every 8th grade student and we are in the process of tailoring it more specifically to other grade levels for future use.  At the same time, I’ve been working closely with a group of students from Hazen Union who attended a UMatter Conference at the beginning of the school year.  The students were awarded a mini-grant of $500 to use in helping to educate their peers about suicide prevention and the students were asked to choose a specific type of harassment to focus their peer education on.  The Hazen students chose to explore the areas of gender equality, gender bias/stereotypes, gender identity, and sexual identity.  The group of students that attended the UMatter conference plan to ultimately work with Outright VT to host a school-wide assembly focusing on education around these topics.

Simultaneously, AWARE has been hosting a monthly meeting of our Community Allies, which is a group of people from all walks of life in the community that essentially volunteer their time to help make the community more aware of domestic and sexual violence and how people can get involved in both prevention and support efforts.  This group has specifically been addressing the question of how to get more men involved in this work over the past few months.  As someone who identifies as male, I’ve been working closely with the Community Allies on this effort.  It’s a great opportunity to get input from people from all different backgrounds, whether they are survivors, therapists, doctors, law enforcement officers, nurses, representatives of various faith communities, or parents.  The consensus that the group has gradually come to over the past couple of months is that the best way we can engage men in this work or, at least to prevent abusive behavior, is to connect with them at a young age and to be nothing more than a positive role model and a source of emotional support.  I say “nothing more than” with the complete understanding that this is no small task.  However, for people of good will, it doesn’t require you to do anything more than what you already do every day.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that many boys and young men who have abusive tendencies at an early age are lacking a positive male role model who can teach healthy emotional regulation techniques simply by being themselves.  Many times, it’s a positive male role model that these young men are lacking – a “guide for their masculine souls,” to borrow a term from Joe Ehrmann (retired NFL player and creator of Coach for America).

Whether it’s in school, at home, in the grocery store, or on the street, our words and actions are impacting and influencing every child, teen, and young adult we encounter –whether it’s a positive or a negative impact.  In this sense, the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” really does ring true.  The community of Hardwick really seems to be taking that idea to heart by engaging young people in discussions around gender stereotypes and sexual harassment.  This is one of the biggest rewards of living in a rural community like Hardwick and I know it’s the same for many of you reading this in other rural communities – when we really put our minds (and our hearts) to it, we can truly make a lasting positive impact.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

by Emily Fredette, Educator at Women Helping Battered Women

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month All month long, adults and teens across the country will be raising awareness of teen dating violence and engaging in conversations about relationships.  Teen Dating Violence is defined as a pattern of violence or coercive behaviors that someone uses to gain and maintain power and control over a current or former dating partner.  Statistically 1 in 3 teens will be a survivor of dating abuse in their lifetime, and two out of every three teens know a survivor of dating abuse.  It is an issue that is all too common in teen relationships.

This February, give the power back!  Allow teens to take the lead in raising awareness and facilitating conversation. 

Need a few ideas for engagement?  Here’s what you can do:

  • Participate in conversations about safe and healthy relationships. Check out this conversation guide from   Ask, listen, and validate youth opinions and experiences.
  • Wear Orange on February 10th! Orange is the official color for teen dating violence awareness.  Dress yourself from head to toe in orange to show your support.  Encourage other adult allies to dress in orange too.  Take a picture and post to social media!
  • Promote awareness events during Respect Week 2015. Some ideas include hosting a relationship jeopardy game, getting athletes to don orange gear during a sporting event, or host a bake sale and donate the money to a local DV agency.  Allow youth to take the lead, and support them to make it happen.
  • Provide information about resources and support available for you. Make sure youth know where to access accurate information and confidential support.  Look for a Vermont Network program near you.


How to Talk to Your Kids About the Dress Code: Part II

by Tori Nevel, intern at WISE, Lebanon, NH 

Anyone with young people in their lives is likely to face challenges in supporting their kids in making choices about their appearance. School dress codes are established with the assumed intention that they will foster appropriate decision making around clothing choices. Unfortunately, dress codes often perpetuate the sexualization of girl’s bodies. If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I (see below) of this series, we recommend that you do. Part II is picking up right where we left off, with more pitfalls and conversation starters around dress codes.

  1. It might be a lesson in focusing on people’s thoughts and actions, not appearance

Disregarding people because of how they look is not only a disservice to them, but also to you and all you may have missed from getting to know others. Encourage your child to get to know people and what they can learn from them, rather than judging a book by its cover.

  1. It might be an opportunity to talk to your son

Oftentimes, dress codes are both written, and enforced much differently for boys and girls.  While girls are sent home or humiliated for showing too much shoulder, what about boys wearing shirts saying “cool story babe, now go make me a sandwich” or “if you can read this you should get back in the kitchen” (both seen in my high school, both allowed to remain in class).  Hold your son to the same standards as your daughters in terms of the presence they have in school, and make sure he’s not wearing clothes that are rude or devaluing others.

While boys may be viewed as funny for breaking the dress code, girls have their moral Continue reading

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Dress Code: Part I

by Tori Nevel, intern at WISE, Lebanon, NH 

Every spring, my high school principal would send a letter to girls’ homes that stated, “As weather starts to heat up, don’t forget to cover up.” And every spring, dozens of girls would be sent to the office for dress code violations.

The story is not unique to me. My sister has been called down to the office for wearing shorts above her fingertips, my mother for shorts above her knee, my grandmother for pants instead of a skirt, and I’m sure if my great-grandmother were still alive she would be recounting the story of getting in trouble after her ankles were exposed under her skirt. The story is also not unique to New England, the United States, or even the Western world – dress codes exist almost everywhere, just in different forms.

I’ve talked a lot about girls here, but I just want the parents of boys to know that this post is just as important if not more important for them.

This is not to say that dress codes are all bad, or don’t serve a purpose, but there seems to be some common pitfalls, so here’s how to avoid them.

  1. It has nothing to do with ‘respecting yourself’

Telling girls (and not boys) to “respect themselves” by covering up is a line with the underlying assumption that for girls, to be sexual or perceived as sexual is to not respect oneself – which is both untrue, and sexist. We are also assuming that the clothes one is wearing directly relates to their sexual activity. The next step in this line of thinking is victim blaming rape survivors by asking, “what were you wearing” after an assault against them.  This teaches girls that they are responsible for other people’s behavior based on the consumption of their bodies, and that they are never safe because in any environment they may be open to comments, judgment, or violence because of the bodies they live in. This also teaches boys that there are some people who deserve respect and others who
don’t, and that this is based on how those people look. We can instead reinforce that every human deserves respect, no matter what they look like, because they are a fellow human on this earth.

  1. It’s not about ‘protecting yourself’

Women and men are sexually assaulted in all manner of dress. Telling girls to ‘protect themselves’ by covering up makes it seem like men merely glance at someone they find Continue reading