Trigger Warning: Relationship violence references.
I put my rubber bracelet on, the kind designed to stand for a cause. This one is purple, and was made for a classmate of mine whom I knew, but not very well. I remember her huge mass of beautiful curly blonde hair, bright red lipstick, and thickly applied mascara. I remember her laughing with her friends in the smoking lounge at our school. I bet she had no memories of me. We traveled in different circles, having nothing in common in the eyes of teenagers who are often too nervous to get to know each other, in case the feelings of friendship or admiration are not mutual.
I wear this bracelet this weekend because this woman – someone I knew – was murdered by her husband, before he turned the gun on himself.
I wear this bracelet because some – many – close friends have survived abusive relationships. I’m sure there are others I love who have experienced the same, but I don’t know about it. Will never know about it. They are all in my hearts.
This weekend I went on a writing retreat with a friend and colleague and decent headway on a manuscript about youth understanding of consent when there’s alcohol involved. The scenario we write about happens countless times every day: a young woman has something to drink, ends up with a guy, and there is sex – or is it rape? That is what the participants in the study are asked to untangle. The results show confusion. The findings scream a call to action: to better teach young people about not just their desires and limits, but of others’ desires and limits. To make sure that conversations about relationships, alcohol, and consent happen honestly and often. To let them know that it (consent, sex, desire, relationships) is a difficult topic, which is why we should dive in, not hold back.
I look at the paragraph above and wonder if I wrote something that was offending/victim blaming/wrong. Even I am not educated enough in the language to feel confident. I’ve been working in sexuality education for almost 20 years, and I am still afraid. For most of my career, I have purposely avoided talking about relationship violence in my classes; I would bring in guest speakers or just tell the students to review the chapter. I knew that in my class, there would be survivors and there would be perpetrators. To teach the topic in a detached way, I thought, would be more of a disservice than not addressing it at all. I’m not sure that was the right decision, but it was the one I made at the time with the skills that I had.
And now I am writing about the topic with the guidance of someone who has more practice and courage than I do. After a weekend I am still hesitant, still wondering how to put words on a page that are accurate but do not perpetuate the myths, the victim blaming, the silence. I hope to learn and gain confidence to at least address violence in relationships, because people I love have experienced violence. Because I no longer believe a sexuality education program can ignore this topic. Because, while I remain committed to teaching sexuality education through a positive lens of relationships and health, I understand that we still have to talk about what might happen no matter how much “prevention” we teach. Because I’m not going to go so far as to say “no more,” but I want the level of awareness to rise and the conversations to happen. So I apologize if I say something wrong – I’m trying and learning. I believe that trying is better than silence.
Today I am grateful for all the people who choose to share their stories of relationship violence. I also thank those who support them – whether they are aware of it or not.
This post is written in honor of Lauri Hove. I’ll never forget your beauty.