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More talk, action needed to end dating violence, Concord High students say

  • Concord High School student Lila Khanal (right) participated in a panel following Respect Week at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster speaks during a panel discussion following Respect Week at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Concord High School student Anna LeBrun speaks during a panel following Respect Week at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • A panel to reflect on Respect Week was held at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School student Lila Khanal speaks during a panel following Respect Week at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Concord High School student Anna LeBrun (left) participated in a panel following Respect Week at Concord High School in Concord on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Sophie Johnson (left), Kate Richards and Brenna McNamara talk about sexual and dating violence among teenagers outside Concord High School on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. CHS just finished its second year of Respect Week, a nationwide effort to discuss ways to end dating violence in high schools. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, February 22, 2018

Months after the #MeToo movement brought new energy to efforts to end sexual violence, members of the Concord High School community say more work still needs to be done to teach young adults how to recognize and talk about harassment and personal boundaries.

Enter Granite State Respect Week, an initiative from the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence focused on doing just that. The campaign, modeled on a national effort, finished its second year at the high school last week and was capped off with a panel discussion led by New Hampshire congresswoman Annie Kuster.

“Teenagers, in general, are hesitant to jump onto an idea,” said Kate Richards, co-president of the Feminism Now club at CHS. “#MeToo gave us real-life examples.”

In some ways, the #MeToo movement and Respect Week has made it easier for students to recognize the widespread nature of sexual assault, said CHS senior Anna Lebrun, who ran a photo booth at the Tuesday event.

“I think it’s becoming more of an easier thing to process when you see it all over the news,” she said. “I don’t think we see it here so much – but we’re able to learn about it here and apply that to what we see on the news.”

And seeing so much of the movement take place online can be empowering for LeBrun’s generation, she said.

“If a lot of people who need help or support for any kind of thing going on, if they can see other people doing it on social media ... they might think, ‘If this person did it, I can too,’ ” she said.

Lebrun and Lila Khanal were two students who helped organize Respect Week and took part in the panel. They said the week gave them the opportunity to talk to their peers about what dating violence is.

“Obviously, not everyone feels comfortable talking to someone who is going to say something about it,” Khanal said. “If you talk to a counselor, then your parents might find out, and I might not want my parents to find out about a specific thing I did. Amongst peers, you might be more comfortable because they’re not going to say anything, but it all depends on how you want the problem to be confronted.”

But sometimes, it’s difficult for young adults to determine what, exactly, counts as dating violence.

The state’s 2017 Youth and Risk Behavior Survey found that the percentage of teenagers who were physically forced to have sexual intercourse against their will has changed little in 10 years, going from 7.2 percent in 2007 to 6.3 percent in 2015, the last time the survey was conducted, and to 5.8 percent in 2017.

The number of students who experienced sexual dating violence saw more of a change, although over a shorter reported period. Students who said they were forced to kiss, touch or have sexual intercourse with someone they were dating one or more times during the 12 months before the survey went from 10.2 percent in 2013 to 11.7 percent in 2015, to 7.3 percent in 2017.

Those numbers change if you look at the data through gender and race.

But Aimee Tucker, a counselor at CHS, said the data don’t tell the whole story.

“That particular survey didn’t go into unhealthy behaviors and patterns, borderline abuse behaviors,” Tucker said. She characterized those behaviors as constant texting when one partner is out with friends, showing up at a workplace unannounced, threatening self-harm if broken up with, and telling someone what to wear.

“I think those are the behaviors students are becoming more aware of,” she added.

Leslie Barry, a health teacher at CHS, noted that students who haven’t been educated on the subject of dating violence might not recognize some of the terms used in the survey. Or, conversely, they may be familiar with slang terminology, but not the technical terms.

The survey also doesn’t address the subject of consent or coercion, something Barry said featured prominently in the Respect Week materials this year.

Tucker said that while the #MeToo discussion has allowed students to recognize abusive behavior, the more subtle actions that can escalate to that behavior can get lost in the discussion. When a student comes to her with an issue, Tucker said, she shows them examples of abusive behavior in order for them to make the connection themselves.

“Teens get enough preaching,” she said. “They get told what to do a lot, and if you try to do that they’ll push back, which is normal. It’s more helpful to them to say, ‘This is what you’re bringing to me, what do you think?’ ”

The prominence of social media in young adults’ lives can make recognizing inappropriate behavior more challenging, said Sophie Johnson, also a CHS student and a co-president of Feminism Now.

“It’s like a realm without rules,” she said. “There are jokes that can cross the line, and on social media you sometimes can’t see the line. You don’t know if someone is serious, or joking.”

That’s why CHS senior Brenna McNamara said continuing to have difficult conversations around sexual violence beyond Respect Week is key.

“In years to come, we need to focus more on topics of rape and sexual assault,” she said. “It’s bad, and we need to talk about it more. ... If we can’t talk about it, how can we make changes to end dating violence?”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)