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Katie M. Shipp: Addressing sexual violence with young people

May 20, 2024

By Katie M. Shipp
Trib Live
4 min read

As the academic year draws to a close, it’s important to spend some time reflecting on the lessons our children have absorbed over the past school year and the values we hope they will carry with them as they journey forward.

Amidst the current landscape punctuated by headlines such as the recent reversal of the Harvey Weinstein verdict, alongside a relentless stream of narratives echoing across the nation daily, we are starkly reminded that even in the post #MeToo era, we as a society are still wrestling with the realities and consequences of living in a world where sexual violence is alarmingly prevalent.

As an attorney who represented survivors of childhood sexual abuse for over a decade and now travels across the country teaching students about consent, healthy relationships and preventing sexual assault, I urge you to spend some time with your children having these critical conversations

The I Have The Right To organization has reached over 10,000 students. Through conversations with these students, I have learned that young people not only need to but are eager to learn more.

One in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Despite this, 76% of students report never having a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others, and 70% wish they would have received more information from their parents.

Whether we want to admit it or not, this is a part of our children’s world, and just like we put a seat belt on them before we start the car, we must prepare them in order to protect them.

I Have The Right To was conceived from a personal and harrowing experience of sexual assault that shook the Prout family to its core. When Chessy Prout was only 15, she was the victim of an assault that not only scarred her but also shattered her and her family’s faith in the institutions supposed to protect her. The trial that followed was a public spectacle that underlined a stark reality — that sexual assault is not an isolated issue. It is a reflection of deeper, systemic failures, societal biases, and the disturbingly high level of institutional complicity.

At I Have The Right To, we have committed ourselves to creating an ecosystem of respect and support for all survivors of sexual assault. We passionately believe in the strength of a community.

Survivors need to know they are not alone. They need to know there are people who understand their experiences, who will listen to their stories without judgment and who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their battles for justice.

Our work is centered on advocating understanding, promoting prevention, changing attitudes and behaviors, and lobbying for policies and practices that protect individuals and bring perpetrators to justice. It is about recognizing the intersectionality of victims’ experiences and acknowledging the disproportionate impact of sexual violence on minority groups.

Education is a critical aspect of the I Have The Right To mission. We strive to inform students, parents and educators about the gruesome realities of sexual assault. We provide resources to help them understand the magnitude of the problem, recognize the signs of assault and respond effectively when they witness or experience it. We also encourage schools to educate their faculty and staff on the prevalence of sexual violence among students, as understanding and acknowledgment of the issue is the first step toward addressing it.

Prevention, too, is a cornerstone of our work. We collaborate with schools to review their policies and procedures related to sexual assault, with the aim of ensuring clarity, comprehensiveness and proactivity. We firmly believe that every school should have a code of conduct that safeguards all students and provides clear guidelines on preventing and responding to incidents of sexual assault. We advocate for transparency, accountability and a proactive approach to preventing sexual assault.

Despite the heavy nature of these discussions, our feedback consistently is described as positive by students, educators and parents alike. We focus on the proactive steps everyone can take to lessen the occurrence of sexual assault in our schools and our communities. Our curriculum teaches students about aspirational masculinity, being an upstander, and teaches about the meaning of consent. We believe these important lessons are key to prevention.

Prevention goes hand in hand with respect — respect for oneself, respect for others and respect for boundaries. This is a message we emphasize every single day of the year. We believe that safety starts with respect and until every student is treated with the respect they deserve, no student is truly safe.

We must build connected communities that value and promote social and emotional education, that meet survivors where they are in their healing journey, and that strive to create strong, connected communities that take care of one another and make decisions to ensure the safety and well-being of others to end sexual violence.

Awareness is the first step toward change. Let’s commit to continuing these conversations, educating ourselves and others, preventing sexual assault in our schools and communities, and supporting survivors. Because when all is said and done, we all have the right to safety, respect, and justice.

Katie M. Shipp is executive director of I Have The Right To, an organization focused on fostering healthy relationships and teaching kids about consent. She lives in Pittsburgh and is a part-time professor at Point Park University and an active board member with the Women’s Law Project.

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