Teen Council at Park City High devotes week to safety amid rape culture
May 16, 2016
Olivia Andreini and Jackson Kelly don’t want their friends to be the next victim — or perpetrator — of sexual assault.
As campus rape has become a well-publicized problem across the country, including at Utah’s two largest universities, the startling reality about college sexual assault has become clear: It happens all the time. In fact, one in five students will be victimized during their college careers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Andreini and Kelly, seniors at Park City High School, are among those who believe the education system in Utah doesn’t do enough to inform students about the dangers they face. They are on the Summit County Teen Council, a Planned Parenthood organization dedicated to having students teach their peers about sexual health and safety.
The need for the group’s efforts was never more apparent to Andreini than when she took the school’s online health class. She found the course’s section on rape to be shockingly inadequate.
"It was absolutely absurd," she said. "The only page on rape was how to protect yourself, and it literally says, ‘If you put your hair in a bun, you might not get raped.’ And there’s nothing about avoiding violent situations or teaching people not to rape."
The Teen Council is stepping in to ensure students are getting the knowledge they need. The group is hosting a series of events this week at Park City High School as part of Respectful Relationship Week.
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A panel discussion about how parents can talk to their teens about sexual safety was scheduled for Tuesday, May 17. On Thursday and Friday, members of the Council were set to hold "Know Before You Go" lessons for seniors about consent and bystander intervention. Additionally, a free community screening of the documentary "The Hunting Ground," which exposes the extent of campus sexual assault, was scheduled for Thursday, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the PCHS lecture hall.
"What we’re trying to do is teach kids the boundaries and identify the way to say ‘yes’ and the way to say ‘no,’" Andreini said.
The prevalence of misinformation is one of the biggest hurdles the Teen Council, in its second year in Summit County, faces. Many students, for instance, believe non-verbal gestures can qualify as consent. Others, spurred on by the hook-up culture, think getting drunk and having sex is an essential part of the college experience. The truth, though, is that nothing short of an explicit "yes" from someone sober and in a normal state of mind, counts as consent.
That message — as well as information about sexual health and contraceptives — really sinks in for teenagers when delivered by their peers, Kelly said.
"It’s a lot easier to talk to us about these subjects because it might be something that’s difficult to talk with your parents about, depending on family beliefs or just their relationships," he said. "Or teachers either feel like it’s weird for them to be teaching that, or they’re not allowed to. So when it’s with us, it’s a very easy and open discussion."
Andreini and Kelly have seen progress in their two years on the Teen Council. At first, many of their friends and classmates did not take them seriously. They’d laugh off the issue of sexual education because, even among friends, it can be a touchy topic. But as the Council has become more well-known around school, Andreini, Kelly and the other students involved have grown into a valued resource.
"It’s easy to laugh when you feel uncomfortable," Kelly said. "But the longer I’ve been in this program, more and more people come up to me with real questions that really matter, like, ‘My condom broke and I have a pregnancy scare: What do I do?’ That really matters."
As Andreini puts it, the students on the Council have become "empowered to be a source of information." For her, it’s been a life-changing experience, one she will take with her to college next school year. And unlike many students in Utah and across the country, she will be armed with the information she needs to help protect herself against sexual assault.
"I really found my passion for this through Teen Council," she said. "We didn’t really know what it was when we joined. But we’ve developed a passion for social justice and advocacy."
For more information about Respectful Relationship Week or the Summit County Teen Council, visit plannedparenthood.org.