Friday, August 16, 2013

The Things I Learned From Teens During My Presentation On Rape

So yesterday I went into Stevenson High School to do a presentation on sexual assault for 55 peer leader teens. These teens were amazing and engaged. Great listeners, asked good questions, had really interesting things to say. Plus, they now all have the number to RAINN (1-800-656-HOPE) plugged in their cell phones so if the 90 minutes that I talked didn't cover it, then hopefully they can talk to others if they need it.

Below are the highlights from the presentation:

1. These teens don't really use FaceBook anymore. I've suspected this was coming and have heard rumblings, but there you go. It's possible this is a regional thing, but I feel much better about my general ennui re: FB. So I guess I'll just keeping posting videos of Butter singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and that's good enough. And as for all the other social, maybe I'll just keep my ancient blog and my Twitter account and call it a day.

2. Affirmative consent and "yes means yes" was a pretty new concept to these teens. We need to be better about this. A lot of issues could be solved if we educated people about getting a solid yes right before engaging in sexual activity. It's not difficult and it also helps people figure out boundaries and what they want. Lots of colleges are now making this part of their codes of conduct. Learn more here. (Side bar: it also would be helpful if every teenager knew the legal definition of rape.)

3. "Hate me now, thank me later". One of the groups yesterday said this and I loved it because it dealt with the issue of willingness to be unpopular in order to prevent problems. This could cover so many things, not just sexual assault. We talked a lot about Steubenville (though none of them had heard of the case) and how bystanders from 3 different parties had witnessed that happening and no one was willing to step in and stop it.

4. Having an adult who could help. I particularly was impressed with these teens understanding that there are times when they can't do anything and at that point, they need to find a trusted adult. In YA books, we frequently make adults disappear from the picture, but the reality is that they are still very much a part of teens lives. We even discussed having a "no questions asked" adult who you could call if things were uncomfortable.

5. Empathy and compassion. These teens were really incredible and empathetic to the survivors' stories I told. None of them disengaged. They all seemed to want to do something about this issue. I'm always worried about hitting teens with too much, overwhelming them to the point where they can no longer care, but honestly, they all seemed to be right there with me the whole time.

6. Glee. Yeah, so that reference went right over their heads. And High School Musical (which I was joking about) was definitely not on their radar. (I do know that HSM is for young children--give me some credit). The point is that there's just no way to keep up with all of this different media (what the heck is Project X?) so the best thing is to listen and ask questions.

Overall, it was a great presentation. Lots of good stuff came out of it. I could've talked for 2 more hours, but that's usually the case with me. And full disclosure: I did say the "sh--" word four times so there's a chance I'll never be asked back. Though I hope for the best.

Thank you, Stevenson High Peer Leaders. You all are incredible and I'm super proud of the work you're doing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

My IndieGoGo Campaign and the awkwardness of asking for money

As most of you know, the plan for my book Fault Line was always to donate 50% of the proceeds from it back to the Voices & Faces Project survivor testimonial writing workshop. Last year, my advance helped to fund a Chicago workshop. But this project and this work means so much to me, I wanted to do more. So two friends and I came up with the idea of doing a crowd funding campaign (via IndieGoGo) to sponsor a rape survivor workshop in New York City.

Okay, it's one thing to donate your money to something you believe in, but it is TOTALLY different to ask people you care about for money. I mean TOTALLY different. It's awkward and makes me itch a little bit. I imagine it makes the person I ask it from itch a little bit too. What if they can't do it right now? What if they already have a cause they support and don't want to split themselves in two? What if they just don't have extra cash on hand? What if they're tired of hearing about rape victims from me? What if they are just overall experiencing compassion fatigue?

Here's the positive: as of day 5 of the campaign, we've raised $1100. This is amazing. I mean SO amazing that I cry every time I see that number. And I cry at every email about new donations (because that $1100 came from the hearts of many, many people). There's been so much online support and love and RTing this campaign on Twitter, and mentioning it on FB and Tumblr. You have NO idea what it means that so many of you are spreading the word about this.

Here's the hard stuff: we have a ways to go. And I don't know rich people. We're writers, most of our spare money is spent on books or conferences. And I'm grateful that we have 40 days left of this campaign, and I'm grateful that I have two friends doing it with me so I don't have to raise this huge number by myself. But...$13,900 in 40 days, and it still makes me itchy to ask for money.

I talked to a friend about how hard it was and she said that maybe I needed to remember what I loved about the workshop and talk about that. And maybe then instead of stressing about the awkwardness of asking so much, I could be in a place where I could put 100% of my energy into just appreciating how much love people have shown for this project.

So here's what I loved about the workshop:
It was two days of reading and writing with a very eclectic tribe of people who all came from different places and who all had one commonality: they were survivors of violence. And in those two days, I learned more about the strength of the human spirit and the bottomless well of compassion than I ever had in my life. I walked out of the door at the end of the workshop knowing that something had changed in me, something had changed in all of us. And it wasn't just that we knew we weren't alone, it was more that I knew this was the way to start slowly building an army to take on the seemingly insurmountable task of dismantling rape culture. Being in that room with these incredibly strong people who had not only survived violence but had committed to doing everything they could to stop its perpetuation was like seeing the start of a revolution.

And if you'd like to spread the word about this campaign or if you'd like to help fund it, you can do so here:

I'm so incredibly grateful to each and every one of you. Thank you for listening, reading, caring.