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A Big Win for Sexual Assault Prevention!

Today I participated in Brigham Young University's Three Minute Thesis Competition. A Three Minute Thesis Competition is one which invites graduate students to present their research and do so in a succinct manner, given the limited time period (three minutes). This competition was university-wide and I went up against individuals from all colleges and departments on campus. I received second place!

This was a huge win- not only personally but for We Will and sexual assault prevention research and action. It was encouraging to realize that the judges and the audience recognized the importance of sexual assault prevention research. If you're interested in watching my presentation, I will post it as soon as I receive the video, but for now- here is the script I practiced:

Today, we’re going to talk about sex, but first, picture a teenager you love. They have their whole lives ahead of them, don’t they? It’s exciting to think about. But now, imagine one traumatic event, just one, causes them to develop multiple psychological disorders and allows a darkness to permeate their lives for years. If you could prevent this, would you?

As a teen I was raped by my then-boyfriend through coercion. I carried around shame for years for the choice I thought I made and it ate me alive. It wasn’t until late college when I learned what consent and coercion were that I realized, I was raped.

I spoke to my previous partner and he, having the same sexual education as I, did not realize his coercion was considered rape. He was mortified and I realized our community, education, and support systems had failed us.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often to teens. My research then set out to answer: is there anything we can do to prevent sexual assault?

My study surveys the sexual education standards in the five states with the highest rate of rape and the five state with the lowest rate of rape. I found a direct correlation between the quality and quantity of sexual assault and the rate of sexual assault in a state. Those states with the lowest rate of rape have high quality and quantities of sexual education whereas those states with the highest rate of rape have very little sexual education, if any.

In order to prevent assault, we have to talk about sex. My study shows quality sexual education includes consent, coercion, and refusal skills. Consent is the enthusiastic participation of both parties to engage in sexual activity. Coercion is persuading through threat or use of force. Teaching these concepts helps would-be assaulters know what is wrong and also helps prevent harmful effects of assaults for survivors as they learn to recognize an assault and seek help. Refusal skills teach a would-be victim how to say no and a would-be assaulter to recognize a no.

According to my study, quantity also matters. Sexual education is most effective when it is required for graduation, an opt out program, and has significant discussion of these concepts every year starting in middle school.

This research is vital because it both prevents assaults and prevents psychological trauma of assaults for survivors. One in four women and one in seventy-one men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, that is, unless we do something about it, because my research found we CAN do something about it. We do not have to accept that this is the reality we live in! After an analysis of many factors such as race, religion, socioeconomic conditions, political affiliations, urbanization, climate, and more, my study finds that sexual education is the single largest contributing factor to a state’s rate of rape. So, what am I going to do to prevent this traumatic event from happening to teens like the ones you pictured and like my past self? I’m going to keep talking about sex. Thank you.

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