Teaching about rape

Rape is one topic that I have a harder time covering than most.  Part of the issue is that I’m never quite sure how the class is going to react.  Here are two extreme examples from my college classes:

  • Last semester one of my college classes on rape was dramatic and emotional.  Every single woman in the class ended up sharing either a personal story or a story of a close friend who had been raped.  Everyone left the class in tears.
  • This semester the students in my college class on rape were completely unemotional about the topic.  They talked in abstract terms about the pain that comes from experiencing rape but no one cried and no one told a personal story.

I brought the exact same activities to both classes, but the reactions were starkly different.  My college students write me journals every week, and I have learned through the journals from this semester that the women in my class have experienced rape just as much – if not more – than my students from last semester, they just choose not to talk about it in class.

In one of her journal entries, a current student talked about her disappointment in the way the book presented the topic (she had strep throat and was not able to come to class so couldn’t comment on the class activity).  She said she didn’t feel that the way she had experienced rape – in the form of child abuse by a relative – was acknowledged or talked about.  Another student talked about being very badly beaten and then raped by a boyfriend, and pointed out that her experience wasn’t talked about either.

It’s true – our book is pretty sterile in its presentation on rape.  I am constantly on the market for a new textbook, so hopefully the one I’m using in the fall will present the topic better.

But the thing about rape is that how it impacts the person who has been raped varies hugely, and a lot of that is dependent on the age, gender, relationship with the rapist, duration of the abuse, and so much more.  One chapter and one class period is hardly sufficient to discuss all of the many potential ramifications, particularly considering the significant trust that needs to be in place for people to have a fully honest discussion.

So this is one class period where I bring activities and materials to fill our time, but I will let the students take the class in a different direction.  It is when I talk about rape that I feel that, while I am experienced and good at my work, I still have so much to learn about the craft of teaching sex education, and I am eager to learn it.

My students seem to bring me things when I am ready to receive them.  Last semester I was ready to hold and respond to a classroom of emotional students speaking from the perspective of rape survivor.  This semester a student has brought the topic to me from the perspective of the rapist.  Supporting these young people in moving forward with their lives and their sexuality in consensual, loving ways is an honor, and I feel honored that they trust me enough to let me help them.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.

1 Comment

  1. Rape is a hard topic for anyone.

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