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A university sent out a 'rape prevention' email following a sexual assault on campus. I'm impressed.

Can all colleges everywhere please talk about sexual assault prevention like this?

A sexual assault was reported on a college campus last week.

Unfortunately, sexual assaults on college campuses aren't all that unusual. And this one sounds pretty familiar: A student reported that she was assaulted in a dorm by someone she knew. It happened at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The university sent out an email informing the school community.

Under the Clery Act, colleges are required to inform students of crime on and around campus.

Take note of this part of the email:

Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. While nothing is failsafe, here are some suggestions everyone may want to consider:
- Make sure you have consent. Consent is a clear and freely given yes, not the absence of a no.
- People who are incapacitated by alcohol or drugs cannot give consent.
- Practice being assertive about your boundaries.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy or sense something is wrong, call for assistance.
- Be active in supporting a safe and respectful community. If you see others engaging in disrespectful or inappropriate actions, speak up and get involved, or contact someone else to assist.




Among the tips on how to avoid sexual assault are two incredibly important points: One must ensure they have consent, and a person who's incapacitated cannot give consent.

And that follows the reminder that sexual assault is never the victim's fault.

I know this shouldn't be a big deal, but let's be honest: It is.

Over and over, when we talk about how to avoid sexual assault, we list all the things potential victims can do to avoid being raped instead of what potential rapists can do to avoid raping.

It's not a subtle difference. And yes, while it's wise to know how to keep ourselves safe, we also have to stop blaming victims.

Blame-shifting in action

I reached out to the UW police department to ask about the email. Spokesman Marc Lovicott explained:

"We've always operated under the assumption that a sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. Ever. And I'd like to think that most police departments operate the same way. That said, we realized we needed to do a better job of clearly conveying that message to our community, while at the same time offering tools for our community to consider."

They're looking toward solutions, not just talk:

"We took time over the last year to reconstruct and develop these messages/suggestions so they're actually useful. You'll notice some are suggestions aimed at an alleged perpetrator, and that's intentional. ... We needed to do more to get the message across that sexual assault is not acceptable. But how do we do that without just blatantly saying 'Don't sexually assault someone'? It sounds sort of silly, because everyone knows — or should know — that sexual assault is wrong. So what suggestions can we offer? We focused on consent — what is and isn't consent, and the lack of consent when someone is incapacitated. The more we push out messages about getting consent, alcohol use, etc. ... the better."

I hope this email is indicative of an entire culture change that shifts the responsibility for rape to where it belongs: the perpetrator.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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