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The Answer Blog

Domestic Violence and Sex Ed: What’s the Connection?

Domestic violence has been on my mind recently.

I attended a fund-raising event for Womanspace, a local organization that gives shelter, counseling and care to women who have been physically and sexually abused by their husbands and partners, and I learned that more than 5,000 women had sought counsel and shelter from this community nonprofit during the past year. I also learned that the total annual cost of domestic violence nationwide runs in the billions of dollars.

By coincidence the day after the event, I went to my local Verizon store to recycle a cell phone. The salesperson directed me to a bin on which was written in large letters: “Help Prevent Domestic Violence: Recycle Wireless Phones.” I looked puzzled, so he explained that a local phone number is put into the old phone and if it’s pressed by someone who is being battered or abused, a call goes directly to the police, who can locate the place where the abuse is occurring. He added that this is a national effort.

Sexuality educators may ask: Is there a connection between domestic violence and sex education, and, if so, what is it? Are sex educators in the business of trying to prevent and lessen this scourge through our work with young people in middle and high school?  Do we even talk in class about the prevalence of domestic violence?

Let me try to answer this question by looking at some of the conclusions in the book Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality, by Jessica Fields, which received the 2009 Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s Race, Gender, and Class section. In her book, Fields talks about three distinct curricula in the type of sex education given in schools:

  • the formal curriculum—the official planned course of study;
  • the hidden curriculum—the disparities in educators’ expectations for students across social differences of gender, race and class;
  • the evaded curriculum—the lessons that are ignored, stepped around or simply omitted.

My hunch is that a lot of educators would admit that the topic of domestic violence is placed in the evaded category. But it occurs to me that it belongs in the same area of instruction and discussion as sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual assault and date and acquaintance rape—the dangerous aspects of human sexuality. 

Our very first issue of Sex, Etc. (Winter 1994) included one teenager’s first-person account of a date rape that occurred when she was 15 years old. She writes:
 
 “He took me into the bedroom so I could pass out [I had been
 drinking]. I was in the bed and I heard him lock the door.  I
 asked him why he did that and he said, ‘So no will bother
 you.’ He lay in the bed next to me and told me to go to sleep
 and I would feel better. I remember falling asleep and being
 woken up by him pushing me and saying, ‘Put this in your
 mouth.’ I kept saying, ‘No, no, no, I’m tired, leave me alone.’
 Then I felt him take off my underwear. I told him to stop. He
 wouldn’t. He started to get on top of me and I started to scream….
 He put his hand over my mouth and raped me.”

This teenager’s story plus lesson plans that we’ve developed can be used by sexuality educators in their discussions with teens about sexual violence. Date and acquaintance rape and domestic violence show a shocking disregard for the bodily integrity of human beings. It is my hope that sexuality educators can see the connections between them and join customers at Verizon and supporters of nonprofit organizations like Womanspace to tackle the horrific social problem that is domestic violence.

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