Reading the “explanations” and arguments flowing out of news reports from the recent Stanford rape case is maddening. Too many people accused of sexual assault claim some sort of “blindness” as their excuse. They blame their loss of clear vision and thinking on consumption of alcohol, the party culture, their upbringing, or the attractiveness of the victim.
Last month, I heard someone say, “We can sit around all night complaining about the darkness, or someone can get up and turn on the lights.”
NOT A #NUMBER, LOVE146’S PREVENTION EDUCATION CURRICULUM, IS ABOUT LIGHTBULB MOMENTS. WE WANT TO TURN ENOUGH LIGHTS ON THAT SOMEDAY, NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO SAY, “I COULDN’T SEE.”
If any lights turn on for Brock Turner, they will have been turned on too late — at least, for this victim.
But I heard about a teenager recently who proved that it shouldn’t take an hour-long victim’s statement, national news pressure, or the loss of a swimming career to flick the switch. The following story, told to us by the facilitator of his Love146 Not a #Number Prevention Education group, shows the moment that one young man found the courage to make the hard connection.
They met in the afternoons, in the multi-purpose room of the group home. The space was casual and the atmosphere was relaxed. Because there weren’t enough chairs, the Not a #Number facilitator usually sat on the floor with participants, the six young men and women who lived there together and gathered once a week to participate in the Love146 trafficking and exploitation prevention program.
One of these students was Brandon,* a boy in his mid-teens who often looked like he wasn’t listening: zoning out, doodling. Adults who met him might have thought, “Wow. That’s a hard kid to reach.” (The facilitator learned later that Brandon had a girlfriend, and the staff at the group home were concerned about how he treated her. They’d tried to talk about it with him, but hadn’t gotten very far.)
Even though he appeared disengaged, he was willing to share his ideas with the group. When a topic interested him, he would look up from his doodling long enough to comment, and then carry on with what he was doing once the conversation moved on. During the second meeting, the group talked about the power of language to shape culture and our perceptions of healthy relationships. Brandon revealed that he had thought about this before. He said he had noticed his friends say things like, “Those are your bitches,” or, “Oh, you pimpin’.” “Brandon talked about using words and about how difficult it is to stand up to other kids,” the facilitator recalled.
The next activity involved listening to 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” Then, the students read the lyrics and discussed the characters they described: What does the pimp think of himself? Does he care about the girl? Why do you think she got involved with a guy like this?
Youth often react enthusiastically to this exercise, saying things like, “People shouldn’t be treated like that, like they’re worthless.” “He was taking advantage of her because she needed money and wanted to be loved.” “He tells her she can have the good life, but he’s just using her to get rich.” For many participants, it’s obvious that something’s wrong with the situation in the song, and they get worked up about it.
But Brandon was silent and looked down at his drawing. When he finally spoke, there were tears in his eyes. He said, “I think I’ve hurt someone like this.” He said he was thinking about his relationship with his girlfriend, that he had been controlling. He said he was realizing that the relationship was unhealthy.
No one tried to interrupt. They just watched. Finally, quietly, he mumbled, “I didn’t recognize how much I hurt her.” He was calm and somber for the rest of the meeting. As the facilitator was leaving, he walked over and put a piece of paper in her hand. It was the drawing he had made during the afternoon discussion. “You can have this,” he said. “For Love146.” In black ballpoint pen he had drawn our logo. Six hearts. A key and its keyhole. The words “Help & Heal.”
Not a #Number exists as much for potential victims as for potential perpetrators. “He might have had processing and discussion around unhealthy relationships prior, but it was clear to me that the curriculum and the facilitation of this activity connected the dots for him,” the facilitator said. “It was clear to me that in that moment, he understood his role in a coercive relationship and how it impacted another human.” The circuit was connected.
BRANDON DIDN’T MAKE EXCUSES OR TRY TO “EXPLAIN” WHAT HE’D DONE. HE OPENED HIMSELF UP TO FEEL THE FULL WEIGHT OF HIS ACTIONS, EVEN THOUGH IT HURT.
Effective prevention work matters. It matters to Brandon. It matters to his girlfriend. It matters for other people he’ll meet. His moment in the group home holds everyone — including Brock Turner — to a higher standard: We can turn on the lights. We have to.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.