April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. At Peer Health Exchange, we believe that we all play a role in showing up for young people. This month—and every month—is an important time to learn how sexual violence affects young people and what we can each do to help prevent it. A member of Peer Health Exchange Chicago’s Junior Board, Aisha Ismail graciously provides her thoughts in this guest blog.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Thanks to the #MeToo movement, people across the nation have shared their experiences with sexual violence and are engaging in a long overdue discussion. However, young people are largely missing from the conversation. Every year, one-third of young people in their adolescence experience sexual or other abuse from a dating partner. And the shocking statistics don’t stop there. According to the CDC, 42 percent of women report being raped while under the age of 18 and girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape. These numbers are stunning—we owe it to our young people to include their experiences in conversations about sexual violence.
For a lot of youth, their experiences with gender-based violence happen at school. Pair that with how much time young people spend there, it seems most logical for schools to be the place where they are learning about safe sex and healthy relationships. While research shows that sex education is critical for preventing sexual violence, the fact remains that adolescents are receiving most of their information on sexual assault from television, newspapers, and the internet. Only 9 percent of sexual assault information is sourced from school-based sex education.
When I volunteered with Peer Health Exchange as a health educator, I quickly realized how much misinformation young people received about their bodies and health—even in a time where information is more accessible than ever. Very few young people are receiving a comprehensive sex education, and of those who are, they are rarely taught about healthy relationships or consent. Furthermore, youths that disproportionately suffer from sexual and other forms of abuse are the least likely to receive sex education in their schools. Currently, only 24 states require sex education and youths who don’t have access to sex education are likely to be youths of color, low-income, and/or from single-parent households. When a formal sex education is provided, it is often not inclusive of the LGBTQIA experience.
We have to do better for our young people. Every student has a right to be taught the skills and knowledge necessary to make healthy decisions about their bodies. We are demanding and advocating for safer workplaces—it’s time we start doing the same for our schools!
Aisha Ismail is a member of Peer Health Exchange Chicago’s Junior Board. She is currently a Chicago resident with a lifelong passion for social and racial justice, with a particular interest in public health, the arts, women, and young people.
Aisha graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with a pre-health concentration. During her undergraduate studies, she volunteered for DePaul’s chapter of Peer Health Exchange as a Peer Health Educator and a Leadership Council Member where she managed her own group of volunteers.
Upon graduating, she was selected for a teaching fellowship at a charter school in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park. Her experience as a full-time educator underscored her passion for working with young people.
Aisha is currently a Program Coordinator at Women Employed, a Chicago based non-profit organization that works to improve and expand economic opportunities for women. In her spare time, Aisha is also a leader on IMAN’s (Inner-city Muslim Action Network) Corner Store Campaign.