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This past week, a teacher at Oak Creek High School was caught having sex with a high school student and charged on two counts of sexual assault of a child. Per reports, this seemed to be an ongoing affair. Many in our community, especially our children, are feeling all sorts of things and might not know how to make sense of it. Clearly the impact goes beyond those directly involved. Sexual assault is a challenge and problem that we must face as a community, and it is through our community that the victims and our children can move forward. Through our silence and passive conversations, we as a community allowed this to take place, but this also means that we as a community can disallow it by addressing it head on! By opening our hearts and minds to learning from our mistakes we can guide our children and our community forward with respect, empowerment, trust, and compassion.

It’s tough and may seem impossible to move past our own prejudices, negative thought patterns, and personal bias, but it is important to build a loving, trusting, and supportive community for victim, survivors, and our children. How do we do this? We talk about it with our family at dinner, with our friends over text, or even sharing posts on social media. So let’s begin to make change, open our hearts and our minds to admitting our mistakes, and reframe the conversation!

My main goal is to provide conversational tools to help those find understanding and spark their own conversations. As you read on, think about how and where in your life you can turn this community event into a learning moment for yourself and others. As you read below, transform my suggestions into words and ideas that relate to you and your inner circle.

Learning moment #1:

Understanding Power and Control

"We are shocked because the misconduct with which Mr. Jossie has been charged is inconsistent with his reputation in our District. We are sick at heart because we have committed our lives and careers to caring for and helping children and to learn that a child has been harmed in such a reprehensible way is unthinkable and intolerable." - Superintendent Tim Culver, official statement on the Oak Creek High School Website.

The statement’s message in its entirety is one of denying prior knowledge of the affair, intolerance of the behavior, and gratitude for those that spoke up. This is an honorable statement but is it enough to change the environment in which this happened? Most humans will be disgusted by this event, so let’s think about why is this wrong?

By definition sexual assault is “any illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (such as a teacher) in a position of trust or authority.” (Merriam Webster dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sexual%20assault)

At the root of it, sexual assault is not an act that is about sex rather it is about power and control. Sex is merely a tool to abuse power and control. The teacher-student relationship is inherently one where one party (the teacher) has the control over the other (the student). When Jossie engaged in sex and an emotional affair with a student, he broke the trust and the meaning of the role of a teacher, guide, and leader. A way to chat about trust and rebuilding it in our community is to pivot the conversation towards what we expect from teachers and what that relationship looks like, then identify positive role models!

Learning moment #2:

Breaking Away from the Love Affair Narrative

“Police also interviewed Jossie, who said he had “more feelings than you are supposed to have as a teacher” for the student.

According to the complaint, Jossie said his feelings for the student began to change after he took her to dinner at an expensive restaurant. He and the student then had a sexual relationship, which included intercourse multiple times at his school office and classroom this fall at the ninth-grade center and twice at a hotel in New Berlin.” – Journal Sentinel Article

As a media organization, they set the tone for the conversation, and in discussion with friends and family I have already heard this article cited and influencing the narrative, portraying Jossie’s actions as an “act of love” rather than a misuse of power. By portraying this as a love story, or even highlighting that aspect of the situation, it is perpetuating the “romantic” narrative. In this learning moment, we can teach one another that people in love and even good people do bad things, but the abuse of power is the root of the issue. This is not a rom com with a forbidden love story, this is real life with real consequences. Jossie’s feelings nor his previous good character can excuse him from the consequences he needs to face for his of power and breaking the trust in our community between teachers and students. So, let’s put this in perspective and help one another understand this is a real teenage life, and many kids lives’ that are impacted by being exposed to this man who violated the trust between teacher and students…and its NOT romantic.

I also want to address this as a lesson on journalistic integrity. In the Journal Sentinel’s article we can callout and recognize that these media organizations overstepped their journalistic role and gave more than the facts. By reporting on Jossie’s feelings alongside facts, they framed the story in a way that excuses Jossie for his behavior and created this romantic narrative. We can reject their narrative and be role models for these media outlets on how we want to frame the conversations around sexual assault. Another reason to engage in open conversations with one another!

Learning moment #3

Boundaries and Respect

It's okay to feel uncomfortable about these conversations, they are. But if you don't feel safe, that's a whole different situation. If you do not feel safe (mind you I said safe, not uncomfortable) about bringing the previous direct examples up and/or feel calling people out directly will invite emotional, physical, or psychological harm to yourself, you can still make an impact by having general conversations on boundaries, safe touch, and respect.

Examples and ways to spark intentional conversations on these topics include:

Boundary and Safe Touch – Teach physical boundaries by asking someone if they want to be touched before touching them. This can be taught through safe touch- whether it is a hug, tucking in a tag on someone’s shirt, a high five. Then, call out the verbal and nonverbal queues the person is sending you in response and let them know you respect their boundaries!

Respect - Practice asking questions and taking their feedback into consideration. This can be as simple as “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” Call out you accepting their preference when preparing their food and recognizing that although you do not both enjoy ketchup and mustard on your hot dogs, it is awesome either way!

Tailor these ideas and use them as a conversation starting point for different age levels and interests as you see fit. Other ways to talk about sexual assault,boundaries, and respect is to look at examples in tv shows, movies,and music. There are many safe options to addressing this topic in our community!

Learning moment #4

Supporting a Survivor

When someone discloses to you that they were assaulted or someone disrespected their space, you can provide compassionate emotional support. Refresh yourself on how simple providing emotional support can be, and review the steps to supporting a survivor. For further information, check out this link to learn more “Tips for Talking With Survivors”: https://www.rainn.org/articles/tips-talking-survivors-sexual-assault.

1. Listen

a. Listen with compassion and free of judgement.

2. Thank You

. Say “Thank You” for sharing their story. Show your gratitude for their trust and your recognition of the strength it takes to speak out.

3. Provide Resources but do NOT Force Action

. If you do not know where to direct them, do a quick Google Search for your local (or the national) Sexual Assault Hotline. Present them with that resource and allow them to decide if they want to use it; do not force them into any particular action. Allowing the survivor to decide how to move forward is an important part of regaining power and control in their lives.

These conversations are challenging, uncomfortable, and not “Midwestern nice” nor “polite dinner conversation”. As we challenge ourselves we must think - Do we want to limit our community to be “nice” or do we want our community to be a loving, trusting, and supportive community for victims, survivors, and our children? Let our actions and words reflect who we want to be today, not who we were yesterday. With these conversational tools to rebuilding our community, let’s accept this challenge to foster love and trust once again.

Link to List of Local Resources: http://city.milwaukee.gov/heal...

Oak Creek High School Website: https://www.ocfsd.org/oak-creek-high-school/about/news-details/~post/official-statement-101317-20171013

Journal Sentinel Article: http://www.jsonline.com/story/communities/south/news/oak-creek/2017/10/13/oak-creek-teacher-coach-charged-after-having-sex-student-school/762641001/

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Source : https://patch.com/wisconsin/oakcreek/beyond-thoughts-prayers-conversational-tools-rebuilding-loving-trusting-community

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