The Global Impact of Making a Friend


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Cook - World Trade Center, NYC

Photo courtesy of Jennifer S. Cook – World Trade Center, NYC

Comprehensive sexual health education isn’t just about condoms and STI’s. If you have been following my blog, you realize lately I’ve been touching on issues such as decision-making, domestic violence, and healthy relationships. These topics are all under the umbrella of “personal safety” within the construct of comprehensive sex ed.

Personal safety also includes the topic of bullying. I have written a blog regarding bullying that is ready to post, however I happened upon this Ted Talk yesterday and felt the urgency to share it today instead.

Zac Ebrahim: I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace.

Yes, take a minute to think about this Talk. Incredibly inspiring, isn’t it?

Despite being raised, mentored, and indoctrinated into a belief system of violence and terror, and despite bullied incessantly throughout his school career, Mr. Ebrahim came to understand that bloodshed and cruelty are not the answer. He lives his life on the very basic humanistic rule….The Golden Rule:

Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.

And what changed the trajectory of his life? One friend. One friend who happened to be Jewish. One friend he had been led to believe would be his mortal enemy merely because he was Jewish. One friend who was “different” than him – and then another friend, then another –  who made him realize we are all just people who pretty much just want to enjoy and live life like everyone else. Yet it was his weary mother who finally gave him permission to follow his intrinsic awareness of compassion v. hatred – “I’m so tired of hating people” she told him. A simple, profound, and yet freeing statement.

There are so many layers to his story – so many components we could peel away and analyze: bullying, terrorism, education, raising children, world experiences, perspectives of others… But to me there are two resounding messages I would like to encourage people, especially impressionable adolescents, to consider.

  • One message I would like to emphasize is to get out into the world and meet people who are “different” than you…different cultures, different sexual orientation, different spiritual beliefs, different skin color. If you have the opportunity, travel to different countries. You will find the differences are what make people interesting. It will challenge your perspective and help you grow as an enlightened, compassionate person.
  • The other message is to treat others with kindness and compassion. You just never know how your behavior toward another person can make a difference  – not just personally, but even globally. If people are busy thinking about ways to be compassionate and kindhearted, they will be less likely to be plotting ways to bully or demean.

                (And yes, this is what is taught in comprehensive sex ed. Surprised?)

In this day of remembrance, and everyday, show kindness to those you come across.

All it takes is a smile.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 9.51.03 AM


It’s a Human Issue


People in abusive relationships need support and resources...but often feel isolated and alone.

People in abusive relationships need support and resources…but often feel isolated and alone.


We know it happens. It happens all the time. Women. Children. Men. Wealthy. Poor. Highly-educated. Illiterate. Religious. Atheist. Gay. Straight. Black. White. Every shade in between. Doesn’t matter.

We’ve seen it in movies, on TV. But that’s not “real” life, we think. Entertainment.

Then it becomes real. For everyone. On news shows, sports shows, internet – you name it. We witness the sudden, reflexive act of violence. But the raw, indifferent abuse continues on this incapacitated woman as her fiancé unapologetically drags her from the elevator to the hall. Remorse? Regret? Concern? Nah. Not at all. No panic, no regard for her well-being is demonstrated. Clearly this is not that big a deal to him. Think this has happened before? Uh, yeah. I’m betting.

It is so easy for people on the outside looking in to wonder “Why did she marry him? Why is she with him?’. It’s an incredibly complex issue. It starts and ends with the mind, not the fist. Those who abuse. Those who are abused.

It’s power. It’s insecurity. It’s manipulation. It’s dangerous.

It’s inexcusable. Yet, it happens.

1.3 million women a year are abused by a domestic partner….as far as we know. Domestic abuse, as with rape, is underreported because the burden of conviction is excruciating and frustrating. The added complexities of domestic abuse – fear, insecurity, financial dependence, safety, and even love – make it difficult for victims of abuse to escape their situation. This needs to change. Though it hurts my heart that this women’s personal life has taken the media by storm – without her permission – I do believe it will be used as an impetus for change.

And I have a feeling we are on the cusp of big change.

But change can’t happen unless we – as a community of humane individuals – become vocal against this unacceptable behavior.

Speak up.

                   Be aware.

                                 Listen to your inner voice.

                                               Become informed.

Keep the conversation going….stop the silence of shame, judgement, and blame.

MEN – I’m speaking to you, too. This is NOT a woman’s issue.

It’s a family issue, a community issue, a human issue.

Watch this TedTalk video for an inside look at domestic violence. Remember – it may not be you or your partner, but it could be your friend, family, neighbor….or your child.

Leslie Morgan Steiner


Domestic abuse is not okay. We know that. Yet, it continues to happen.

If. You. Think. Someone. Is. Being. Abused…..SAY SOMETHING.

If. You. Know. Someone. Is. Being. Abused…..DO SOMETHING.

For more information, or to get help or advice, please click on the following links:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline:

100 Percent of the Time. Period.



After a particularly lovely Sunday Funday enjoying one of the last weekends of summer, one of my close friends and her daughter decided to linger a little longer. (Girl Scout cookies anyone?)

Her daughter will be leaving the nest soon to attend college – very far away. With every parent facing the prospect of their child hurdling this milestone, there are worries. We don’t know exactly what their adventures, challenges, or even their successes will be. They won’t come home at the end of the day to share their concerns and issues with you. You won’t be able to look them in the eyes and get a sense of their mood. It’s a difficult transition – for adults as well as youth.

Young adults moving on to college, or even moving to their own space, will be faced with issues beyond “are my socks clean?” The issues may be life-changing – for better or worse. Not only will they have to worry about laundry, but they are responsible for getting themselves to class and they will take on financial responsibilities. Socially, they will meet new people with different life experiences and perspectives. They will develop life-long relationships, begin attending parties not supervised by adults, and start dating people that parents have not met. These young adults will have to rely on their own common sense and judgement when it comes to making decisions. But as we all know….



As responsible adults, we have done what we can to make them accountable for their actions. But then again, so did our parents when we were that age. And we all know how well THAT turned out, right? Admit it….you made some, um, “interesting” choices back in the day, too….

The best thing is to arm them with information, advice, support, and love….because the issues facing our young adults are not always as mundane as clean socks…..and the topic I want to discuss is pretty intense.

So, when my friend asked me to talk to her daughter about campus rape, I looked at this beautiful and sweet young woman and thought to myself:

“Going back in time, when my own daughters were leaving for their new life adventures, what did I tell them? What would I tell them now – after all the research and understanding I have of the topic?”

It’s an incredibly serious and scary topic, but we don’t want to send them into the world untrusting and afraid of what lies ahead. However, knowledge is power, and the more they understand, the safer they might be. At least that is how I feel.

When my oldest left for college 9 years ago,                                                                                                                                                      ……….then the next one 3 years later,                                                                                                                                                         ……………….then the “baby” 3 years after that, my advice was the same for each….

“Always go out with friends, never alone; always return home with the same friends, never leave anyone behind. Ever.”

“Never set your glass down and walk away. Never let someone serve you a drink. You never know what they put into that cup while you weren’t looking.”

Pretty succinct advice – short, practical, and easy to follow. In fact, I would still offer that advice. 100%. I would offer this to both males and females – no one is excluded from being victimized.

However, the statistics are alarming. The stories are disturbing. And the aftermath of a rape/sexual assault is, well, you wouldn’t believe it if I told you. There have been numerous reports over the years about campus rape: Who are the victims? Who are the perpetrators? Where does this happen? What factors are involved? Who is at fault? And what kind of help is available for the victims?

100% of the time it is NOT the victim’s fault.

100% of the time, the person who made the decision to assault is at fault. Period.

Historically, victims of sexual assault not only have to deal with the assault itself, but they also have to deal with a system that prefers to push the issue under the rug.

Please take a few minutes to watch this video.

Campus Sexual Assault/

Recently there has been a push for colleges to make public the specific incidences of sexual assault reported on- and off-campus to encourage accountability. This push has inspired several mainstream magazines to report about the rape culture on campus, and what is – and is not – being done to enable students to learn and live in the safest environment possible. TIME magazine published a piece by Eliza Gray on May 26, 2014 about campus rape called “The Crisis in Higher Education”. Check out this TIME link for some great reading on the topic. Also, Rolling Stone magazine published an article called “Confronting Campus Rape” by Nina Burleigh on June 19, 2014.

So What Do We Know?

A study was commissioned by the Department of Justice to find out exactly what is happening on college campuses. The following statistics are from that study:  The Campus Sexual Assault Study

19% of women will be the victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during college.

That’s almost 20%. One in five.

Of the study participants who had been sexually assaulted or an attempt was made:

  • 89% had been drinking
  • 61% of sexual assaults happened off-campus
  • 58% of sexual assaults had been at a party
  • 28% were assaulted by a fraternity member
  • 2.3% of the time the victim suspected or was certain they were unknowingly drugged.

Other stats you should know….

  • 85-90% know their assailant.*
  • 6.4% of men commit sexual assaults. Half are repeat offenders – with an average of 6 rapes each.**
  • 64% to 96% of all rapes are not reported to authorities.**

Interesting, isn’t it, that it’s the same guys repeating the crime. As reported in Gray’s article, it was found that the guys who are victimizing the coeds actually have a bit of a plan. They look for certain women to sexually assault. They are often attractive freshman and sophomores who are finally out from under an adult’s watchful eye. They may binge-drink and don’t yet know their safe alcohol limit. They are easy targets in which to encourage intoxication. Alcohol may make the victim unable to make a safe decision, or the perpetrator may take advantage of the young woman if she has passed out. The rapist understands that if alcohol is involved, the odds of being convicted of rape are low – after all, she was drunk.

Yes, alcohol is the weapon.

According to Northwestern University’s Women’s Center,

A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent.
The use of alcohol or drugs may seriously interfere with the participants’ judgment about whether consent has been sought and given.

100% of the time it is NOT the victim’s fault.

100% of the time, the person who made the decision to assault is at fault. Period.

Most guys are perfectly safe. We need to encourage the guys to stand up for women and not allow women who may be under the influence to be taken advantage of. There is an individual, Jackson Katz, who has made it his mission to be a REAL man and educate other men about sexual violence and their role in helping prevent this ugliness. There is a great article by Nina Burleigh in the August 2014 issue of Elle entitled, “Hear Him Roar.” Here is a Ted Talk he was featured in – it’s pretty interesting.

">TED TALK: Jackson Katz

What can you do?

Be aware  – and be vocal. Universities and Colleges are required under the Clery Act as well as the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to report offenses, offer counseling, conduct safety seminars, administer surveys, among other requirements to ensure the safety of their students. If they do not comply, they do not get financial assistance from the government. You can go to your university website and access crime statistics, including sexual assault. Don’t be fooled – if your university reports low numbers, chances are they may not be reporting honestly. If your university reports higher assault rates, my guess is they are complying with the laws – NO SCHOOL IS IMMUNE.

Most important – keep the lines of communication open with your child. Some students are afraid to tell their parents that they have been assaulted, especially if alcohol was involved. Discuss with them NOW the importance of getting counseling and support for their friends or themselves if they are assaulted. Explain to them NOW that you are there for them “no matter what”.  The effects sexual assault has on individuals – especially if they do not receive the appropriate assistance – can be devastating and far-reaching.

100% of the time it is NOT the victim’s fault.

100% of the time, the person who made the decision to assault is at fault. Period.

 The person who assaults is solely responsible for his/her actions. Period. Regardless of what the victim is wearing or drinking, it does not give the abuser clearance to demand and force a sex act upon them. It is frustrating that women (in particular) have to constantly monitor their clothing, comments, and drinks in order to feel safe. Having said that, I am not opposed to using whatever tools are available to keep women (and men) safe. A few innovative young college men, wanting to help empower women to stay safe, are currently developing a fingernail polish that changes color in the presence of a date rape drug. Check out this video from the Today Show by Eun Kyung Kim:

The Today Show: College students developing nail polish to detect date rape drugs

Back to the question of what do you tell your child as they head off to college.

  • Tell them you love them.
  • Encourage them to attend university sponsored programs that educate about sexual assault and alcohol use.
  • Discuss reporting of assaults and availability of on-campus support systems.
  • Talk with your young person about social, legal, ethical issues associated with having non-consentual sex. If a person is intoxicated, they cannot legally consent to sex. Period.
  • Remind them that perpetrators can be someone they know.
  • Encourage going out in groups – leaving no one behind at the end of the night. Keep an eye out for one another.
  • Watch your drink.
  • And tell them again you love them and are there for them “no matter what”.

I’m sure there are other great suggestions out there. Please share!

As parents and other adults who are involved in the lives of youth, we realize that letting our kids go out into the world can be exciting. It can also be a little bit worrisome. But being armed with knowledge can empower our young people to not only be safer, but to help others stay safe as well.

 The following Ted Talks are interesting and informative about rape culture in general.

Language and rape culture: Kayce Singletary & Alexis Stratton at TEDxColumbiaSC

Your vagina is not a car: Clementine Ford at TEDxSouthBankWomen

Resources (besides the ones linked above):

National Institute of Justice

**Lisak, David, and Paul M. Miller. “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists.” Violence and Victims 17.1 (2002): 73-84. Web. 25 Aug. 2014. <>.


Other really great sites to check out:

Office on Violence Against Women



End Rape On

Joyful Heart