Utah girls need to understand it's OK to say no

Thursday , February 15, 2018 - 4:30 AM3 comments

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

A sixth-grade Valentine’s Day dance in Northern Utah. Count the girls in their sparkly dresses as they twirl across the floor.

At some point in their lives, one in three will be raped or sexually assaulted. It’s the horrific price they pay for living in Utah.

But it’s no surprise, really. Not when schools tells those sixth-grade girls they can’t say no to a boy who wants to dance.

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In an effort to promote respect and kindness, that’s what administrators in the Weber School District told girls until this week. Boys, too.

Year after year, dance after dance, schools sent 11- and 12-year-old children the message that you can’t say no. Without meaning to, the Weber School District helped lay the foundation for Utah’s sexually abusive culture.

Because if schools teach girls they can’t say no to boys, and if boys learn they can’t be rejected, the expectation is set — a woman must submit to a man. And if she doesn’t, a man is entitled to take what he wants. Consent doesn’t matter.

  • RELATED: “Utah has a culture of sexual violence, and Orrin Hatch just reinforced it”

It took Natalie Richard, the mother of a sixth-grade girl at Kanesville Elementary, to call out the school district for its error.

Marjukka Ollilainen, a sociology professor at Weber State University, said administrators probably didn’t consider the impact of the policy on girls.

“I can understand the concern of the mother, because it’s so ingrained in our culture to just ‘go along,’” Ollilainen told Mark Saal, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner. “So much of today’s cases of sexual assault originate from a culture that tells young women that ‘no’ is not OK.”

No is now OK, the district announced Monday. Students will no longer be told to accept every dance request.

“Although we still want to strongly encourage inclusion, kindness, and mutual respect, we feel this change will be of greater benefit to all students who choose to attend these dances,” the district said in a news release.

By itself, changing what the Weber School District tells sixth-graders about dancing won’t reduce sexual violence in Utah. That will take years.

But it’s a start.

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