Supporting survivors of sexual abuse, assault and exploitation has been a major part of Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center’s mission since it was founded. We pride ourselves on being a safe space for young people to heal.
But supporting survivors is just one piece of the work that needs to be done. We also need to prevent this violence from happening in the first place. This is part of the reason that we’re building on the services we already offer to create a new consent education and survivor support program.
We created Youth Empowered (con)Sensuality (YES) to help colleges and universities comply with New York’s Enough is Enough legislation, which is designed to help end sexual assault on campus. With YES, we are beginning to collaborate with universities and colleges throughout New York City so we can help students, faculty and staff prevent and respond better to sexual assault, dating violence, stalking and more. YES will do this through a wide range of workshops, classes and tabling events with topics like bystander intervention, how to give and get enthusiastic consent and how to build healthy relationships. We also provide comprehensive, LGBTQ+-inclusive sex education.
As you can probably tell, we have a lot of reasons we’re excited about YES. Here are 7 of them.
With YES, we can…
1. Help students understand what healthy relationships are
We can’t expect young people to recognize abuse unless we talk to them about what healthy relationships look like. But the United States’ sex education is notoriously inadequate (for the most part) and teens are lucky if they learn about using condoms, let alone about boundaries, communication and respect. For us, a huge part of YES is engaging students in conversations about healthy relationship behavior and how to set boundaries, recognize red flags, and communicate openly with their partners.
2. Re-imagine sex & consent education
We’re in the process of developing content that’s engaging for college students AND addresses their needs. While there are a lot of young people out there working hard to dismantle rape culture, the truth is that most college students don’t get excited about Consent 101 workshops. We’re using YES as an opportunity to hone in and get feedback on what gets college students engaged and excited.
3. Help students get comfortable talking about sex
Unfortunately, it is a truth universally acknowledged that talking about sex is awkward. We want to change that. Young people (really, all people) need to be comfortable talking about sex in order to discuss sexual health basics like condoms and STIs and navigate consent (not to mention talk about what they want in bed). Talking frankly about sex can help destigmatize it, making it easier for young people to advocate for themselves in the bedroom.
4. Help administrators build a supportive space for survivors
We want all survivors to be believed and feel supported. To make that happen on college campuses, administrators, educators and resident advisors (RAs) need to understand how they can best respond to reports of sexual assault. As part of YES, we’ll be offering a variety of workshops on the Title IX hearing process and how to respond to reports of sexual assault, connect survivors to support services, and build consent culture on campus.
5. Connect survivors to crucial services
At the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, we provide a wide range of free, confidential health services to young survivors of sexual violence. This includes primary care, sexual health services including emergency contraception, trauma-informed mental health care, support groups, health education and more. Through YES, we are reaching out to universities to make sure that young people who need a safe space to heal know that we are there for them.
6. Help dismantle rape culture…
Rape culture is when sexual violence is normalized to the point where survivors are often blamed for the violence they experienced. By educating young people about rape culture and discussing the ways they’ve seen it play out in their own lives, young people can begin to recognize and challenge it in their own communities.
7. …and build consent culture.
Consent culture is the opposite of rape culture, where enthusiastic consent and open communication are normalized and expected. In consent culture, survivors are fully believed and supported. Young people are already doing amazing work building consent culture in their communities, and we want to give more young people the tools to engage in that work. Through classes on how to give and get enthusiastic consent, communicate with partners, support survivors and more, we believe that students can begin to change the culture of their community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the workshops and services that YES offers, please contact Heima Sritharan at (212) 731-7546 or Heima.Sritharan@mountsinai.org.
This blog post was written with Zuleyma Rivera, LCSW and Jaime Bedard, LCSW.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.