Why you need to be prepared
In order to effectively prevent sexual and gender based violence within our faith communities, we must focus our education on all levels of each community, including our youth.
As young individuals begin understanding issues of sex, sexuality, gender, body image, and self-expression while they navigate adolescence and young adulthood, it is crucial that their faith communities guide them towards healthy relationships, positive self-esteem, and a comprehensive understanding of their bodies to prepare them for a better future without violence.
This section includes ideas for exercises and trainings, as well as curricula used by other organizations, that have shown to increase awareness for sexual and gender based violence as well as esteem building in areas of gender identity, sex education, and body self-awareness.
Each area of youth education is laid out with a quick overview of its importance, ideas for topics and activities to cover with youth, and additional resources with curriculum and trainings for youth leaders.
Key Topics for Youth Education
1. Promoting Healthy Relationships
Why it’s important: Dating abuse affects almost one in every three adolescents in the United States, leading as the highest form of violence experienced by youth. But unfortunately, many are unable to recognize abusive relationships on their own because of a lack of understanding around what makes up a healthy relationship. This is where faith communities can come in, providing comprehensive awareness frameworks for youth to understand abuse. Encouraging teens and young adults not to date isn’t enough; faith communities need to engage their youth in discussions surrounding what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like in order to help them recognize abuse and know where to go to seek help.
What it should cover: Discussions surrounding healthy relationships can vary, but listed below are some ideas for specific topics and questions to cover with youth.
- What actions and behaviors make up a healthy relationship?
- What are some signs of an unhealthy relationship?
- The role emotional abuse can play in relationships
- What to do if you or someone you know appears to be in an abusive relationships
Additional Resources: Curriculums and Activity Ideas
- Healthy Relationships Resource Kit
- Healthy Relationships Youth Workshop
- FaithTrust Webinar Trainings on Healthy Relationships
- Building Healthy Teen Relationships Curriculum
- Before They Start Dating: Developing Healthy Relationships
2. Encouraging Healthy Body Image and Self-Respect
Why it’s important: In a world where many youth receive inaccurate messages about what their bodies are supposed to look like as they age, it can be easy for them to fall into an unhealthy body image. Magazines tell women to diet to become skinny, advertisements tell men that they must be muscular and athletic or they will never succeed in life – wherever we look, there are always new, negative messages popping up telling us how we are failing to achieve the “perfect” body.
These messages are harmful to youth, who are going through bodily changes and developing confidence in their own skin. Promoting healthy body image can serve as a preventative measure to sexual and domestic violence within faith communities by encouraging self-respect in youth who may be receiving negative lessons in other parts of their lives
What it should cover: Discussions surrounding body image and self-respect can vary, but listed below are some ideas for specific topics and questions to cover with youth:
- What do you think the “perfect body” looks like? Is there such a thing as a perfect body?
- What are some messages you have seen about what your body should look like? Think: magazines, movies, advertisements.
- Discuss what your particular faith says about our bodies as perfect creations, no matter what form or “flaws”
Further Resources and Activity Ideas
- Advocates for Youth: Body Image Lesson Plan
- Helping Youth Leaders Build Up Girls’ Self-Esteem
- Positive Body Image: Weight Off my Mind
3. Practicing Consent and Respect for Others
Why it’s important: A crucial part of raising up youth who are aware of the issues surrounding sexual and gender based violence is teaching comprehensive lessons focused on the concept of consent.
Consent is not only an aspect of sexual relationships, but also of everyday life. Teaching teens and young adults that they have a right to their own bodies, and that no one should be able to touch or use them without their explicit consent, helps them understand the boundaries of abuse. By providing youth with a framework for bodily autonomy and consensual touch, this education helps them recognize signs of abuse and can direct them to sources of support both within and outside the community.
What it should cover: Discussions surrounding consent can vary, but listed below are some ideas for specific topics and questions to cover with youth:
- Each of us as a right to our own bodies and only we can decide who we allow to give us hugs, kisses, high fives, etc…
- The power of saying no, and how it should be honored
Further Resources and Activity Ideas
4. Basic Sex Education
Why it’s important: While often a controversial topic in faith communities, providing basic sex education is crucial to the development of informed youth in the fight against sexual and gender based violence. In addition, sex education can help prevent teen pregnancies by giving youth the tools and knowledge they need to understand consensual sexual activity and stay safe. A study on the intersections of teen pregnancy and religion reported that more than 70% of teens said that churches and other houses of worship should be doing more to prevent teen pregnancy (Faithful Nation: What American Adults and Teens Think About Faith, Morals, Religion and Teen Pregnancy, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001), but sex education shouldn’t simply be about preventing unplanned pregnancies.
A truly effective sex education curriculum should include information about wellness, disease prevention, consent within sexual activity, and
Providing sex education within faith communities can help prevent occurrences of sexual and gender based violence by teaching teens and young adults about healthy sexual relationships, introducing the concept of consent, and developing an autonomous respect for their own bodies.
Available Curriculums and Further Resources