#SAAM: How Language Assistants Can Make A Difference In Violence Prevention

Violence in Society

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the United States. This post is my way of doing my part to create a better world, free of violence.

The autonomous región where Ibiza is located, the Balearic Islands, has the highest rate of domestic violence in Spain. As someone who previously worked at domestic violence and rape crisis center, I know devastating effects and vicious cycles that violence perpetuates. Gender violence (inside and outside the home) is a societal issue that cuts across race, gender, socioeconomic status, age, and other factors (need some definitions? In Spanish? in English?)

While men are also victims of gender-based violence, heterosexual men continue to be the main perpetrators against women. In Ibiza, this is certainly true. In 2014, 836 cases of violence were brought to trial, the highest number of complaints ever recorded. There were also 211 protective orders issued.

We recognize that people who perpetuate such crimes are not necessarily born violent; rather, often they have been conditioned by society to believe that they can control or exert their force upon another person solely based on their gender. It does not happen overnight, either.

Children and adults alike are bombarded by peers, the media, and their superiors subconsciously teaching certain ideals. Imagine the images that my students see on a daily basis in Ibiza: stereo-typically ripped, tan, gorgeous men with multiple, big-boobed, huge-assed, long-haired, skinny, tanned women at their side. Doing whatever they want. Sexual encounters happening in public, music with degrading phrases such as “bitch,” “whore,” and “dumb slut” (and even worse. See the Mexican organization Fondo Semilla’s campaign Sin Darnos Cuenta (without realizing) that exposes the violent lyrics in pop culture music), and a girl’s worth based solely on her sexualization.

This isn’t just Ibiza. In fact, it is an issue of all societies. But I can’t help feeling that growing up in a “liberal party paradise” can lead to some misconceptions and confusions about what’s safe and violent-free, and what’s not. Liberation without education can be dangerous.

Teaching Early On

There are moments when as a young, female teacher, I can already see examples of manipulative behavior the young boys are learning. If students aren’t doing their work and goofing off and I mention something to them, it’s common for them to interrupt me and say something like, “Allison, yoo are berry beautiful [you are very beautiful],” as if their compliment will convince me to leave them alone.

The alpha males of each class make some sort of obligatory statement about another female student’s “nice ass” or “growing tits” on a daily basis. Nice boys are accused of being “maricones” (faggots) and are forced to show their physical strength to prove their heterosexuality. Worst of all, I can’t stand little 14 year-old boys’ fingers trying to literally tickle me to try to earn bonus points. No, I do not like it when you touch me and it’s not appropriate for you to give me a neck massage.

The bottom line is, the root of all future violence is learned behaviors of disrespect for and disregard of other human beings. You might be thinking, “…but those are just teenage boys.” Exactly. And how did we get to this point of accepting violence? Unfortunately by saying things like that.

Where your role in the classroom comes in

Teaching correct behaviors early on can have an impact on future relationships. As Kinsey Confidential reports, violence prevention is most effective when all sectors of society are on the same page. If the media, the education system, and home life all teachers the same values of respect and consent.

The Spanish government passed the Ley De Salud Sexual y Reproductiva in 2010, but reports show that it has not effectively implemented the sexual education it promised. Luckily in Ibiza, representatives from Consell d’Eivissa come to the schools (amount, length of workshop, frequency, and content depend on each year of the ESO) to give different workshops on bullying, sexual education, violence prevention, and drug and alcohol abuse. I am not aware of the curriculum nor of its effectiveness, but it’s on my list of things to investigate.

(What do violence prevention and sexual education have to do with each other? Where there is a comprehensive sexual education program, it includes topics of respect towards romantic partners and creating cultures of consent. If there is no sexual education, at least a violence prevention curriculum can address such issues.)

But we know that such consistencies are hard to come by, especially when so much input is giving youth contradicting information (examples: empowerment v. objectification or flirtation vs. harassment).

When seeing cringe-worthy behavior and abusive language coming from students, one might feel powerless. One might feel like no matter what they say or do, it might never change things.

Regardless, we never know the power that a simple, well-constructed comment can make. Not to mention, leading by example is key in education. I’ve noticed that in every class, there are plenty of opportunities to subtly give students a different perspective. However, I’m not always perfect at my comments, and often my emotions get the better of me. I know very well that by making someone feel alienated it is no way to make them understand. But sometimes, I am too reactive.

For example, sometimes the art teacher lets students put up youtube videos to listen to while their working on drawings. A group of 15 year-old boys that sits together were all giggling. One of them got up and put on a song, and the other boys were sneering at this point. I noticed something was going on. After the boy sat down, I walked over the computer and noticed that he had put on a song called “Raping you tonight” (Esta noche te voy a violar). You can only imagine my reaction. I flipped out, caused a scene, and probably did no good to make this student understand why putting that song on was so wrong.

I’ve since tried to take a deep breath and think before critiquing someone’s speech or behavior.

As an Auxiliary

Because working as an auxiliary with the Spanish government is a lower-level position without much authority, there are pros and cons to doing your part to create an environment of respect.

Because I don’t have any disciplinary authority, I can tell the main teacher and rely on him to follow through with disciplinary actions. However, it’s difficult because we are not often on the same page. I once overheard a boy creating a story about how he threw a girl in a pool, drowned her, and then ran his car into pool to smash her. I was horrified, told the teacher, and response was, “they are so immature.” THAT’S IT?! Violence begins with acceptance, humor, and normalization of such behaviors.

That’s when I decided to try my best to create a culture of care, at least between my students, and in the one classroom I have semi-control over.

Because I’m an auxiliary in art classrooms taught in English, students work on their art projects and my role is circulate the room and make conversation. Sometimes I ask them about their project, utilizing art vocabulary in English, and other times we just chat about their weekend and what’s going on in their lives.

I’m not sure why, but students tell me a lot of things that I would never have considered in a million years telling a teaching assistant or teacher. Perhaps it’s because I’m young. Maybe because I’m a woman. Or maybe because I seem open and relaxed. I don’t know why, but regardless, I am happy that students are so open with me because it gives me an opportunity to share with them my opinions.

Over the course of this year, I have seen several repeat behaviors committed by my students. Below is a list of the most common, and how I have come to address them.

  1. Abusive name calling

Abusive name calling is directed towards both males and females. Often times in a joking way (which still does not excuse it) and other times in a bullying way. Sometimes when a male member of the class gets angry at a female member, his go to phrase to insult her is “puta” (whore).

What you can do: If I overhear this language, I first say 1) why did you call him/her that name, 2) is that an effective way to resolve a conflict, and 3) Being a “whore” or “faggot” does not make someone less of a person or worthy of your disrespect, and 4) please do not use such violent language, at least not in the classroom. They typically have histories of violent action related to them, and you should not take a term like that lightly.

Where it could make a difference: verbal abuse, bullying based on sexual orientation, slut shaming


  1. Touching without consent

This is a difficult topic, because it has to do with cultural norms. It is very common for my students to hug or put their arms around teacher or administrators. Among them, the students kiss and hug each other a lot, friends slap each other’s butts, and tickling is very popular.

What you can do: If a student touches me, I will kindly ask that they please do not do that without my giving permission. If I see students get uncomfortable with another student’s physical touch, I will make a comment that without someone’s consent, you should not touch others in inappropriate ways. I also made a rule at the beginning of the year if we could please have no ass slapping in the classroom. I’m sick of it.

Where it could make a difference: rape, sexual assault

  1. Violent touching with “friends” or “family”

Students also hit, push, and shove each other, both in friendly and aggressive ways. If I see something, usually my eyes get wide and my mouth drops open, and they will say things like, “I can hit him. He’s my friend,” or “I can slap her. She’s my cousin.”

What you can do: I will typically make a comment regarding the fact that no matter what a person’s relationship to you, it does not warrant your violent behavior, whether in good fun or seriously. A person is a person, no matter if they are your friends, family, or romantic partners.

Where it could make a difference: physical assault, gender violence, rape, sexual assault

  1. Bragging about sexual encounters

Especially in the older age groups, the boys love to tell me about their “wild weekends.” Recently a boy just told me he “fucked three girls in one night.” After I cringed at the repulsive image that flashed through my mind, I proceeded to give him some advice.

What you can do: Typically when boys tell me things like this, I say, for example, “Carlos. You are allowed to do whatever you want in your free time. I’m not your mother. But the only thing I hope you do is make sure that you use protection, make sure that the other person is one the same page as you, and make sure that it is enjoyable for both/whoever you are with.”  Or, perhaps, with repeat abusers, I tell them, “You know what I always say. Do whatever you want, as long as it is safe, with consent, and with respect for the other person.”

Where it could make a difference: consent, sexual assault, sexual health (STIs)

  1. Slut shaming

Because I spend a lot of time overhearing and often conversing with students, they love to tell me about their personal lives and they often gossip. I overhear so much slut shaming: “she had sex with him.” “That girl gave that guy head,” etc. Most often than not, it is in a degrading way towards the teenage girl. I was shocked (or maybe I shouldn’t be. Because that is our society) by the way that other girls were talking about girls’ behavior.

However, this is how we are in this situation. As my beloved Simone de Beauvoir says, “El opresor no sería tan fuerte si no tuviese cómplices entre los propios oprimidos” (The opresor wouldn’t be so strong if it weren’t for the accomplices among the opressed).

Simone, always wise

What you can do: In these situation, depending on the maturity level and age group, I take this as a opportunity to open up a dialog. When they were talking about a girl who was filmed giving a blowjob, they called her a slut. I asked them to explain why. They said because she did it. And I replied to them that, “Just because a girl performs a sexual act does not make her a slut. Maybe she made a mistake by letting someone film it. Have you ever made a mistake?” I also try to make sure that they know that no matter what someone does, not matter if a girl is sexually active or not, that 1) they should be aware of how they are treating the girl and the boy differently, and 2) just because someone does certain activities, does not negate that they are human beings, worthy of respect, care, and kindness. They don’t have to agree with it, but they do not have to bully the girl either.

Where it could make a difference: slut shaming, sexual assault, abusive language, verbal abuse, gender stereotypes .

Societal change doesn’t happen over night, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something that each one of us can do. Because of my low-level of authority, I have found comfort in the hope that perhaps some of my comments or corrective speech can make a difference in at least one student’s life. At least I hope that my comment will provoke a reflection or change of thought. Even a desire to understand more.

What have your experiences been in the classroom dealing with violence prevention? How have you handled it? What do you say to your students? Tweet at me! @yasminesoyyo


9 respuestas a “#SAAM: How Language Assistants Can Make A Difference In Violence Prevention

  1. Excelent. I didnt know Ibiza was the higgest domestic violence in Spain, and I didnt Know your works on that. Congrats. As you ask where is a -comprehensive sexual education program, it includes topics of respect towards romantic partners and creating cultures of consent-, I belive that you could be the person to do it. Ibiza needs that program on the schools, where stil there are no sexual prevention like you mean. I can put you in contact with the “Regidor de Cultura y Ensenyança” and the “Conseller de Cultura i Escoles”, the maxim representatives x Ibiza and Balearic Islands and count on me. Thanks x the NAPTIME.

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