Letter to the Editor: SafeBae CDC
Content Warning: Metions of sexual assult, self harm and suicide
After reading the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, I feel compelled as a Health: Science, Society, and Policy Program major to respond to the alarm that they have sounded and some of the innovative early intervention work I have been involved with. I came to work with the national organization SafeBAE in high school after my own assault and want for all survivors to find their voice and strength through programs like this, especially in high school. Without authentic, student-led programs, more young adults will be assaulted and face thoughts of suicide. SafeBAE’s work saves lives. My work with them has been a part of finding my way back and making sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to another person. I am sharing the piece that myself and the other board of directors for SafeBAE released in response to the CDC report in hopes that other students at Brandeis might want to join me and get involved and bring SafeBAE’s programs to the greater Waltham community
— Abbie Brier ’24
“If you think about every 10 teen girls that you know, at least one and possibly more has been raped, and that is the highest level we’ve ever seen,” said Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health who said the rise of sexual violence almost certainly contributed to the glaring spike of depressive symptoms. “We are really alarmed,” she said.
SafeBAE set out from our inception to entirely change the way sexual violence was addressed, or rather not addressed, among teens. Founded in 2015 by high school sexual assault survivors, we began with the vision that students be empowered to lead this work and eliminate the taboo surrounding sexual violence prevention education in secondary school.
Historically, if students received any curriculum regarding healthy relationships it has been a short presentation in health class by a teacher or a local direct service provider. There has been no significant national coordinated effort to provide ongoing, age appropriate, and relevant consent and healthy relationship lessons throughout secondary education, including student engagement and empowerment as leaders of change on the local and national level.
SafeBAE exists to disrupt this approach and re-envision dating violence and sexual violence as a mental health crisis, providing a framework for all school and community stakeholders to contribute to change. We seek to empower students as culture change leaders and active bystanders, while simultaneously engaging school leaders to enact trauma informed and culturally responsive policies, curriculum, staff prevention and response training, parent education, and Title IX best practices.
“engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma” - 22% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning students, 13% female students, 7% male students, attempted suicide in the past year.
SafeBAE is leading the nation in programming that directly addresses the crisis issues reported in the 2023 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) report. With unprecedented engagement on social media, we have harnessed students’ desperate want for access to education across these issues with a suite of free, authentic, and youth-created resources specifically targeting middle and high school age groups. We know that young people need help and support in safe reporting and access to healing resources, but very few school administrators are trained in how to respond to or investigate reports of sexual violence; our work with schools and youth leaders fills that gap.
“Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls reported in 2021, that they seriously considered suicide, up nearly 60% from a decade ago.”
Our comprehensive dating violence and sexual violence prevention program, SafeBAE 360° Schools, enlists schools as partners to approach violence prevention as a mental health crisis in need of a full spectrum of prevention and response solutions. In implementation of our pilot programs, SafeBAE 360° has four key components: prevention education curriculum, youth peer educator leadership, school staff trauma informed training, and school policy reform/best response practices guidance.
SafeBAE’s success is measured by the ability of secondary students and their school communities to (1) recognize the attitudes and beliefs associated with dating violence and sexual violence, (2) create agency and influence to take leadership action for shifting cultural norms, (3) support teen survivors as well as their network of adult allies and friends to receive the help services they need for healthy trauma recovery, and (4) understand Title IX rights and compliance in school investigations and accommodations.
Our approach towards these goals is to comprehensively engage school communities in a synergistic series of targeted activities, including: (1) a systematic recruitment of peer leaders through social media and school-based awareness campaigns, (2) establishment of a SafeBAE school club chapter with a faculty advisor, (3) the training of certified peer educators to facilitate learning opportunities throughout school, (4) training school faculty and staff in consent/bystander intervention and trauma-informed practices, (5) building a coordinated community response team that addresses cultural barriers and builds best practices to serve student victims of dating violence and sexual assault, (6) reforming district sexual misconduct policies to be trauma-informed and best practice, including implementation and transparency, and (7) collecting data of our efficacy with leading researchers.
“More than 1 in 10 teen girls reported they had ever been forced to have sex—up 27% since 2019 and the first increase since CDC began monitoring this measure.”
In schools that have integrated our programs, students reported drastically improved student culture and awareness, as well as improved response from their school administrators and Title IX investigation improvements. We have both quantitative and qualitative data to support improved understanding of consent, bystander intervention, survivor care, and mental health awareness among students. According to our survey of high school students — ages 14-18 — who have participated in SafeBAE programming, the following percentages of participants indicated their increased knowledge of the following topics:
40% increase in understanding of active bystander intervention methods
31% increase in the likelihood that they will use bystander intervention tools they learned
44% increase in understanding of how to best respond to a survivor
41% increase in understanding how to avoid victim blaming
32% increase in student knowledge of how/where to report abuse in school
42% increase in how to avoid perpetuating rape myths
42% increase in their understanding of Title IX rights
Each of these elements of relationship safety reflects the improvements to mental health of the students in our programs as well as their peers.
Each of SafeBAE’s programs and all materials are created with an evidence-based approach. We measure knowledge acquisition, shifts in beliefs, attitudes, and positive behavior change in students connected directly with National Health Education Standards. SafeBAE has partnered with several researchers to collect and analyze data to inform our work, resulting in multiple reports confirming our program efficacy.
SafeBAE 360° Schools addresses the concerns that youth have shared for years, which have been further solidified by data from the CDC report.
This model contributes to the need for connectedness, which is a proven health benefit approach mentioned in the CDC report, and offers a strategic school-based approach to supporting teen survivors and aiding in reducing negative effects on mental health. Only through harnessing the power of youth voices in partnership with adult allies within the school community, can we respond to the clear call for action that the CDC report has lifted. SafeBAE is equipped with the resources to make profound and lasting change, and ultimately save lives.