By Patrice Worthy
Katie Koestner became the center of a national debate in 1991 when she came forward as a victim of date rape. She went on to challenge commonly held beliefs about sex, sexuality and sexual assault.
Now as the executive director of Campus Outreach Services and Take Back the Night, she educates the public on rape prevention. Campus Outreach Services works with hundreds of schools, and Take Back the Night, which seeks to end all forms of sexual violence, has more than 600 locations.
On Sunday evening, Sept. 11, Koestner is speaking at the Weber School in a program supported by the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta to help parents navigate the modern sex culture among high school and college students. She spoke to the AJT by phone.
AJT: What can attendees expect from you or expect to hear at the Weber School?
Koestner: I am giving a presentation on healthy relationships geared toward helping parents give their children the tools they need to communicate about sex, especially with the hookup culture going right now. It’s important to talk to children about how to navigate the space and protect themselves, especially when alcohol is involved and the vulnerabilities it can create.
AJT: Why do you choose to center your work on high school and college students?
Koestner: Sexual assault is a problem that can happen to anyone from childhood to adulthood. I think there’s a need everywhere. Most of the presenters had their experience in high school and college, so that’s our expertise.
AJT: How is your message relevant to religious communities?
Koestner: It’s a predominantly Jewish audience, and there are certain expectations in Jewish families about relationships and sexuality. Talking about sex, sexuality and rape really does matter in faith-based communities. No matter if we’re talking about Orthodox or Reform or what they’re following, it is important they include sexuality in the conversation.
AJT: Why is it important to create dialogue about sex within the community and families?
Koestner: We don’t live in a time where you can avoid sex. It’s in music and all over TV. When the parents of today were growing up, you kept going until someone said stop. Today it is different. Laws are going more toward affirmative consent, which means you have to get a yes before any contact. That means a yes before any touching, holding hands, and over- or under-the-clothes contact. It works for people who may not know what to do in situations where they feel uncomfortable but may freak out and panic. They may not know how to communicate how they are feeling or what they don’t want.
AJT: You talk a lot about communication and talking openly about sex with children. Do you think open dialogue will empower them?
Koestner: Absolutely. My family was religious and very conservative in our values. We never talked about any of this. My dad was very intimidating, and he met guys at the door, so I never worried or thought about boys treating me a certain way. No one ever said this is what you do if this happens or that boys would do something like that. I didn’t know how to respond because nobody talked to me about it. There’s still more reluctance to talk about sexual things, and we need to get past that.
AJT: What do you want people to take away from your presentations?
Koestner: I hope parents will realize the importance having a conversation with their children about sex, rape and consent. I also want people to walk away feeling empowerment to speak up about a relationship, situation or any kind of sexual experience where they are abused or violated.
What is really important is there’s a willingness to set an example among men and fathers. I want men to understand you can be a real man and your sexual prowess does not affect your manhood. You can be a real man and not get mad and accept the rejection. Men should know that’s the hallmark of being a man.
What: “Silence Changes Nothing: Healthy Relationships and Understanding Harassment, Consent, and Sexual Misconduct”
Who: Katie Koestner
Where: The Weber School, 6751 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 11
Admission: Free; reserve seats at weberschool.org/katie