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16 things Catholic girls should know about consent

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How should Catholic parents teach their kids about consent?

We don’t want to give the impression that we’ll wink at sexual misbehavior, as long as our kids reach adulthood without a police record, a pregnancy, or an STD. We want more for them than that. We utterly fail our children if we teach them only about consent, without any other understanding of what sexuality is for and why they are so valuable as human beings. Reducing sexual health to mere consent is just another form of degradation

At the same time, we don’t want our kids to get a police record, an STD, or a unwed pregnancy. Or a damaged psyche, or a broken heart, or a shattered sense of self-worth. An education in consent is not enough, but we must teach them about consent.

But too often, Catholic parents dig in, just telling kids to save sex for marriage, period. Perhaps they teach their kids to avoid the occasions of sin like the saints, but they’ve never taught them how. They’ve never taught their kids what to do if they have, like billions of teenagers before them, gotten carried away by desire, or what to do if they themselves have good intentions but their boyfriends do not. They’ve never taught them how to navigate that minefield of conscience, desire, and external pressure. They send their daughters out entirely unequipped.

And so girls who want to be good are left to piece together some kind of dreadful “least bad” course of action with almost no information about what they can and should do in actual relationships. Teenage girls often put their own best interests last, in hopes of minimizing damage or offense for everyone else. 

So here is what Catholic parents should teach their daughters about consent:

  1. It’s never too late to say “no” for any reason. You’ve done that thing before, with him or with another guy? You can still say “no.” You’ve done worse things already? You can still say “no.” You’ve done lots and lots of things, but not this particular thing? You can still say “no.” You’ve talked about this thing, even agreed to do this thing? You can still say “no.” You’re right in the middle of the thing and have changed your mind? You can still say “no.” It’s a little thing that no one could possibly object to, but you just don’t want to? You can still say “no.”

If you find yourself in the habit of encouraging sexual behavior over and over and over again, and then backing out over and over and over again, then maybe you’re being a jerk, and should think about how you’re spending your time, and how you’re treating your male friend. But that’s a separate issue that you can deal with later. Even jerks can say “no.”  You can say “no” at any time for any reason, because you have no obligation to turn your body over to your boyfriend. Why would you?


2. Yes, he can stop. Of course he can stop. What is he, a defective robot? If he’s all worked up, it may be very difficult to stop, and he may be mad or offended or disappointed, but he has free will and he can stop. If he doesn’t stop when you tell him to stop, that is sexual assault. He. Can. Stop.

You’re not genuinely injuring a guy by stopping after one or both of you are aroused. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself on the altar of blue balls. If he’s man enough to ask for sex, he’s man enough to deal with a little disappointment. 


3. There’s no such thing as being tricked into consenting. If you consent, you do it on purpose, consciously. If you didn’t realize you consented, or didn’t mean to consent, then you did not consent, and whoever tricked or coerced you is assaulting you, by definition.


4. A hymen is just a membrane. We hear a lot about protecting virginity, but sex is about so much more than vaginal penetration. There are non-PIV acts which feel important and powerful because they are — and they belong within marriage, just as much as intercourse does. You don’t have to let yourself be used for all kinds of absurd and degrading things just to protect that precious treasure of technical virginity. A hymen is just a membrane. You, on the other hand, are made in the image of God, and should not submit to degradation from anyone who professes to care about you.


5. Listen to your gut. If a situation feels weird or fishy, trust that God-given instinct and get the hell out. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. A firm “No, thank you, I’d prefer to do x” or “That won’t work for me, how about we do x instead?” is all you need. And if someone throws a tantrum over your alternative plans, you can be reasonably certain your good was not at the top of their list of priorities. A good man will value your comfort as well as your consent.


6. There is never any good reason for a guy to mention what his previous girlfriends were willing to do. Whether it’s a compliment (“I’m glad you’re not uptight like she was”) or a complaint (“All the other girls I’ve been with had no problem with such-and-such”), this is pure manipulation, meant to put you off balance, exert pressure, and make you feel like you have something to prove. It doesn’t matter if you’re different from every other girls in the entire universe. You are you, and if he can’t appreciate that, then he can go dangle.


7. Love doesn’t manipulate. It’s old school manipulative when he says “If you really loved me, you’d do such-and such.” It’s also manipulative if he turns it on its head by saying, “Let me show you how much I love you,” or “Why won’t you let me show my love for you by . . . ” Love isn’t about putting pressure on people. Love lets people be.


8. You never owe a guy sexual favors just because he does something nice for you. If a guy wants to spend time with you and you like him, be nice to him. But a date is not a contract. You’re not chattel, to be traded, no matter what he thinks he deserves.

And if you do hold the line and say no to “big” things, don’t feel like you then ought to compensate by agreeing to smaller things that also make you uncomfortable. Your comfort isn’t up for bargaining.


9. An adult man who wants sex or romance with you when you’re underage is a bad man. Full stop. You may be flattered, you may feel like you’re especially mature, and you may very much want what he’s asking for; but, by definition, this is assault. There’s a reason you cannot legally consent when you’re underage. An older man only wants an underage younger girl if there is something wrong with him. He’s very likely gone after other, maybe even younger girls, and will continue to do so. You should protect them by telling someone you trust.


10. If you’ve had sex, you’re not automatically in a relationship; you don’t owe him anything; and you’re not fated to be together. Sex makes you feel like there is a bond, but you have the power to break it at any time. It may hurt to disrupt that sensation of being in a relationship, but it may be the smartest thing you can do — the sooner, the better.


11. You don’t have to get married to someone just because of your sexual past together. Even if you’re pregnant. In fact, getting married because you “have to” could be grounds for a future annulment, if you got married because of pressure and a sense of obligation, rather than as a free choice. If you did something wrong, like choosing to have consensual sex with someone who’s not right for you, you can’t somehow redeem or erase that past sin by getting married. The past is the past. God wants you to have a good future.


12. It’s a bad mistake to have sex outside of marriage, but it’s not somehow more Catholic to refuse use a condom. Contraception is a sin, and so I cannot in good conscience say, “Yes, if you’re going to have sex, use a condom.” Even if your goal is to prevent the spread of disease and to prevent the conception of a potentially fatherless child, it’s not somehow less-bad to commit two mortal sins instead of one.

But some young Catholics will tell themselves that there is something noble or bracingly honest about having refusing to use a condom, even as they persist in seeking out unmarried sex. This is absurd. What are you doing? If you want to avoid sin, because it hurts you and your partner and cuts you off from God, then avoid sin. Don’t play games with telling yourself, “I’m sinning, but I’m doing it the Catholic way!” There is no such thing as sinning the Catholic way.


13. You’re not bad for wanting to have sex! Feeling strong sexual desire doesn’t prove that you’re a bad girl, or different from good Catholics. God has given us this desire for a reason. Sex is good, and the desire for sex is a normal, healthy desire. Your job is to figure out how to respond to your desire in a healthy and moral way. And no, it’s not easy. You will probably fail. Try again. But . . .

14. If you find that you cannot make yourself stop seeking out sex, then there’s probably something else wrong in your life, and you need help with identifying, addressing, and healing it. It’s normal and healthy to have a strong, hard-to-control libido when you’re young, but it’s neither normal nor healthy to feel driven and compelled to seek out sex with lots and lots of people. This is self-destructive behavior, likely with deep roots. It will be difficult to talk to someone  about this, but you really do need help — psychological help, not just confession.


Some girls will also agree to unprotected sex as a way of accepting some kind of built-in punishment for their promiscuity, not realizing that the promiscuity itself is a symptom of psychological distress. Confession is helpful. It is likely not sufficient by itself.

15. If something bad happens, whether it was consensual or not, you’re not alone. The people who truly love you will not love you less just because you did something you shouldn’t do, and they certainly won’t love you less if something happened to you that shouldn’t have happened. If you have someone who truly loves you, that person will talk to you, or find you someone to talk to, or take you to the doctor, or take you to confession, or take you to a therapist, or do whatever you need so you can be in a better place than you are right now. Having had sex does not make you an outcast. You are young. All is not lost.


16. You’re not ruined, no matter what you’ve done or what others have done to you. You cannot be “damaged goods,” because you are not goods. You are a person. Even if you feel worthless right now, and even if other people say you are worthless, you do not and existentially cannot exist for the consumption of any other human being. Not your future husband, not anybody. You are a child of the living God.


Yes, your past will affect you. Yes, you are changed by your choices and by the choices of others. But if you have regrets, they can be forgiven. If you have wounds, they can be healed. You are not ruined. You cannot be ruined. As long as you are alive, there is hope.


Here’s the kicker. Much of what I’ve said above goes for married relationships, too. You can go to extremes, of course. Some men behave as if their wives can never say “no” once they are married; and some women behave as if their husbands must gain explicit permission for every thought, word, and deed. It often takes couples many years to understand each other well enough to find the right balance. Spouses can reasonably expect to have sex with each other if possible. But there is also such a thing as violating consent in a marriage. Marriage does not give one spouse the right to use the other spouse, sexually or otherwise.


So, Catholics, let’s get over our aversion to the word “consent.” Our kids need to know about consent in dating, and they’ll need to know it when they’re ready for marriage, too. It’s one more way to learn to love each other better. 



Many thanks to my friends M.B., C.P., F.S., R.S., G.H., K.C., C.C., D.M., J.T., A.G., M.E., E.L., S.J., M.D., K.M., R.B., A.H., K.C., for helping me compile and refine this list.
Photo via Pexels (creative commons)

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Ask Unclutterer: Where can I donate stuffed animals?

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Reader Darlene recently asked the following question in the comment section of the post What to do with those old toys:

I have bags of slightly used stuffed animals. I’ve found most places like hospitals and day care center don’t want them because of germ contamination. Where can I find a site that would welcome them? How about for the flood victims in Texas or hurricane victims in Florida or even … victims in California? Give me some ideas please.

Darlene, this is a common concern, so I’m very glad you asked the question. The following are a few suggestions that may help anyone with gently used stuffed animals looking for new homes.

Give them away directly to people who want them

I’ve successfully used my local freecycle group to give away stuffed animals. It doesn’t always work, but it sometimes does. Other similar possibilities are Facebook, Nextdoor, and the free section of Craigslist.

Give them to Goodwill or other thrift stores

While many thrift stores don’t accept donations of stuffed animals, a number of them do!

Each Goodwill chapter has its own policies regarding what it accepts — and some specify that they take stuffed animals, such as Goodwill of the Heartland in Iowa and Goodwill of San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties in California.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County in Oregon is another example of a charity that takes stuffed animals for its thrift stores. Again, each local organization will have its own policies, but you might find that yours will welcome your donation.

Note: These policies can change over time, so be sure to check before each donation.

Donate via SAFE: Stuffed Animals for Emergencies

SAFE is a 20-year-old non-profit organization that helps get gently used stuffed animals (as well as blankets, children’s clothes, and other items) to those who need them. You can donate through one of the chapters in Florida or South Carolina. Or you can send them to one of the urgent needs locations that SAFE has identified. Here’s just one of the places currently listed:

Edmund D. Edelman’s Children’s Court is the court that handles all the juvenile dependency cases in all of Los Angeles County. These cases usually deal with abuse and neglect issues. Annually they handle about 30,000 cases, and some of these cases require the children to speak. The courthouse has asked us if we could donate stuffed animals to help ease these children’s fears during a very stressful time in their lives.

SAFE also has good instructions for cleaning stuffed animals (PDF) before donating them.

Donate to police or fire departments

An 8-year-old girl in Colorado who had been in an auto accident donated her stuffed animal collection to the Denver police department to give to other children like herself. You could certainly ask if your local police or fire department would like your stuffed animals to hand out to children in similar traumatic circumstances.

Give them to animal shelters

As reader Monique mentioned in the comments, this is always an alternative to consider. And it will work for toys that have stains (even after washing) that would make them unsuitable for giving to children. Please check with the shelter you have in mind, as not all of them will want such donations. But some, such as Four Peaks Animal Rescue in Arizona, do include stuffed animals on their wish lists.

Post written by Jeri Dansky

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Ok, I've got it, just need to plug in my security key. Hmm, which way does the USB go? Nope, not that way. I'll just flip it and– OH JEEZ IT FELL INTO THE VENT.
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52 days ago
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Are women safe in Christendom’s bubble? Part I

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Christendom College, a small, Catholic, liberal arts school in Front Royal Virginia, celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Christendom is praised as a safe haven where young students can focus on their studies, grow in their faith, and “breathe the Catholic air.” But several former and current students say the school’s sheltered, highly structured campus culture actually facilitates sexual assault — and that the administration works harder to protect its reputation than it does to protect its students.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which publishes an authoritative annual guide to Catholic Colleges, says Christendom “makes a point to emphasize virtuous living, which translates to a faithful Catholic lifestyle and strong friendships. With this goal in mind, the College utilizes single-sex dormitories, visitation policies to promote chastity, planned weekly events as a way to proactively promote sobriety and counter any temptation toward a ‘drinking scene,’ and spiritual programs to foster students’ prayer lives and spirituality.”

Adele Smith, class of 2012, experienced some culture shock when she arrived at Christendom. Accustomed to a large, sociable, extended family, she knew Christendom would be conservative, but was bemused by the strict segregation of males and females. She describes the “open houses” that would take place in the dorms once a semester.

“The girls would get baked goods and candy, and the guys would come into the dorm and take a tour. It was very much like a museum, like an exhibit. It was the same with the guys’ open house, except they’d have TVs and video games. ‘This is how the native people on the men’s side of campus live!’ This is not how young people engage in a normal way. It felt like a human zoo.”

The school’s rigid rules governing male and female interaction weren’t just awkward, though. Smith claims they are dangerous.

Rigid student life rules drive students off campus

She says that the rules against romantic public displays of affection were so restrictive, it drove couples off campus. Because Christendom is in a rural, isolated spot with few restaurants, clubs, museums or theaters, going off campus generally means going into the woods or into a field.

“It’s just a natural human need to connect with someone you’re in a relationship with,” Smith said. “Just to hold hands, they’d go off campus for a date; and by ‘off campus,’ it could in be in the woods, or in a field down the road. There are not a lot of options if you don’t have a car. So you end up having couples potentially isolate themselves. They should be able to express themselves romantically in a public setting, which is a safer setting to learn how to navigate as a couple. Instead, you’re put into remote, isolated areas where things can get out of hand.”

That’s precisely what happened when Smith was raped by her then-boyfriend, a fellow Christendom student. The rape occurred on Friday, October 2, 2009, on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, about thirty minutes away from the college campus. We contacted the young man and he has not yet responded, so we are not using his name at this time.

“He had sex with me, and I didn’t want to.”

Smith, who was then a sophomore, says she was so naive, she didn’t even know to use the word “rape” until many months later. She told her friends, “He had sex with me, and I didn’t want to.”

Smith had hurt her back in a car accident when she was a freshman. On the day of the rape, she re-injured her back while cleaning her room for Homecoming Weekend, and so her new boyfriend suggested that they have a low-key, relaxing date.

He didn’t have a license, so, at his suggestion, they borrowed a friend’s car and she drove them up to a scenic point overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. He told her her back might be more comfortable in the back seat, and they could put the laptop in the center console to listen to music.

“In retrospect, I can say, ‘You’re a dummy!’ But back then, I was nineteen. He was my friend, I knew him, I knew his sister, and it felt very natural sitting in the back,” Smith said.

He started kissing her. She had no objection, as they had kissed before. But when he started putting his hand inside her shirt, she told him “No,” and pushed his hand away. She said, “I’m not comfortable with that,” and he said, “Okay.”

“Then he tried it again, and I pushed his hand away, and said, ‘Please, I don’t want to do that.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ Then he tried a third time,” she said.

They were in a confined space; the young man was around six feet tall, and Smith is five feet tall.

“If it was me vs. a kitten, the kitten would win,” Smith says.

“I can’t stop him, apparently.”

She had been diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder after graduating high school, and her anxiety kicked in at this point. She said she realized she could not stop the man.

“He’s not stopping. I’ve told him three times not to. I can’t stop him, apparently,” she recalled thinking.

The young man then started unbuttoning her jeans, and she again told him “No.” He pulled her down so she was flat on the back seat.

“I had my arms pushed together, my elbows to my hands pushed together in front of my chest, trying to keep myself covered. He pushed my arms apart with his hands. My legs were tightly closed. He took his knee and pushed my legs open, pulled my shirt off, and pulled my jeans down. I felt him,” she said.

“Up until that point, I considered myself fairly knowledgeable,” she said. “But it took me a second to realize what was happening. I remember thinking, ‘Is that what I think it is? Is that what’s happening right now?'”

“Why are you making such a big deal of it?”

Smith does not remember getting dressed after the rape. She remembers standing outside the car, smoking a cigarette and shaking, and her boyfriend saying he didn’t know why she was making such a big deal out of it. So she drove them down the mountain and back to campus.

It took all of her strength not to drive off the mountain. She returned the car to her friend, went back to her dorm, sat down in the shower fully clothed, and cried.

Although Smith’s patron is Maria Goretti, the teenaged saint who was stabbed to death while resisting rape, Smith said the concept of rape was foreign to her. She didn’t want to accept that something so ugly had happened to her.

“When I tried to figure out what had happened, I would say, ‘He had sex with me, but I didn’t,’” she said.

Smith texted her boyfriend the next day, saying she didn’t want to see him again. He responded by calling her a bitch and a prude, and saying, “You know you liked it.” She blocked his number.

The victims always blame themselves.

Smith skipped many classes her sophomore year, unable to endure being in the same room with him. Her GPA slipped to 1.2.

It wasn’t until the beginning of her junior year that she heard the word “rape” applied to her ordeal. She was at a party hosted by her theology teacher, Eric Jenislawski, after a meeting of the Chester-Belloc Debate Society. Smith and her brother stayed long after midnight talking, and Jenislawski told her he knew something had happened to her. He said she noticed a change in her, and wanted her to know he was there to help her if she wanted to talk.

Smith told him what happened

“I’m so sorry you were raped,” Jenislawski said.

At first she didn’t want to allow that word, and grew defensive, blaming herself for the assault.

“When you’re Catholic you’re taught that your virginity is one of the best gifts you have, a gift you can give your husband,” Smith said. “I had been a virgin. I had been waiting for marriage. I was that fallen woman, and I didn’t want my parents to see me that way. That was not how my parents were, but sex assault is unique crime. The victims always blame themselves.”

But Jenislawski was the first one who made her feel like the rape wasn’t her fault. He encouraged her to get counseling and to tell the school administration what had happened. An RA friend, Elizabeth Foeckler, also encouraged her to go to the administration.

“I had seen already something was wrong, something had happened,” Foeckler said.

The idea of reporting her rape scared Smith. The young man was charismatic, well-known, and well-liked on campus. When she told a few of her friends that something had happened between them, he began circulating the story that she had seduced him and then regretted it.

“Hit me.”

He then began approaching and provoking her on campus. One day, she was sitting and waiting for a friend to come out of his dorm, and the young man who had assaulted her came out. He sat beside her and began to make small talk, putting his hand on her leg. She felt frozen and could not reply. After what felt like hours, he left. She fled to her dorm and went to bed.

Another day, while other students played some sort of game on campus, the young man approached her and began to insist that she slap him across the face.

“He kept saying, ‘Hit me.’ He kept grabbing my hand and trying to make me slap him,” Smith said.

Smith thinks he might have been trying to make it appear that she was the one who assaulted him. He also told some students that she pulled a knife and forced him into sexual acts.

Smith’s grades continued to slide, and her mental and physical health suffered as students and even outsiders, people she didn’t know, would approach her in the dining hall to talk about the ordeal.

The chances of going to trial are very low.

In April of 2011, Smith decided to tell the police about the rape. Front Royal Police told her it was out of their jurisdiction, since it had happened in a national park. Discouraged, Smith hesitated, then eventually called law enforcement rangers and met with them at Shenandoah National Park.

They explained to her that a prosecutor would take her case, but that the chances of going to trial, much less of the young man being prosecuted, were very low.

Smith’s father consulted with a lawyer friend, who said that the best they could realistically hope for would be that the young man’s record would include an accusation of rape. If he was accused again in the future, the record would help support that accusation.

“But the job of the press would be to make me out a liar,” Smith said, noting that rape victims often find the trial to be more traumatizing than the actual event. “The idea of being torn apart in court by someone with a law degree, and it being in the paper, was too much for me to imagine. So I pinned all my hopes for justice on my Catholic, conservative college, to uphold moral principles.”

So she went to the then-dean, Jesse Dorman, and reported the rape and subsequent harassment. The school promised to conduct a “complete and careful investigation.”

In loco parentis

Next came many months of frustration for the Smith family. In a letter dated May 16, 2011, Scott Smith, her father, wrote to Timothy O’Donnell, the president of Christendom,

“Adele’s grades plummeted that first semester of her sophomore year. She sought psychological help from Dr. Patrick Divietri. She has nightmares about the incident. She developed Crohn’s disease, a disease exacerbated by severe stress. Adele has no ‘bad girl’ reputation on campus. Her subsequent behavior is entirely consistent with that of someone who has been traumatized and assaulted. She implored [her brother] Peter to continue to live in Front Royal and to visit the campus often because she felt so unsafe.”

Scott Smith states in his letter that he left messages for nearly a week before he was able to arrange to speak to the dean, and that the telephone conference was “disquieting.”

“We clearly received the impression that Mr. Dorman wasn’t going to do anything . . . Mr. Dorman showed no apparent interest in pursuing any sort of investigation,” Scott Smith wrote.

Dorman, who no longer works for Christendom, did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Smith’s parents also drove the four hundred miles to meet with the dean, hoping to encourage him to take the charges against their daughter’s rapist seriously.

“Forgettable as most commencement addresses are, I remember yours clearly,” Scott Smith wrote to O’Donnell. “You spoke to the parents of the graduating students gathered there of the profound sense of responsibility you felt of acting in loco parentis for our children and your gratitude that we, as their parents, had entrusted our children to you . . .

“But here Christendom has done the opposite. It has sent the implicit message to women at Christendom that the such attacks ‘within the Christendom family’ will be tolerated, that the attacker will receive no punishment, that women who are attacked will have to endure the fear of retaliation, both on a physical level, and on the level of damage to their reputations.”

“So now my daughter must endure the presence of her attacker on the campus. Each day that goes by, she is reminded that nothing will happen to him. Each day she is persuaded that the college has no intention of supporting her.

A week later, in a letter dated May 23, 2011, President O’Donnell responded.

“Respectfully, I must disagree with your recollection . . . [in loco parentis] is not a phrase that I use with any frequency,” O’Donnell wrote toward the end of his letter to Scott Smith. “But more importantly, I think that you might be using the term more broadly than is appropriate in this matter. In speaking with our counsel, it is my understanding that under Virginia law, the doctrine of in loco parentis as applied to colleges and universities simply means that Christendom has a responsibility to provide a safe campus for its students. Christendom is very diligent in making sure that it provides a safe campus for the education of our students.”

Throughout the letter, O’Donnell refers to the young man by his last name, but refers to Adele Smith by her first name.

In the letter, O’Donnell tells Smith’s father that the school “understands the anguish” the Smith family is feeling as they wait for a judgment against the young man, and that the college will make “a complete and careful investigation of [Smith’s] allegations before rendering a decision that will impact both the life of the accused and the accuser.”

“After a prior incident”

Two months later, the school explained what the young man would be charged with: harassing Smith “after a prior incident.” The charges do not mention rape.

In the charge letter delivered to the young man on July 19, 2011, then-dean Jesse Dorman wrote:

“The intent of the Student Life Office is to support each student as he or she works to grow in virtue . . .

“we have reports that indicate that you have violated the Code of Student Conduct by harassing another student and causing emotional harm. The reports indicate that Adele Smith indicated, after a prior incident with you, that she no longer wanted a relationship with you. Then on November 24, 2009, you sat next to her on a bench and made unwanted contact with her by placing your hand on her knee. Furthermore, it is alleged that you continued to harass her by trying to provoke her to slap you, hit you or kiss you. Another student instructed you to leave her alone but you continued. After Adele did slap you, you allegedly said, ‘If you slapped me really hard and it really hurt, I wouldn’t want to kiss you.’ It is further alleged that on other occasions you went out of your way to volunteer with groups of friends that Adele had seduced you.

“Therefore, you are being charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct.”

A disciplinary conference was scheduled for July 28 of 2011. The school determined the young man was “responsible for the violation of Harassment.”

His punishment: He could not live on campus for one semester, and he could not contact Adele Smith.

Smith and her family were floored. There was no mention of her accusation of rape, either in the charge letter or in the sanction letter. The entire passage describing his offense is as follows:

“Specifically, you admitted: to placing your hand on Adele Smith’s knee, attempting to provoke her to slap you and or to kiss you to deal with her frustrations with you, and finally for telling some students around campus that she had seduced you. You did emphasize at length with regards to the first two incidents that they were not done maliciously and you found them to be normal interactions. As I informed you at the meeting, I do not find these interactions with Adele to be acceptable, appropriate, or in keeping with our Code of Student Conduct. Therefore I found you responsible for the violation of Harassment.”

What does the handbook say?

The school apparently based its response on two facts: First, there was, in 2011, no clause in the student handbook prohibiting sexual assault. Amanda Graf, the current Director of Student Affairs at Christendom, confirms that student handbook did not include a policy against sexual assault until 2013, two years after Smith reported her rape.

Second, the rape occurred off campus; and so the school considered itself helpless to respond to it.

“[T]he alleged assault of Adele did not take place on campus. Rather, the incident apparently occurred in a national park several miles away from Christendom’s campus,” O’Donnell wrote in his letter to Scott Smith. “Moreover, both Adele and Mr. [redacted] are adults — meaning that Christendom faculty and staff have inherently limited options for enforcing standards of appropriate (or even prudent) conduct, especially when students leave the confines of campus.”

When you come back to campus, you’re still a rapist.

Students are, however, punished for coming back to campus drunk, even if the drinking took place off campus — for instance, at “The River,” a popular drinking spot where even professors are known to visit and socialize. “The River” and the drinking that occurs there is an open secret that the administration is aware of.

“I always find it interesting they always try to punish students for drinking off campus, if you come back to campus drunk,” Smith said. “I say, if you rape off campus, when you come back to campus, you’re still a rapist.”

Smith says that the administration cracked down on professors hosting off-campus parties, because they involved drinking. The message delivered was clear, according to Smith.

“We care if you drink off campus, but not if you rape off campus,” she said.


Although the school imposed sanctions on the young man, he was taken under the wing of one of its founders and professors, William Marshner, and he lived in Marshner’s house for the semester he was barred from living on campus. Marshner has since left Christendom.

After the sanctions were imposed, Smith and the young man still had classes together, including core classes that were required for all students.

“It was up to me to avoid him,” she said. “I would go down the road to the convenience store, and he’d be sitting outside, and I couldn’t walk in. I would go to the only cafe in town, and he’d be sitting outside. I would turn around and drive right back. All his body language was hostile and arrogant.”

Her focus and concentration were gone.  Her grades continued to be low for the rest of her junior year.

“It was my story.”

Then, one day during her senior year, her friend texted her that Marshner was talking about her in his moral theology class, using thinly veiled language.

The teacher gave the class a hypothetical example of a young man and woman who were dating and decided to go off campus to Skyline Drive. In the example, they decide to fornicate, but then the young woman regrets her choice, and decides to claim the young man attacked her.

“In what world is this okay?” Smith said. “It was my story. Everyone knew.”

Smith complained to the school, and she says they gave Marshner “a slap on the wrist.”

Smith considered leaving the college, and looked into other schools. Her parents, brother, and friends encouraged her to transfer.

“But the stubborn Irish in me determined if I left, he would win. He’s taken enough from me; he’s not gonna take this.”

But he did take it away from her, she says.

“I can’t get into grad school with my GPA. It’s hard to explain why my GPA is so poor.”

It takes a long time to change the handbook.

The young man left Christendom in Smith’s senior year. His absence helped her reclaim some of her focus. But in that year, 2012, a year after she reported her rape, the school still had not added a policy against sexual assault to their student handbook.

“There was nothing to stop this from happening again,” Smith said.

Smith says the school claimed it “takes a long time” to implement changes in school policy.

“No, it takes opening a word document and writing it up: ‘Don’t rape people.’ If there’s a single member on your board who has an issue with that, they shouldn’t be on that board,” Smith said.

Smith continued to call the school after graduation to see if they had changed the policy. In 2013, after Smith had graduated from the school, she again downloaded the student handbook and was aghast to see there was still no language forbidding sexual assault by students. It wasn’t until August of that year  that the language was added to the handbook.

The student handbook now includes a sexual assault policy.

Christendom College does not receive federal funding, and so is not subject to Title IX regulations, which would legally require it to respond to and remedy hostile educational environments. This also means there is no publicly available data about sexual assaults or other crimes taking place on campus, as is required of Title IX schools.


This story was researched and reported by Damien and Simcha Fisher.

 This is the end of part I. Part II can be found here. Below are pdfs of the four letters referenced above.
letter from Smith to O’Donnell
letter from O’Donnell to Smith
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60 days ago
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The Parenting Dare: “We give parents the words” to arm their kids against porn

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Last week, mother-and-son team Lori and Eric Doerneman released The Parenting Dare, an online video course designed to help parents and kids work together to resist pornography.

Lori told me:
This isn’t your typical “Porn is bad and you shouldn’t look”-type of course. We address our broken nature and we clearly show God’s plan of life and love. We talk about why they will be attracted to porn, but that it’s just a trap. We hit that concept pretty hard. We want to dissect the lie and showcase the truth.
Lori has a degree in education and several years’ experience teaching, and speaking for Project Freedom, a program promoting chastity geared toward eighth graders and their parents. Eric is the oldest of the eight Doerneman children.
Here is our conversation about The Parenting Dare. My questions are in bold.
Lori, when we met a few years ago a the Catholic Family Conference in Kansas, you were writing a blog called “Prayer and Duct Tape.” Can you explain that title?
Lori: I wanted it to be a Catholic blog but without too pious of a title. We had duct tape all over our house. Also, my bra was held together with duct tape at my wedding! Like prayer, it holds us together.
Eric, you’re pretty open about your own struggles with porn addiction. What happened?
Eric: We were super Catholic, hitting all the spiritual nails on the head, praying the rosary a lot, going to Mass every Sunday. One summer, I served at Mass every day. Mom was killing the spiritual aspect. But she completely missed the physical aspect.
Lori: I thought talking about porn would ruin his innocence, and I wanted to keep him innocent.
Eric: In 5th and 6th grade, I started looking at pictures on internet, masturbating and looking at porn consistently. Mom walked in on me one time, and from, there we always had a bit of a back and forth conversation. I wasn’t always transparent, but through that, we always had a real relationship.
Lori: I want to talk to my kids, intentionally building a relationship so they will trust me.
Eric: I told my friends my mom was helping me through it. Initially, they freaked out, but then they thought it was cool. They could never talk to their parents.
So where did you go from there?
Lori: The most of the year it took to get him out of porn startled me. Once he finally got out, it was through [an understanding of] the science of what was happening in his brain.
Eric: I tried [to stop] throughout high school and college. I knew it was immoral, but I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until college that I said, “I’m actually addicted.” After college, mom kept hounding me. She got me a book [Pornography Addiction: Breaking the Chains] which taught me about the science, and I got a good grasp on what was happening to me.
What made you think not only of helping your kid, but trying to help other kids and other parents?
Lori: I changed my parenting through the course helping Eric. I have five sons, and I know I have a lot to offer to other parents.  So I thought, “I want to offer an online course.” Parents need to acknowledge that porn is stealing the hearts of their kids. So we called it “The Parenting Dare.”
Eric surprised the crap out of me by saying, “You’d suck at doing this alone. I want to do this with you.”
Eric: We’re daring you to take your blinders off. It’s a hard course. We’re funny, but it’s not tutti frutti. It’s not Pinterest-y.
Lori: We have made the Gospel too easy. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives.
Tell me a little bit about what your program offers.
Eric: There are five main sections of the course, called “modules,” and each one has videos in it, anywhere from seven to ten minutes long. The first module is background, stuff you need to know about us, and then some concepts covered in the course: the four levels of happiness, the brain and addiction, and your belief system.
Lori: Module Three covers kids age zero to five, to get moms keyed in, and to get them to discuss things openly, like, “That’s your penis!” We get them to establish themselves as an authority.
“The sex talk” is not a talk, it’s a continual conversation. It starts from a young age: how beautiful your body is, how awesome God is that He created this. This makes it easier to have conversations about sex, porn, lust and love.
The best addiction is one that never starts. That means we target parents of young kids. In the last three modules, we discuss the parents as the general contractors of their home. The foundation is the understanding of god, and we describe different parts of the “house.”


The biggest module is the fifth one, for ages eleven to fourteen. As kids mature, we get into bigger concepts. We talk about love versus lust, and about puberty. It helps them be warriors. We talk about understanding the science of porn addiction and help them reject it.
Eric: We give parents the words to say.
Lori:  The course is very practical. We address girls sending nudes. I interviewed lots of college girls, and I give them things to say when someone asks for nudes, so they don’t commit social suicide.
People who enroll are entitled to any updates that will come in the future. Technology is always changing, so is this one of the parts you see yourself updating?
Lori: Yes. Module Two is about how to protect electronics in your home and your phones. People will buy, for instance, Covenant Eyes, but they don’t install it. We hold their hands, step by step, click by click.
Why a mother-and-son approach?
Eric: That’s just how it worked out in our family. In a lot of families, the kids spend more time with mom, and mom has a lot more time to mold the kids.
Lori: Women use more words, too. But throughout the course, we say this isn’t just for moms to do. We address parents, and that could be moms or dads.
There are going to be some concepts men will understand in a deeper way because they have testosterone. And some women are so conservative,they can’t even say the word “porn” or “orgasm” or “masturbate.” We hope it will be a family thing, parents going through it together. Husband and wife sitting down together and opening up.
What if the parents themselves have issues? Do you see this helping them as they help their kids?
Lori: One of the beliefs we tear down is, “I can’t help my kids because I have my own issues.” No, that actually makes you more qualified. If you grew up dirt poor, are you never gonna talk about it, or are you gonna teach your kid to grow up to avoid it? Do you want your child to be better off, or not?
I’ve learned how to talk in a different way. How not to shame our kids, to be present for them. It’s almost more of a parenting course: How to authentically connect with your kids so they will open up. We don’t talk about porn all the time. We talk about how to have fun as a family.
Eric: It’s not even about how to talk when you find out they looked at porn; it’s for beforehand. The tone you want to give off is: If you ever look at that, I’m not gonna hate you. If you do that, they’ll never talk to you about it.
Lori: It’s a weird tightrope, because you don’t want them to be worldly, but you want them to talk to you.
What are some other common beliefs you refute?
Lori: That if my child is moral, and believes in Jesus, they will never look at porn.
That girls don’t look at porn.
And the biggest one is: I can’t talk to my child about porn because I want to keep his innocence.

By talking to them, you teach them innocence. They are kind of grossed out when they hear about porn, and that’s kind of good. You catch them before they’re in it. Talking to them gives them this huge protection.
Eric: In the part for the 6-10 year age range, we discuss a study that says if kid sees porn, he’ll go back to see if it’s still there, out of curiosity. So parents can ask them if they saw anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Lori: Priests say the heartache is that there are young kids looking at porn, and their parents don’t even know. We have to shake up the tree a little bit.
You touch briefly on the topic of modest dress for girls, which is such a hot button topic.
Lori: A priest told me, “Don’t go there!” But I saw a woman in the park, and the way she was dressed, she was turning me on! We just raise the question, comment, and say how we handle it. We’re not telling you what to do.
What is your ultimate goal?
Lori: It’s our vision to get rid of porn. It won’t happen in the next hundred years, but I want to be able to raise men and women who are porn resistant.
Eric: The things we’re talking about can be overwhelming. We’re going to help you through every step of the process.

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179 days ago
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Keep Kids Entertained in the Car Without Staring at Screens: Circle Round Podcast

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I do a lot of driving with my five kids. A lot. Around town to get them to activities. From Florida to New York every summer. And most recently, to get out of Hurricane Irma’s path. We were able to fly to Atlanta but then had to drive to my sister’s house in Memphis. That’s six hours of “needing to entertain children” time.

I generally have pretty lax technology rules on those long drives but there are times when I insist on everyone taking off their headphones and doing something together. Because honestly, how many times can you watch Sponge Bob? (I think my 7 year old just said 751 times.)

Despite the fact that it can initially bring on deep sighing from children, there are some really great activities to do together as a family when you’re stuck on I95 (Mad Libs, 20 Questions, singing every song you’ve ever heard) and here’s one more amazing one we just discovered…. the Circle Round podcast, which is our sponsor for this post.

Keep Your Kids Entertained in the Car Without Staring at Screens: Circle Round PodcastCircle Round is a new storytelling podcast for kids aged 4 to 10, and comes from the same talented people at WBUR (Boston’s NPR station) who produce the podcast Modern Love. (And, I love me some Modern Love podcast!)

The Circle Round podcast has beautifully narrated folktales (each 5 to 20 minutes long) that are entertaining, represent cultures from around the world and also spark conversation. So even after the episode has ended, you can can be discussing topics like kindness, persistence and generosity with your kids.  (Yes, I pinky promise.) This is way better than listening to your children vacillate between, “I’m bored” and “I have to go to the bathroom again.”

Keep Your Kids Entertained in the Car Without Staring at Screens: Try the Circle Round PodcastPlus, the stories are narrated by theatre, film, and TV actors. As an example, Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame stars in the pilot episode. And later on this season, Jon Cryer makes his debut. (I’ve always had a soft spot for Duckie from Pretty in Pink. I’m tuning in for that one whether my kids are in the car or not.)

We listened to the first two episodes somewhere on the road between Memphis and Atlanta.  My children really loved them. Even my 13 year old (who is older than the targeted audience of 4 – 10) said she liked the stories. The pilot episode, “It Could Always Get Worse,” is about a farmer who lives in a crowded house with his family and longs for more quiet (hey, my family of seven can relate to that!).  The message is about appreciating what you have.

Keeping Your Kids Entertained in the Car Without Staring at Screens: Circle Round PodcastThe best part was none of my kids were looking at screens. And boy did I appreciate that! My children were actually using their brains to envision and imagine what the characters and scenes looked liked while listening to the stories.

So the next time you’re sitting in traffic trying to get to that gymnastics class or embarking on a long drive, try out Circle Round. Because we could all use a bit less screen time and a little more conversation with our families. And this might just be the perfect way to do it.

New episodes air Tuesdays at 3 pm.

Subscribe (so you never miss a new episode) to Circle Round via iTunes, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app and download episodes.  And, because these are podcasts they are all FREE.

This post is sponsored by Circle Round, but all opinions are my own.

Illustrations by WBUR’s Circle Round

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179 days ago
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