THE BLOG
08/24/2014 09:12 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2014

Finding My Voice (and Using It) to End Sexual Violence

Last week, I was a co-presenter of one of the three keynote speeches at this years National Sexual Assault Conference, hosted by NSVRC. I was presenting about a social media campaign that I'm a cofounder and Project Director of, I Will End Sexual Violence, that was created to support the film Speechless. The film was written by a 17-year-old about male sexual assault, as a part of a curriculum created by Scenarios USA, asking students to think critically about gender, power, and relationships. The nonprofit organization, whose executive director -- Maura Minsky -- I presented with, focuses on amplifying youth voice through film and media, by giving students the power to share their lived experiences through film.

The keynote focused on how this campaign is a case study of the influence that young people have when they are empowered by adults. Because the fact is, as much as people may want to deny it, young people are driving the sexual assault prevention and feminist movements forward. They are the catalysts.

To give you one example, there was a group of young people that formed a coalition called ED Act Now that asked the Department of Education to hold colleges and universities more accountable when it came to how they handled sexual assault. They created a petition that got over 100K signatures and that resulted in the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. This resulted in something you may have heard about; 55 universities across the country who are now being investigated for Title IV violations. And this is only a small piece of what they were able to accomplish, just this one group of young people. That's powerful. That's important.

As a young person who is also involved in this work, I understand the importance of adults actively fighting back against ageism and believing in young people. Without my own involvement in the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's Youth 360, a youth engagement program that gives young leaders from Cleveland the tools to become prevention activists, I wouldn't be here today. If it weren't for adults who gave me the chance to tell my story, to share my truth, I probably never would have become an activist. It's not like my parents were super-feminists, or I attended a progressive school, or I already had an interest in feminism; the only reason I found my voice as an activist is because of great youth programming.

Sure, I know that people like to sometimes use or think of me as their token young person who's involved in activism. But the fact is that I am not alone. There are so many other young people who are ready to become leaders in this movement, who have the intelligence, social awareness, and ambition to do this work. I am not the only one out here doing this; there are thousands, probably millions, of others.

It's our job to amplify the voices of these young people and find the next change-makers.

If there's one key to my success I share with you, it's the opportunities I was given as a young person; it's the caring adults and leaders who believed that young people's voices matter. Without them, I wouldn't have found my voice.