WIESBADEN, Germany - When a sixth-grade boy at Wiesbaden Middle School gave a girl a letter filled with profanity and Julie Wahlers found out about it, she put on her victim advocate hat and responded.
Wahlers, victim advocate for the Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program, put together a team of five advocates to speak to sixth-graders at the school, and they met with the students Jan. 16. Members of the team split up to speak to the boys and girls separately.
Master Sgt. Scott Penhollow, sexual assault response coordinator for 2nd Signal Brigade, Sgt. 1st Class Gerrine Garcia, also from 2nd Signal, and Earl McFarland, FAP educator and victim advocate, spoke to the boys in the gym, while Wahlers and Kari Ross, also FAP victim advocate, talked to the girls in the band room.
Their message? Respect one another and stand up for yourself if someone disrespects you.
"I was taught one time that respect, when I'm talking to somebody, is like air," said Penhollow to the group of about 60 boys. "Think about that. If I tell every one of you to hold your breath until the end of this assembly, what's the one thing that's going to be on your mind? Are you going to be listening to what I'm saying? No. You're going to be like, 'When can I breathe?'"
People don't listen to people who are disrespecting them, Penhollow said.
Wahlers and Ross also focused on respect during their talk with the girls.
With the girls' help, the group came up with their own definition of disrespect such as calling someone a bad name or otherwise saying mean things to them, calling someone stupid if he or she makes a mistake, spreading rumors about a friend, or ignoring someone on purpose.
"It is at this level that we can really start making a difference," Wahlers said. "These little girls can hopefully leave this talk and then when someone is disrespecting them, something will go off in their heads and they'll say, 'This is what they were talking about back there, and I have every right to say no.'"
It is important that students know their boundaries when it comes to respect, Wahlers said.
"Boundaries are their own special rule book, and they have to write it," Wahlers said. "Nobody else can write it for them, and when they get that horrible gut feeling, then there's something wrong and they need to listen to it. There's something wrong and someone's stepping on their boundaries and they have every right to step up and say, 'Hey, that's not cool.'"
Alexa Williams, a student, said the talk was educational and she learned what to say if someone is disrespectful to her.
In addition, she will tell someone about what is going on if someone disrespects her, Williams said.
Salote Husseini, also a student, said she thought the talk was good because she did not know what to do in the past if someone disrespected her, but now she knows how to stand up for herself.
Penhollow asked the boys what they intended to do about disrespect in the school.
"I hear a lot of people saying, 'I would go up to this person, or I would personally tell them,' but what are you personally going to do, because sometimes it's not always about the person to your left or your right. Sometimes you've got to look in the mirror," Penhollow said, "and figure out what 'I' can do."
Daryl Guerra, a student, said he thought the talk was really good, and it was an interesting topic to talk about in regard to school. It made him think about subjects he might not otherwise have thought about, he said.
Ross said the group hopes to bring this important message of respect to all of the grades and already has plans to speak at the high school.
McFarland said the group intends to return to the middle school in May and ask the students if anything has changed about how students treat one another. "If we don't follow up, then we have wasted a great opportunity here," he said.