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  • Lesson plan
  • Grades 11-12

Transforming a Culture of Silence: Preventing Sexual Violence and Rape


Assign Homework the Night Before

  1. Distribute Handout One: Film Summary and Director’s Statement by Nancy Schwartzman

Have students read the film summary and the director’s letter and underline words and phrases they would like to discuss the next day, particularly those related to challenging silence. Remind students to write their questions in the margins of the letter.


Day One: Opening (10 mins)

  1. Write “boys will be boys” on the board. In pairs, have students discuss their understanding of this phrase. What stereotypes come to mind? What behaviors would they list to describe this mentality?
  2. Transition from the discussion to debriefing their homework reading, Handout One: Film Summary and Director’s Statement by Nancy Schwartzman. Have students share their questions and reflections. Allow time and space for students to discuss before showing Clip 1.

Activity (40 min)

Watch Clip 1 (10:59 mins)

After viewing, break class into five groups and assign each an identity:

  • The blogger, Alexandria Goddard
  • The boys at the party
  • The men in town
  • The parents
  • The girl on the frisbee team

Print Handout Two: Clip 1 Perspectives and cut the statements from the clip into strips. Hand these strips to each group. (Be aware this film clip contains mature and explicit language)

Read assigned perspectives and have small groups discuss and answer the questions below. Have each group choose a spokesperson to synthesize their discussion and report out to the larger group.

● According to your assigned person/people, what happened at the party?

● What aspects of our larger culture do you think influenced their ideas and their reactions to the assault?

● How did the actions and beliefs of your assigned person/people contribute to or prevent sexual assault from happening? If they were to act in a way that might prevent it from happening again, or stop it from happening, what might they do or say differently?

● We don’t hear from Jane Doe throughout the film. What distinguishes this conversation from one that focuses on the survivor?

Discuss in large group:

● What is your understanding of the way being on a team, the importance of sports and the historical norms of Steubenville influenced what happened on the night of the party?

● On their social media posts during and after the party, the boys called what happened “rape.” Some seemed to use the word in a way that addressed the situation seriously as a crime, and some used it in a way that seemed like they didn’t take it seriously.

➔ For the boys who didn’t see what was happening as a crime, what do you imagine is their definition of consent?

➔ For the boys who understood that what was happening was wrong, what do you imagine is their definition of consent?

Day Two

Opening: Reviewing Terms (15 mins) Have students refer to the Important Terminology sheet.

Consent: Each state has a different definition of consent. You can check on your state’s definition here. Or, as a class, discuss the following definition of consent as defined by the University of Michigan. Using this definition, did the boys at the party have the consent of Jane Doe?

Consent is a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed outwardly through mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity. Consent can be withdrawn by either party at any point. Consent must be voluntarily given and may not be valid if a person is being subjected to actions or behaviors that elicit emotional, psychological, physical, reputational, financial pressure, threat, intimidation, or fear (coercion or force). Consent to engage in one sexual activity, or past agreement to engage in a particular sexual activity, cannot be presumed to constitute consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage again in a sexual activity. Consent cannot be validly given by a person who is incapacitated.

Rape and Sexual Assault: What is and isn’t rape? What is and isn’t sexual assault?

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): “Rape is a form of sexual assault, but not all sexual assault is rape. The term rape is often used as a legal definition to specifically include sexual penetration without consent. For its Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI defines rape as ‘penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.’ To see how your state legally defines rape and other forms of sexual assault, visit RAINN's State Law Database.”

Activity (20 mins)

Watch Clip 2 (4:21 mins)

Discuss as a large group these questions:

● Did anything in this clip change how you think about what happened to Jane Doe? If so, what changed?

● In what ways do you think the culture of Steubenville contributed to the women at this rally either keeping silent, or not being believed about their own experiences? Do you think Steubenville’s culture is similar to your own community’s? Why or why not?

● Given the controversy around what happened to Jane Doe, do you think the fears and concerns of the women who stayed silent before were reasonable? Why or why not?

  1. Bystanders and Upstanders

Introduce the idea of a “bystander” as a person who knows about or witnesses an injustice but says nothing, and an “upstander” as a person who knows about or witnesses an injustice and chooses to act. The choice to act as a bystander or as an upstander is complex. Take some time to discuss with students the circumstances, dilemmas and consequences that may result in watching an injustice and not taking action.

Watch Clip 3 (8:30 mins)

Have students write down moments from the clip when someone either a) acted to prevent or stop the assault and prevent further harm, or b) acted in a way that normalized this crime, allowing the perpetrators to feel that what they did was acceptable.

Debrief after the clip by asking students to briefly share examples of both kinds of behaviors.

The following are quotes from people in the film. In small groups, ask students to discuss what the quote reveals about “bystander” and “upstander” behavior.

“If she was my friend, like if she was my close friend, then I would take the extra step and make her stay, but you know I can’t do that, so I just let her do what she wants. Which, I understand, was wrong.” – Farrah, girl who was at the party and saw Jane Doe was drunk

“Well, yeah, I had to testify in court. It was terrible because it was my really good friends involved… You know, quite often I just wish I was with my friend Trent the whole night and nothing would’ve ever happened. The love and care I have for my friends, I just didn’t want to see them in any bad situations. And I just wish it never happened.” – Shawn, Trent and Ma’lik’s teammate

“I’ve been blogging for a long time, usually about true crime cases. Not everything is as it seems. If something stinks, I’m going to be the first person that calls it out.” – Alexandria Goddard, crime blogger who initially exposed the boys’ social media posts

“It’s more about the culture that contributed to the rape in the first place. If someone who’s really important to your school or your town or your football team is accused of something, there’s always going to be a lot of people coming to their aid to explain what happened or what didn’t happen. If people knew about this in April, if teachers knew about it, if coaches knew about it, if a principal knew about it, if parents knew about it, why was nothing done about that?” – Rachel Dissell, reporter who revealed the incident from the previous April

Closing Exercise: Reflective Writing (10 mins)

For the closing exercise, ask students to write reflectively about Roll Red Roll, and how the film resonates with their experiences in their own communities and school culture.

Suggested writing prompts:

What are pathways for boys and men to challenge general thinking about masculinity, accountability and male leadership? What pathways invite them to be changemakers on this issue?

In what ways does centering perpetrators, bystanders and witnesses in this dialogue shift the conversation?

What are ways to build a culture of connection and accountability within a school or other community?

After completing this writing exercise, refer to the Resources section at the end of this lesson for students to explore organizations and resources to learn more or seek out support.

About the authors


Blueshift is a team of education specialists with background in environmental and social impact work. The team recognizes and builds on the power of documentary film in reaching broad audiences to spark energy for deep and lasting social change. The team works with filmmakers, photographers and writers to develop innovative educational strategies, experiences, tools and resources that bring stories off the screen and into viewers' lives.