Rape Culture in America

According to Wikipedia, “rape culture is a sociological concept for a setting in which rape is pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality.”

Rape-culture attitudes/behaviors include victim-blaming, slut-shaming, sexual objectification of women, trivialization of sexual assault, denial of widespread rape, and dismissal of the devastating impact of sexual violence.

Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

The following comments embody rape culture in America:

“In MOST cases (not all), the women raped are hoes dressed in some sleazy material and whine about being taking advantage of later.”

“There is no rape culture. There is such a small percentage of men that rape women, there cannot be a culture. [Rape] isn’t even remotely common.”

“It doesn’t matter if you urge or try to teach [men not to rape], they are going to do what they are going to do. It’s best to be prepared, it’s that simple.”

“To make the implication that a woman can dress and act how she wants and not expect a wolf to find her… is just damn ignorant… you don’t go flaunting fresh meat in front of a primal animal and expect it not to attack.”


The above quotes (edited for spelling/typos) are statements from two middle-aged men in response to a Facebook post. The Facebook post proclaimed that women are routinely urged to cover their drinks, to not walk alone at night, to carry pepper spray, etc., and then posed the question, “CAN WE PLEASE URGE MEN TO NOT SEXUALLY ASSAULT WOMEN?”

Ironically, the very comments intended to disprove rape culture provided proof of its existence (and ugliness).


Rape Culture in America

“Women are no more important than any other potential victims, but we are the primary targets of the messages and myths that sustain rape culture. We’re the ones asked to change our behavior, limit our movements, and take full responsibility for the prevention of sexual violence in society.”

Kate Harding (Author)

How common is rape and/or sexual assault in America?

To start, what are the statistics on sexual violence in the U.S.?

Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

According to the 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:

  • 43.6% of American women have experienced some form of sexual aggression.
  • 1 in 5 women are victims of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • Each year, there are an estimated 5,600,000 victims of sexual violence in the United States.

81.3% of women who experienced sexual violence said it first occurred prior to age 25.

According to the Association of American Universities (AAU) Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct:

  • 1 in 4 undergraduate women were victims of sexual assault while enrolled in college (compared to 6.8% of undergraduate men).
  • 41.8% of students experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment since enrollment.

Additionally, a 2015 study indicated that 20% of surveyed college men committed some form of sexual assault. Other researchers found that nearly 1 in 10 persons ages 21 and younger perpetrated some type of forced sexual violence.


According to the Uniform Crime Report from the FBI, there were an estimated 139,380 rapes (including attempted rapes) reported to law enforcement in 2018.

It should be noted that the Uniform Crime Report from the FBI under-represents actual incidents of rapes and does not account for other forms of sexual violence. Since most rapes are not reported to the police, the federal government relies on three data collection systems to measure sexual victimization: The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, the CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, and the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. (For additional sources of reliable data, look to peer-reviewed academic journals and credible sites such as RAINN.)

Per a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • Only a third of all rape crimes are reported to the police.
  • Reasons for not reporting:
    • Fear of retaliation (from either the perpetrator or society)
    • Believing the police will not (or cannot) help
    • Believing rape is a personal or shameful matter
    • Not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble

What’s more, reporting rape in itself can be traumatizing, a “second rape.” To avoid this, many women choose not to report.

The Impact of Sexual Violence

As reported by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN):

  • Rape victims are at an increased risk for:
    • Experiencing PTSD symptoms during the two weeks following the incident (94%)
    • Contemplating suicide (33%)
    • Attempting suicide (13%)
    • Using illicit drugs
    • Experiencing problems at work or school (38%)
    • Experiencing relationship problems with family/friends (37%)

According to research and data from the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey:

  • The estimated lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 per victim, or a population economic burden of nearly $3.1 trillion over victims’ lifetimes.
  • Government sources pay an estimated $1 trillion (32%) of the lifetime economic burden.

What is rape culture?

The concept of rape culture was formulated in the 1970s as a feminist, sociological theory. Rape culture ideology explains how society normalizes male sexual violence while blaming the victim. Additional practices/attitudes that contribute to rape culture include slut-shaming, objectifying women, trivializing rape, denying that widespread rape exists, and minimizing the impact of sexual violence.

Normalizing Rape & Sexual Assault

“[Rape is] unfortunately the nature of the world we live in. Is it not?”

The above comment normalizes sexual violence – it endorses rape as an inevitable fact of life. As a result, emphasis is placed on teaching girls and young women self-defense, vigilance, and modesty. This allows for sexual violence prevention programs to teach “don’t get raped… instead of: don’t rape.” Meanwhile, preventative strategies such as early sex education and interventions for treating aggressive behaviors receive less attention.

For myself, I was taught to yell in a deep voice if assaulted and to not scream. (Supposedly, a high-pitched scream would sexually excite the perpetrator, but a low voice would turn him off.) Also, I carried my keys in hand at night… not so much as to open my car door in a rush, but to stab my attacker in the eye.

“Rape is one of the most terrible crimes on earth and it happens every few minutes. The problem with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What really needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”

Kurt Cobain

Years later, I took a self-defense class. It was both challenging and empowering. The instructor, before teaching any moves, stressed that to avoid being a victim, the best option is always, always… to run. Self-defense should be used as a last resort.

Self-defense may come in handy, but it’s not a solution to sexual violence. The ultimate goal is not to normalize or defend against, but to eradicate. Rape is not the norm.

Victim-Blaming & Slut-Shaming

“In MOST cases (not all), the women raped are hoes dressed in some sleazy material and whine about being taking advantage of later.”

In a single sentence, the above commenter blames the victim, slut shames, objectifies women (which he later refers to as “fresh meat”), and trivializes the harmful consequences of rape. He implies that “hoes” (i.e., women who enjoy frequent or casual sex) who wear immodest attire should expect or even deserve to be assaulted. He trivializes the harmful impact of sexual violence when he uses the word “whine,” as though rape is a detested chore, not a traumatic and life-altering experience.

Both victim-blaming and slut-shaming contribute to rape culture. What’s more, some women choose to not report sexual assault because they fear the backlash (being blamed or labeled as promiscuous).


Victim-blaming defined is the attitude that the victim of a crime, not the perpetrator, is responsible for the attack. It’s assumed that the victim did something to provoke the assailant or that they somehow deserved what happened (because of the way they were dressed, how they flirted, etc.)

“She told me that my rape was not my fault, that I should feel no shame, that – simple as it may sound – I hadn’t caused it. No one causes rape but rapists. No one causes rape but rapists. No one causes rape but rapists. It was true. And it had not been obvious to me. And hearing it from someone else, a professional, someone who should know, helped me believe that soon I would believe it.”

Aspen Matis (Author)
Characteristics and factors associated with blaming the victim include

Male characteristics:

  • Endorsement of traditional views of gender roles,
  • Acceptance of gender stereotypes (i.e., “It’s not ‘ladylike’ for women to desire sex” or “Women who resist are only playing ‘hard to get'”),
  • Conservative religious beliefs,
  • Politically conservative views,
  • Compulsive sexual behavior,
  • The belief that rape isn’t “real” if it occurs in a marriage or relationship, and
  • Believing rape myths to be true.

And other factors contributing to victim-blaming:

  • There is a perceived threat to the assailant’s masculinity,
  • The victim is wearing tight, revealing, or sexually suggestive attire,
  • The victim is viewed as promiscuous,
  • If either the victim or the attacker were intoxicated at the time,
  • It’s perceived that the victim did not resist or fight hard enough,
  • If the assailant uses little or no force,
  • Sexual objectification of women in society, and
  • The media’s portrayal of what constitutes “real” rape (i.e., “stranger rape” vs. date or acquaintance rape).

A more subtle form of victim-blaming is placing all the focus on victim with victim-focused (instead of perpetrator-focused) preventative tips. For example, if a woman is advised to avoid empty parking garages, never leave her drink unattended, etc., and then slips up (i.e., her appointment ran late and she has to walk to car alone or she leaves her drink when taking an urgent call during a date), she is faulted (and may blame herself) for her carelessness.

“Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.

Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women

Only the rapist is at fault for committing a sex crime, never the victim, regardless of circumstances.


The definition of slut-shaming is “the practice of criticizing people, especially women and girls, who are perceived to violate expectations of behavior and appearance regarding issues related to sexuality.”

Slut-shaming seeks to humiliate, admonish, or degrade a person. Women are harshly judged for so-called loose sexual behaviors while men are not held to a similar standard.

Women as Sexual Objects

Objectification of women reduces them to sex objects that exist primarily for sexual pleasure. Interpersonal objectification is commonplace, and occurs in the form of unwanted body evaluation and/or advances (i.e., catcalls, leering, sexually suggestive remarks about a woman’s appearance, etc.) Sexual objectification also occurs in the media when women are depicted as sex symbols. Sex objectification is both harmful and dehumanizing.

Men who view females as sexual objects have a diminished ability to feel empathy for them and an increased rate of aggression towards women and girls. Research also indicates that men who objectify women or see them as animals are more likely to rape and sexually harass women. They’re also more likely to have negative views of female rape victims.

What’s more, women who are objectified may experience increased rates of mental illness; including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders; shame; and reduced productivity.

The Denial of Widespread Rape

We routinely reject unpleasant truths and information that threaten our worldview. This allows for the dismissal of commonplace rape and sexual assault in America. It’s easier to view rape as a rare and/or fully preventable occurrence.

Moreover, humans require more information to believe in something they do not want to believe. For example, if you deny widespread rape based on FBI stats alone or personal experience, you may not accept the reality without multiple, additional sources of information. And due to confirmation bias, you are unlikely to seek it out.

Rape culture normalizes sexual violence as a fact of life while at the same time dismissing how commonplace its occurrence is.

Trivializing Rape

Rape jokes and sexist humor trivialize sexual violence and encourage victim-blaming. Research indicates that exposure to sexist jokes may increase a man’s proclivity for rape. While no one is suggesting that rape jokes cause rape, they do contribute to rape culture.

What’s more, sexist humor may be a way to express real aggressive tendencies or prejudices against women under the guise of a joke.

Rape culture also trivializes the devastating impact of rape. To refer to rape as “just sex” or to tell someone to “get over it already” minimizes the severe consequences of sexual violence.

Traits Associated with Rape Culture

The acceptance of rape myths, which are damaging and unfounded beliefs about rape and sexual violence, contributes to rape culture.

What are some common rape myths?

Rape myths

  • It’s the victim’s fault due to her actions or appearance. (This is victim-blaming.)
  • Men rape women due to sexual desire and the need for sexual gratification.
  • If the woman is drunk or high, it isn’t rape.
  • Women who dress in revealing or tight clothes are “asking for it.”
  • If the woman doesn’t fight back, it isn’t rape. (In reality, severe trauma may cause a “freeze” response.)
  • Individuals that commit rape are unable to stop themselves (due to uncontrollable lust).
  • Most perpetrators are strangers.
  • Women commonly falsify rape out of spite or to get revenge. (An estimated 2-10% of rape allegations are false.)
  • Women frequently lie about rape to get attention.
  • Women frequently lie about rape when they regret having sex with someone.
  • Women secretly enjoy being raped.
  • Women can prevent rape by avoiding dangerous areas.
  • Only certain types of women get raped.
  • “Good guys” don’t rape.

“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”

Louise O’Neill, Asking For It

Furthermore, there are certain assailant characteristics/beliefs that contribute to misconceptions about sexual violence, promoting rape culture.

Research indicates that the following traits/views/behaviors are linked to rape myth acceptance:

Rape Culture and Sexual Violence

How does rape culture contribute to sexual violence?

For one, men who subscribe to rape misconceptions are more likely to be perpetrators of rape. Research indicates that the acceptance of rape myths is a risk factor for sexual violence. Furthermore, researchers found that justifying a sexual assault with rape-supporting attitudes predicted future incidents of sexual aggression.

Sex objectification, specifically, is linked to increased incidents of rape and acceptance of sexual violence. What’s more, rape culture in the media predicts the frequency of rape and even influences the criminal justice system.

Bottom Line: Rape culture promotes sexual aggression. And if you contribute to rape culture, you’re contributing to sexual victimization in America.

“Standing behind predators makes prey of us all.”

DaShanne Stokes

Anti-Rape Culture

To create a culture of anti-rape, we must eradicate rape culture beliefs, practices, and attitudes. Furthermore, we must find a solution-focused approach that aims to eliminate or reduce sexual violence.

Empowerment/assertiveness, sexual assault resistance, and self-defense training programs for women can help to reduce incidences of rape and other forms of victimization. Learning self-defense can also help to increase confidence levels.

Additionally, anti-violence education plays a crucial role in dismantling rape culture. Evidence suggests that early education and strength-based prevention strategies, including school-based, community-based, and parent-based interventions, are effective at reducing sexual violence. High-school programs that provide social support may help to reduce incidences of sexual assault. However, research suggests that for prevention programs to be effective, they must be theory-driven and comprehensive with varied teaching methods.

For young adults (post-high school), ongoing educational strategies effectively reduce rape myth acceptance and sexual aggression. Educational training programs for college-aged men have successfully changed harmful attitudes and rape-acceptance beliefs that contribute to rape. One study found that web-based trainings aimed at college-aged men reduced campus rape. Moreover, bystander intervention programs may help to reduce sexual assault. College courses specifically focused on violence against women may also be effective at changing attitudes of both rape and rape victims.


According to the CDC, strategies for ending sexual violence include the following:

  • Promote Social Norms that Protect Against Violence
  • Teach Skills to Prevent Sexual Violence
  • Provide Opportunities to Empower and Support Girls and Women
  • Create Protective Environments
  • Support Victims/Survivors to Lessen Harms

An integrated approach that combines early prevention strategies, sex education, ongoing educational programs, and self-defense and empowerment training for women may be the key to creating a counterculture to rape culture, and ultimately eliminating widespread sexual victimization in America.

Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

Conclusion

In sum, sexual violence against women is commonplace and underreported in America. Rape culture contributes to this issue by normalizing male sexual violence, victim-blaming, slut-shaming, sexually objectifying women, trivializing rape, denying the existence of widespread rape, and minimizing the harm caused by sexual violence.

As a way to reduce sexually violent crimes in America, we should focus on strategies that dismantle rape culture, target potential perpetrators, and teach women empowerment and assertiveness. An integrated approach is needed to eliminate rape and sexual assault.

In the very least, take a stand, educate yourself, stay informed, and don’t participate in rape culture!


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This is a list of free marriage and relationship assessment tools to use with couples in marriage and family counseling.

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Where Can I Find Help?

Where can you find the help you need? While there are plenty of resources out there for mental health and recovery, they’re not always easy to find… or affordable. (Plus, the Internet is full of scams!) This article is a starting point for getting help when you aren’t sure where to turn. This post offers practical guidelines; all of the resources in this article are trustworthy and reliable… and will point you in the right direction.

This post is not comprehensive; rather, it is a starting point for getting the help you need. There are plenty of resources out there for mental health and recovery, but it is not always easy (or affordable) to find help. The resources in this post are trustworthy and reliable… and will point you in the right direction so you can find help.

If you need treatment for mental distress or substance use, but are not sure how to find it…

If you have insurance, check your insurer’s website.

For substance use and mental health disorders, you can access the SAMHSA treatment locator. You can find buprenorphine treatment (medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction) through SAMHSA as well.

Consider using Mental Health America’s interactive tool, Where to Get Help. NeedyMeds.org also has a locator to help you find low-cost mental health and substance abuse clinics.

Additionally, you could contact your local Mental Health America Affiliate for advice and/or referrals.

If you cannot afford therapy…

EAP (employee assistance programs) frequently offer free (time-limited) counseling sessions.

At campus counseling centers, grad students sometimes offer free or low-cost services.

You could look into community mental health centers or local churches (pastoral counseling).

In some areas, you may be able to find pro bono counseling services. (Google “pro bono counseling” or “free therapy.”) You may also be able to connect with a peer specialist or counselor (for free) instead of seeing a licensed therapist.

As an alternative to individual counseling, you could attend a support group (self-help) or therapy group; check hospitals, churches, and community centers. The DBSA peer-lead support group locator tool will help you find local support groups. Meetup.com may also have support group options.

Additional alternatives: Consider online forums or communities. Watch or read self-help materials. Buy a workbook (such as The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step-By-Step Program) from amazon.com. Download a therapy app.

Lastly, you could attend a free workshop or class at a local church, the library, a college or university, a community agency, or a hospital.

If you’re under 18 and need help, but your parents will not let you see a counselor (or “do not believe in therapy”)…

Some, but not all, states require parental consent for adolescents to participate in therapy. Start by looking up the laws in your state. You may be able to see a treatment provider without consent from a legal guardian. If your state is one that mandates consent, consider scheduling an appointment with your school counselor. In many schools, school counseling is considered a regular educational service and does not require parental consent.

Self-help groups, while not a substitute for mental health treatment, provide a venue for sharing your problems in a supportive environment. (If you suffer from a mental health condition, use NAMI to locate a support group in your state. If you struggle with addiction, consider AA or NA.)

Alternatively, you could join an online forum or group. (Mental Health America offers an online community with over 1 million users and NAMI offers OK2Talk, an online community for adolescents and young adults.)

You could also contact a Mental Health America Affiliate who would be able to tell you about local resources and additional options.

If you are in crisis, call the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Alternatively, you can text HOME to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor.

Lastly, consider talking with your pastor or a trusted teacher, reading self-help materials, downloading a therapy app, journaling, meditation or relaxation techniques, exercising, or therapy podcasts/videos.

If a loved one or friend says they are going to kill themselves, but refuses help…

Call 911. If you are with that person, stay with them until help arrives.

If you are thinking about or planning suicide…

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Veterans Crisis Line. Alternatively, you can text HOME to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor. Call 911 if you think you might act. 

If you are grieving…

Check local hospitals and churches for grief support groups; some areas may have nonprofits that offer free services, such as Let Haven Help or Community Grief and Loss Center in Northern Virginia.

Additionally, a funeral home or hospice center may be able to provide resources.

If you are a veteran, you and your family should be able to access free counseling through the VA.

The Compassionate Friends offers support after the loss of a child. Call for a customized package of bereavement materials (at no charge) or find a support group (in-person or online).

GRASP is a grief and recovery support network for those who have lost a loved one through substance use. You can find suicide support groups using the American Association of Suicidology’s directory or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s support group locator.

Hello Grief provides resources and education for children and adolescents who are grieving.

There are also online communities, forums, and support groups, including groups for suicide survivors such as Alliance of Hope and Parents of Suicides – Friends and Families of Suicides.

If you are a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence…

If you are sexually assaulted, call 911 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 (or live chat). Find help and resources at National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

For male survivors of sexual abuse: MaleSurvivors.org

For domestic violence: The National Domestic Violence Hotline

For gender-based violence: VAWnet

For teen dating abuse: LoveIsRespect or Break The Cycle

LGBTQ: National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs for LGBT Communities

If you’re a victim of sex trafficking…

Access Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking or call National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (or text 233733).

If you’re a victim of stalking…

If you believe you are in immediate danger, call 911. Find help and info at Stalking Resource Center and Stalking Awareness Month.

If you can’t stop gambling…

Call or text the National Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-522-4700. Access screening tools and treatment at National Council on Problem Gambling. Attend a Gamblers Anonymous Group or other support group for problem gambling.

If you or a loved one has an eating disorder…

If you want to approach a loved one about his or her eating disorder, start by reading some guidelines (such as Helping Someone with an Eating Disorder from HelpGuide.org).

Contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. (Alternatively, there’s a “live chat” option.) For support, resources, screening tools, and treatment options, explore the National Eating Disorder Association site.

Find support groups, recovery tools, and local treatment centers at Eating Disorder Hope.

Attend an Eating Disorders Anonymous meeting (in-person or online). You may also want to consider an Overeaters Anonymous meeting.

If you are engaging in self-harm and can’t stop…

Call 1-800-DONT-CUT or attend an online support group, such as Self Mutilators Anonymous.

Read personal stories, learn coping skills, and access resources at Self-injury Outreach and Support.

Join an online community like RecoverYourLife.com.

Try one of these 146 things to do instead of engaging in self-harm from the Adolescent Self Injury Foundation.

If you’re concerned about the drinking or drug use of a friend or family member, but they don’t want help…

If you’re considering staging an intervention, know that there’s little to no evidence to support the effectiveness of this tactic. 

Instead, read guidelines for approaching the issue (like What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs or How to Talk about Addiction). Learn everything that you can about addiction. Explore treatment centers in the area; if your loved one changes their mind, you’ll be prepared to help.

Explore Learn to Cope, a peer-led support network for families coping with the addiction of a loved one. Alternatively, you could attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.

Keep in mind that it’s almost impossible to help someone who doesn’t want it. You can’t control your loved one or force them into treatment. Instead, find a way to accept that there’s no logic to addiction; it’s a complex brain disorder and no amount of pleading, arguing, or “guilting” will change that.

If a friend or family member overdoses on heroin or other opioid…

Call 911 immediately.

How to recognize the signs of opiate overdose: Recognizing Opiate Overdose from Harm Reduction Coalition

You can receive free training to administer naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose. Take an online training course at Get Naloxone Now. You can purchase naloxone OTC in most states at CVS or Walgreens.

For more information about how to respond to an opioid overdose, access SAMHSA’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit (for free).

If you want to quit smoking…

In addition to talking to your doctor about medication, the patch, and/or nicotine gum, visit Smoke FreeBe Tobacco Free, or Quit.com for resources, tools, and tips.

Call a smoking cessation hotline (like 1-800-QUIT-NOW) or live chat with a specialist, such as LiveHelp (National Cancer Institute).

Download a free app (like QuitNow! or Smoke Free) or sign up for a free texting program, like SmokefreeTXT, for extra support.

Attend an online workshop or participate in a smoking cessation course; your insurance provider may offer one or you may find classes at a local hospital or community center. You could also contact your EAP for additional resources.

If you or a loved one have a hoarding problem…

Read guidelines for approaching a hoarding issue with someone such as Hoarding: How to Help a Friend.

Learn more about hoarding and find help (support groups, treatment, etc.) at Hoarding: Help for Hoarding.

If your therapist is making unwanted sexual remarks/advances…

Contact the licensing board to file a complaint. Each state has a different licensing board. Additionally, contact the therapist’s professional association (i.e. American Counseling AssociationAmerican Psychological Association, etc.) Provide your name, address, and telephone number (unless filing anonymously). Identify the practitioner you are reporting by his or her full name and license type. Provide a detailed summary of your concerns. Attach copies (not originals) of documents relating to your concerns, if applicable.

Read NAMI’s How Do I File a Complaint against a Mental Health Care Facility or Professional?

If you want to take a confidential online assessment for mental health or substance use disorders…

Free and anonymous screenings: Screening for Mental Health, Inc. or Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Mental Health Screening

For additional sites, self-help guides, literature, etc., check out the resource page.

If you know of a great resource, post in the comments below!


Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP