Meet our SAAM Changemaker: Toby Simon
Toby Simon is KBEP’s Changemaker for April and we can’t think of a more fitting person, especially during Sexual Assault Awarenss Month. Toby sits on the board at KBEP and she has dedicated her entire career to supporting sexual health for women and girls.
Now retired and enjoying life on Cape Cod, we had the pleasure of chatting with Toby as she reflected on her career, first encounters with KBEP, and how we can move forward with prevention sexual violence in our communities.
Read what she had to say below:
1. You’ve had a really interesting career! Care to tell our followers a bit about it? Specifically how did you start in your work and where did that lead you?
My career began a long time ago, in the late 1960s. I was a high school French teacher in an urban school, during a turbulent time in many cities across the country. But the work I did outside the classroom set the stage for my interest in adolescent sexual behavior, human sexuality and then ultimately sexual assault awareness and education.
Since I wanted to get to know the kids outside the classroom I volunteered to be the cheerleading advisor. One night while on a bus with the girls, the captain of the squad asked me if I was a virgin. I was married so I felt comfortable telling her that I wasn’t (it was 1969!) and then asked her if she was. Lizzie told me that she and her boyfriend were “doing it”. So then I asked her what she used for birth control to which she replied “I piss it out of me.” It was that very moment which made me realize how little sexuality education kids had access to.
I started bringing girls to the Planned Parenthood in Syracuse, NY. They had just opened a teen clinic way back then. Every Wednesday night, girls would come to my apartment. I’d pile them in my car and drive them to the teen clinic. Then I’d wait in the waiting room for them to be seen, go through group education, individual counseling and then given a method. Planned Parenthood sent me their bills—$2 per visit based on their sliding scale fee. I collected the money from the girls and sent it in.
2. How did you hear about KBEP?
I knew about KPEP because I was living in Providence when Katie Brown was murdered. My younger son was very close to the sister of the young man who killed Katie. So we talked a lot about what happened, even though my son was only 12 at the time. I then learned about the community response to her tragic death and how this new educational program was being set up. So out of this utterly horrendous and preventable tragedy, education and advocacy emerged.
3. It’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month. While there are thousands of professionals and advocates this continues to be a pervasive problem in our society? What are your thoughts on this and how we move forward in preventing this type of violence?
I’m a big believer in education. Huge believer. But the education has to take place in numerous settings: the home, the church, the temple, the school, after school activities, sports teams. Any where where pre-teens and teens gather. And even younger kids too. The education has to be age appropriate so some times, sexual assault information can be presented in ways that address bullying or not listening to one another, or respecting when someone says no.
By the time kids get to high school they have already learned some pretty bad stuff about human interactions, gender, sexuality, femininity and masculinity. So imagine if kids got other messages and education before high school?
4. In your words, why is violence prevention work important?
It’s important because if we are ever going to see equality and parity and equal treatment, we need to realize that so much of violence and in particular sexual violence, has to do with power dynamics, not taking girls and women seriously, and an inability to understand how hurtful and traumatizing violence is.
5. Is there anything else we should know about you?
Well, I’m retired now and a year ago, we moved to a small town on Cape Cod. We live on the water, by the tides, watch beautiful sunrises and magnificent sun sets and are so appreciative to be surrounded by such beauty. It’s helped me get through the pandemic. The other thing is that I love being a grandmother. Like, who knew it was so fabulous? Without doubt, it’s the best club I’ve ever had the privilege to join!