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My High School Does Not Have a Sexual Harassment Policy

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SPU chapter.

I grew up in LA and attended private Christian schools my whole life. When it came time to attend high school, I only applied to one, following both my sister’s footsteps. This is a school of less than 700, with all the cliques any high school has, so I quickly found belonging on the cross country team. The team captains were friendly and welcoming, the female team captain, in particular, didn’t care that I was a terrible long-distance runner, she just wanted more girls on the team. My freshman year was also the first year of our new head coach, we’ll call him Coach Ted. The cross and track teams had been struggling to hold down a coach for a while, so it felt refreshing to have Ted come from Arizona with an impressive resume and a strong sense of discipline for his runners. 

He quickly took me under his wing, not giving me less attention because I was slow, but valuing me just as much as his fastest runners. He had three young kids who often joined us for practice, hanging around while he ran drills. 

Once track season came around in the spring I showed my interest in hurdles. Track had a few different coaches to account for all the events, but Ted was the hurdle coach, and he took me under his wing to teach me this new event. Over the course of my first two seasons my little hurdle crew grew. As a freshman, I was named to the varsity team, and I went to the first round of CIF (the California state competition) both years. Ted was a good coach. He addressed my fears and nerves before every race, and worked patiently with me to achieve each goal I had for myself. He saw my potential and pushed me further than I thought I could go. Even as a sophomore he included me in teaching the new hurdlers and taking on a more leadership-type role on the team. I find a lot of joy in leading and coaching others, so it was cool to work alongside him a bit.

Along with sports and academics, though, I was also active in dance. During my freshman year dance class, two seniors, who had Ted as an AP teacher, warned me about his behavior, calling him creepy and a pervert. I filed their comments away but thought: surely they’re being dramatic, he has two daughters and a son, how could he be creepy? Unfortunately, over the next four years I started to learn how this man: a father, a husband, a teacher, and a dedicated coach, had grooming tendencies that even I was falling prey to. 

He had my phone number because our team sometimes traveled and it made it easier to communicate, but he started texting me about things other than track. Once he asked me to come to his classroom because he had a medal for me from my last race. This was not preferable, but at least it was related to track. Then he followed up with a text complimenting me on my last dance performance mentioning that his kids liked it too. I felt like I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable because it was a compliment right? But something in me knew that his text was inappropriate, if he thought I did well he should just tell me to my face, not text me. 

Thankfully his texts didn’t go too far, and I was particular about giving the bare minimum in my answers, shutting down any invitation to text more. But it wasn’t just the texting that caught my attention. In school settings with adults and minors, I’ve learned that teachers are not allowed to touch students. I understood that if I wanted to hug a teacher I could, but only if I initiated. Nevertheless, Ted initiated hugs with me and my teammates frequently. After a race he would walk with his arm around my shoulder, or my teammates’ shoulder, and it made all of us uncomfortable. 

Then there was the gaslighting. One practice he instructed us to do repeat 400s. At one point I thought we had finished, but he said we had one more. In my head I was annoyed, but it was a nice day out and I felt good, so I was ready to go, and I didn’t say anything in retort. But he looked at me and said “oh come on, don’t roll your eyes at me.” This was maybe the second or third time he had accused me of giving him attitude, when I was sure I hadn’t, so I answered directly, “Oh, I didn’t roll my eyes, I’m happy to run another lap.” He chuckled and waved me off. Ted sometimes made comments like this in front of my parents though, and my dad even mentioned to me that he thought his behavior was strange. 

During junior year I devoted more time to dance, and even though I was good at hurdles I didn’t find a lot of joy in it, so I quit. I might have stayed if I had a different coach, but by then there had been enough weird moments with Ted that I didn’t feel comfortable as an athlete on his team. 

Senior year I had the opportunity to take his AP class, which I most likely would have excelled in, but I opted for the general track with the female teacher. I had a friend, though, who did have him as a teacher and she had even more inappropriate encounters with him, which resulted in legal action with the head of school and his eventual dismissal. 

As sad as it is, by mid high school I had become very aware of the prevalence and frequency of harassment. Films like Athlete A and the #MeToo movement had made me more aware of my own safety in athletics and every situation I was in. Thankfully, my parents, specifically my mom, also played pivotal roles in teaching me to speak up and know my own power to remove myself from uncomfortable situations. 

What breaks my heart the most is that Ted’s grooming tendencies appeared to my 15-year-old self, as kind, fatherly actions at first. I didn’t fully notice my own discomfort until a year after knowing him; and as an upperclassman I was worried about other girls who might fall prey to his actions. Girls shouldn’t have to wonder if the men in their lives are trustworthy, or if they have ulterior motives, and yet many women learn to walk around every day with this awareness of possible assault.  

Once Ted was dismissed, he returned with his family to Arizona and to my knowledge, is a teacher and coach at his old public school. I hope and pray that his experience taught him how to be better, but I also have little faith in his ability to change. 

Most notably, my school did not have an accessible way to log any complaints against him. It takes an easy google search to find the sexual harassment policy and reporting sheet for the LA unified school district, but for my Christian private school, these kinds of documents did not exist. I even spent the majority of senior year as one of two students on an “academic integrity” committee, rewriting our policy around cheating and plagiarism. When I asked this same committee, all of whom were men, if we could write a sexual harassment policy that included female voices they responded with “This is why we need students like you, to help us old guys see what we’re missing”. It took everything in me to respond with a smile and say: “Thanks for listening.” Are you kidding me?! It takes an 18 year old girl to enlighten a group of 50 year old men that their sexual harassment policy shouldn’t just be written by men? How thick can you get? 

I just recently went to my school’s website and was disappointed to still not find a sexual harassment policy. I loved my high school, I made lifelong friends there, and had many phenomenal teachers who listened to me and gave me the opportunity to grow in a safe and encouraging environment. But much of my experience was due to my outside support from my parents, sisters, and friends who walked with me through the hard things, reminding me of my voice and my power. The presence of a harassment policy does not mean that harassment will ever happen, but it is a needed caution to give victims the tools to be heard. 

October is domestic violence action month, and if you or anyone you know is experiencing any sort of harassment there are resources to help. “If you feel like you are experiencing abuse, reach out to an Advocate at @NationalDomesticViolenceHotline by calling 1-800-799-SAFE or chat online at thehotline.org. https://wscadv.org/domestic-violence-action-month/#:~:text=October%20is%20Domestic%20Violence%20ACTION,%23DVAM%20%23WeAreWSCADV%20%40wscadv

Audrey Rekedal is a junior at Seattle Pacific University and a new writer for Her Campus! She is double majoring in Political Science and Economics, and is still figuring out what that means for her future. She is from sunny southern California, but has learned to love Washington even with the gloomy weather. Audrey keeps busy with her involvement in SPU's rowing team, walking on as a freshman, and now starting her third year on varsity. Outside of school, Audrey loves hiking or doing anything outside, she loves painting, reading, and watching movies. Audrey is excited to share her perspective on Her Campus on anything from social justice to why Trader Joe's is the best grocery store.