Community Built to Protect Assaulters

Trigger Warning: This article contains language and themes relating to sexual assault and harassment.

When I was in high school, I remember feeling like it was my entire world. It was all- encapsulating, for better or worse. Once it was over, I always thought it would leave me- but it never did. An increase in education has only expanded my view on how the school system doesn’t support its students, just as it didn’t support me. Trauma stays with you, whether it be big or small, and for so many students in my community, we didn’t sign up for it.

Recently, fellow alumni and students have started exposing the names of their assaulters, which has been not only moving but eye-opening for me. People supported the victims, until it was discovered that the perpetrators were their teachers, their boyfriends, their brothers, and their friends. The reality is that assault was everywhere in my community, and people weren’t ready to hear that. You don’t know what an abuser looks like, you probably know multiple, and they probably won’t be the people you’re expecting. The system we enroll adolescents in, as of now, is even protecting them. Are you listening now?

people sitting in chairs and taking notesWhen I heard the names of the assailants in my community, I was shocked. They weren’t the people I was expecting, and some of them I idolized. How could I have not noticed that people in my life were dangerous? The reality is, I did notice. I noticed in subtle remarks and in body language, because most abusers aren’t trying that hard to hide it. The thing is, I thought the signs would be spelled out for me. I expected the victim to find me for help, and our schools assumed the same. To all victims, I’m sorry for not hearing your cries for help, and I hate that as things are, nothing will change. Even though I knew this was happening to my peers, I didn’t have the institutional support to know what to do about it, and neither did the victims. 

Nothing will change, because we had teachers and coaches that were predators, policies that were never intended to support victims, and schools that never humanized us. I know there were teachers and authority figures that were there to support us, but it wasn’t enough. If it was, why did this happen to so many people? That, to me, is not only a system that doesn’t support victims, but a system that supports assailants. If people don’t have easy access to reporting, and someone that will support and believe them, assault will go unreported. According to RAINN, three out of four sexual assaults go unreported, so why are we making it even harder?

The most vulnerable population group is high school-aged females. RAINN states that females aged 16-18 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault. So please, tell me why we use a system that allows assaulters to walk free and offers no resources to victims? If we don’t correct this now, then when? What happens when assailants get older and become teachers, when they become healthcare workers, when they become citizens that blend in? Then what? What happens when they are older, and this happens to another young person? Who do victims report to when these assaulters are the only ones listening?

I can’t speak for my peers, but on my own behalf: Thanks to the system we grew up in, when someone makes a sexual innuendo at us, touches us inappropriately, or doesn’t wait for our consent, we will no longer flinch; you’ve prepared us to expect it. 

sign saying fight today for a better tomorrowIf you’re outraged after reading this, you might be thinking, "What can I do to help? I’m not a policy maker, I’m just a member of the community." First, please sign this petition. It’s the first step in acknowledging that this is an issue people in our community care about and want to fix. Second, start dialogues with your friends and family. Would you know who to contact if this happened to you? After all, this isn’t a battle someone can fight alone. Third, we need the district to acknowledge that sexual assault in our schools is a serious problem. An easily-accessible advocate needs to be in these schools to keep victims' best interests centered.

Fourth, there need to be programs and discussions with young people about sexual assault within schools. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my higher education, it’s that these solutions don’t come from out-of-touch older people with power; they need to be decided together as a community. Engage the public, listen to everyone involved in these decisions, and keep an open mind. This is our community, not just yours. Finally, create a no-tolerance policy against people committing sexual assault, and mean it. It’s not enough to say something- you have to actually take actions that reflect those words. I can’t shake the feeling that shrugging aside everything happening right now will cause future students to endure trauma, too. If you don’t advocate for victims, who will?