Content warning: This story mentions of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape.
“One of the things that hurts the most is the friends who don’t believe you, or maybe they do believe you, but they just don’t care,” an anonymous student said about sexual assault.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as, “Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment.”
The difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment is that sexual harassment is the broad term that includes multiple kinds of unwanted verbal and physical sexual attention from the harasser. Sexual assault is sexual contact or behavior that is most often physical without consent from the victim.
Sexual harassment can occur in different circumstances and to any gender. There are different forms of sexual harassment and ways that it shows up: for example, any unwanted sexual advances or touching/contact or photos/messages, pressure to engage with someone sexually, making situations dependent on sexual favors, talking about sexual relations in inappropriate places, and verbal harassment including jokes about sexual acts.
Students feel unsafe even just walking from class to class. For example, this reporter observed a student yell, “You make me want to rape somebody,” while receiving their keys after their friend had taken them and ran away with them. Also another student said, “Bro, stop looking at her a** like that,” while laughing.
In the aftermath of sexual assault, victims can feel unsupported. “I expected the justice system to let me down, but I expected more from my friends. It also really doesn’t matter how much proof you have; it all depends on whether they decide to actually care, which quite frankly they don’t,” the anonymous student said.
The student shared their opinion on how society views sexual assault. “I think that it is very frustrating to go through the process of reporting, but also even just telling people gets incredibly frustrating because people constantly tell you to speak up, or to keep telling people until they believe you. In reality even when people believe you, the issue is, do they care enough to do anything or do they care at all? Because they can fully believe you or know that you’re telling the truth but really just don’t care.”
The student said how the school handled their case seemed to prove their point.
“The only reason I told the school was in the hopes that there would be some sort of change or action that was taken. In reality they didn’t do a whole lot, and the teacher that I told really let me down. The school always says that you should have trusted adults, and I told this person, and he quite frankly did not care, and I felt really let down by that person, so I feel like my view of the school has definitely changed in their ability to handle situations like that,” the student said.
The teacher who wished to remain anonymous said via email, “While I certainly can’t speak about any specific students, all teachers here value (and work to cultivate) the trust of students. Sometimes that trust manifests itself in the delivery of very good news, and sometimes we also receive troubling or concerning information. We have a personal, professional and legal obligation to act on troubling information, and given our relationships with students that sometimes requires further care and management. I’m sure ANY adult in our school would act in a caring fashion that reflects the gravity of the situation.”
The student said the administration failed to make them and others involved feel safe.
“I still have classes with this person, or people who I know who were also affected by that situation still have classes with this person, and even telling the school they had to make all kinds of calls and have me report it to people I didn’t want to tell in the first place,” the student said.
“Truthfully if I could go back, I probably just wouldn’t have told the teacher that I told at all because at this point if feels more humiliating to see that person everyday and know that he knows that about me, but just doesn’t care to do anything, than it does to not have done anything at all,” the student said about the repercussions.
All teachers and employees have training to recognize distress in students and the reporting procedures. It’s a general training all employees get, but not necessarily specific for being a trusted adult.
“When staff members are aware of any type of abuse from a student, they are trained and legally mandated to report that concern. The report is then shared internally to appropriate counselors, law enforcement, social worker, building and district administrators as well as parents. Depending on the circumstances, additional support may be undertaken,” principal Matt Irvin said about protocols for teachers via email.
This will be Izzy Poole’s second year on ECHO staff. They were Business Manager their junior year and made several contributions while taking journalism class their sophomore year.