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Sexual Assault: It DOES HAPPEN HERE

On+a+scale+of+1-5%2C+how+educated+are+you+on+the+matter+of+sexual+assault%2Fharassment%3F
On a scale of 1-5, how educated are you on the matter of sexual assault/harassment?

On a scale of 1-5, how educated are you on the matter of sexual assault/harassment?

Graphics by Gillian Rush

Graphics by Gillian Rush

On a scale of 1-5, how educated are you on the matter of sexual assault/harassment?

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Sexual assault often stays behind closed doors, literally and figuratively. It makes people uncomfortable, so when it’s brought up, the discussion doesn’t last for long. For this precise reason, it deserves attention. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, the time for discussion is now.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) published a report stating that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Approximately 44 percent of these victims have not yet graduated high school. Out of every ten cases, seven perpetrators are someone that the victims know.

The reason the topic of sexual assault is so uncomfortable is because generally, people are unclear on what assault is. There is a misconception that sexual assault and rape are equivalent. While rape is, in fact, a type of assault, there are many other types. According to RAINN, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, forcing sexual acts, and rape are all aspects of abuse.

Sexual harassment, on the other-hand, includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The confusion surrounding assault is the result of its lack of legal attention; just 35 percent of sexual assault and harassment cases are reported.

Sexual assault is uncomfortable to talk about, but it’s out there. And not so surprisingly, it’s here at Schreiber. In a poll administered by The Schreiber Times, 35.9 percent of participants said that pertaining to sexual harassment, they or someone they know have felt unsafe or uncomfortable in Schreiber.

“It’s scary when you walk down the hallway, and you see someone who has, you know, slapped your ass, or you see someone that has shouted things at you, and you instinctively feel a little bit smaller and more afraid to take up space, which is a really horrible thing to feel,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “When it happens at school, where you’re supposed to feel safe, it becomes a scarier place for you.”

Consent is the crux of understanding sexual assault. If you don’t know what qualifies as consent, you can’t fully assess a situation pertaining to sexual activity. It’s important to be honest about what you know and what you don’t know so that you can take the time to educate yourself and others.

So what is consent? Consent is a clear and resounding “yes” from a sexual partner.

According to RAINN, consent encompasses three major questions. Did the individual give overt affirmative consent? Was this consent freely given without coercion? Was the individual in a state in which they had the capacity to consent? If the answer to any or all of these questions is no, under no circumstance are you permitted to make any advancements. No exceptions.

If someone says yes while under the influence or intoxicated, they’re not consenting. If someone is wearing revealing clothing, this does not mean that they “wanted it” or that they consent. If someone originally says no but eventually acquiesces after persuasion, this is not consent. Even if you have had sexual relations with this person in the past, consent in future situations is not a given. If you are unsure if your partner has consented, it is crucial to make sure that they are comfortable before making any advances. The bottom line is that if it’s not a yes, it’s a no—not the other way around.

Sexual relations are extremely and intimate, and an individual may not always feel comfortable or safe saying no. This is why it is essential for both parties to be educated about consent and to be in a position where they can thoroughly examine the situation. One of the first lessons every kid learns is to respect others. Ultimately, consent is respect. There is no way around it.

“I think we should allow people to feel they have a safe place to talk about it, because it happens to so many young girls and boys. We can’t pretend that it doesn’t happen when it does every day,” said junior Kathryn Reardon. “We should bring in speakers and make a bigger deal about it. We should also explain what sexual harassment is, because many people define it as only rape. Educate, talk, and don’t judge.”

Whether it is accurate or not, the media is a major source of information regarding sexual assault for many students. It is extremely efficient in spreading perceptions about society and what is deemed acceptable. Recently, television shows, movies, and news outlets have started to raise the issue of sexual assault more frequently.

While it is important to raise awareness for cases of sexual violence, it is also crucial to handle this subject carefully. When the subject of sexual assault is used to further the plot of a story, rather than focus on the real issues, it can contribute to spreading the ideals of rape culture. Although The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women has found that less than 10% of sexual assault reports are false reports, victims in the news often face scrutiny. Skepticism towards victims becomes even more prominent when misinformation about cases are spread.

In 2014, Rolling Stone published an article called “A Rape on Campus” that followed the story of a UVA Student that was assaulted by numerous students in the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi. The article did not include any of the details or specifics on the situation, and it was eventually found that the entire story was made up by the accuser.

Due to this situation and many others, the media has frequently resorted to questioning to motives or credibility of the victim. This can create fear in the victims, which contributes to the crimes going unreported. RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault violence organization, found that in every 1,000 sexual assaults that occur in the country, only 334 of them are reported to the police. Casting doubt on the victim, especially with the influence of the media, may contribute to these numbers.

Both in the media and society as a whole, the word rape comes with a grave connotation. This simple, four-letter word comes with such weighty implications that it has become a taboo. However, it’s difficult to implement changes in our society if we can’t openly discuss the issues at hand. In a social context, bringing up such an emotionally charged term can be uncomfortable. While some steer away from using the word entirely, others believe that addressing the issue head-on, no matter how uncomfortable, is necessary.

In the past, countless journalists, bloggers, and politicians have expressed the idea that the word rape holds too much social significance, that hearing it is enough to bring up raw emotions that remind victims of nothing but pain and embarrassment.

“In the word rape,… my attention is focused on the victim and his or her shame. In the term ‘sexual assault,’ I see an assaulter, a perpetrator, a criminal… The phrase sexual assault is clearer, more blunt, less emotionally-charged,” said Krystal Skwar in a Bustle article.

Aside from its social significance, the word rape is also contentious in a legal context. Some states, such as Minnesota, Nebraska, and New Mexico, punish rape under the charge of sexual assault without using the word itself. Even states that do use the word rape in court have varying definitions. In the infamous case of sexual assault at Stanford, Brock Turner was charged with sexual assault rather than rape because of a mere technicality: the use of a foreign object.

For many victims, labeling the action as “rape” is just one of the ways they can come to terms with what has happened to them. In addition, many argue that the word draws attention to the severity of the action.

“The word does have a lot of charge to it, but it’s an important charge. It’s something we need to talk about to make it more real. Rape should never be okay, and by getting rid of the word we’re promoting the idea that, once again, it is acceptable to silence the victims,” said junior Emily Rubens.

In order to combat these stigmas and better educate themselves, many students turn to Schreiber’s health classes as a source of information. The course makes a concerted effort to talk openly about abusive relationships and sexual assault, especially in the eleventh grade classes.

At the start of the unit, health students talk about the relationship spectrum, and what defines healthy, unhealthy, and abusive relationships. Above all, the unit stresses the importance of consent and makes sure that students are aware of the characteristics of an abusive relationship. Through PowerPoints and activities, the health teachers hammer home the point that no means no.

In one of the activities, students are presented with hypothetical scenarios and have to determine whether the people in those scenarios provide clear consent and communicate with each other every step of the way.

“We try to keep the names gender neutral, because there are so many different circumstances. Using names like Pat and Sam leaves it open to interpretation. It could be Patrick and Sam, or Patty and Samantha. Every situation is different,” said health teacher Ms. Meghan Harding.

Learning about sexual assault in a classroom setting in theory can be beneficial, but in practice, you can be caught completely off-guard. Earlier this year, former basketball star Chris Herren delivered a powerful presentation about the dangers of drug use. You could have heard a pin drop while he shared his life story, and Schreiber students might benefit from a similar presenter speaking out against sexual abuse.

For example, the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, based in Islandia, works closely with the Community Education and Speakers Bureau to send speakers all over Long Island. Open discussions such as these would foster a more comfortable and educated environment with regard to sexual assault.

“As a school, we do a very good job already of addressing the issue in the mandatory Health courses in grades nine and eleven. However, there are still a handful of kids who fall victim to sexual harassment. Because the foundational education aspect is in place already, the best way to address the problem at that point is to rely on disciplinary action by Schreiber’s administrators,” said junior Daniel Dash. “Seeing perpetrating students punished for their sexual harassment would deter other Schreiber students from taking a similar course of action.”

 

If you or someone you know has faced sexual assault, know that you are not alone. There are resources for every situation you may come across. Do not hesitate to seek help. Here are some hotlines and websites you can visit:

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE

Safe Horizon Hotline: 212-227-3000

National Organization for Victim Assistance

Hotline: 800-TRY-NOVA

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

Chatroom: hotline.rainn.org

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The student news site of Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School
Sexual Assault: It DOES HAPPEN HERE