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How can we handle sexual assault at school?

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In the light of Hollywood outing sexual assaulters that were kept under wraps for years, important movements like #MeToo, have taken rise on social media to demonstrate the prevalence of sexual violence, and Times Up, which tries to combat sexual violence and harassment in the workplace by supplying funding to victims to get legal help. This system of sexual assault transcends to schools too. According to RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under 18 years old have experienced sexual abuse. With all this push to raise awareness and help end the pervasive cycle of abuse, it’s important that high schools also do their part in making students feel safe.

The San Diego Unified School District claims to be committed to creating a safe environment and committed to ending sexual harassment and discrimination under Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination in schools. The district’s policy entails the many facets of sexual harassment and discrimination, and its zero tolerance for it. And every school employee is automatically a “Responsible Reporter,” that requires them to report any information on sexual harassment. While the concept of all employees being Responsible Reporters is a good step towards helping victims, many reporters are not capable of handling such issues.

According to Break the Cycle, an organization that inspires youth to create a culture without abuse, more than 80% of high school counselors claim they feel unqualified to handle reports of sexual violence on campuses. Now that is a staggering amount of counselors, whose job it is to help students, that are not able to efficiently deal with sexual assault cases that affect their students. It is up to high schools to provide their counselors with better training to be better equipped to support students who are victims of harassment.

Many students don’t even feel comfortable enough to report to a staff member, like a teacher, of the incident. Most teachers don’t even feel capable enough to handle the situation because of their lack of training for it. Teachers are required to take interactive quizzes that question them on how to ethically handle situations at schools, but that does not efficiently prepare them to deal with sexual abuse. Instead of being given trivial questions to answer on what to do when alone with a student in the classroom, they should be participating in workshops, learning how to better deal with abuse and making sure that students feel safe to come out and report their abuse. Morse has a Health and Wellness Center that can be a safe environment for students to go seek help for their trauma, and could be utilized to provide guidance for students after an attack.

With the #MeToo and Times Up movements making motion today, it’s time that schools get in on it too. Some believe that maybe sexual violence is not that prevalent for youth, but that is not the case since according to RAINN, about 44% of sexual assault happens before a person enters college. The reason people never hear about students suffering sexual assault is because no one reports it. But why would they report it? In many cases when a student comes forward about their assault, they are first asked absurd questions like, “What were you wearing?” “Why didn’t you try harder to stop it?” and “Why didn’t you say anything earlier?” Schools victim-blaming is not going to make students feel more safe to come out and talk about their trauma. Schools need to better prepare their staff to know how to respond to a student after they come to them for help.

The biggest argument against schools providing better training for staff and seminars for students is the budget. With an already tight school budget, it would be difficult to provide money to put for sexual abuse training. Using some of the budget for better training, could take away money that other utilities the school needs, like supplies, school programs, and sports. Schools may want to incorporate more efficient training for their staff, but they just don’t have the means to support it. While this is an understandable dilemma, the district should reevaluate where it puts all of its money to, and consider their students struggling with the trauma of abuse.

And students need to become more aware of the prevalence of sexual abuse among their peers, and make it more of a safe place for victims to speak out about their experience. Sex-ed classes should better incorporate concepts about sexual violence and abuse–a topic many classes brush over or never touch. Teaching students about it in their classes gives them a better understanding of the different facets of sexual harassment, how to prevent it, and how to cope with it if it did happen. Utilizing the classroom is an effective way to show to students that they are in a safe place where they can open up about their assault to take the steps to cope and hold their attacker accountable. By bringing in guest speakers in the classroom to hold seminars and discussions that inform students on the issue of sexual abuse, they will be better equipped in dealing with and speaking out about abuse in school. Overall, continuing to make sexual assault an important issue to talk about, students will feel like they can open up about their experiences.

Sexual abuse is one of the most under reported crimes, due to the fact that victims are the ones who end up being blamed for the abuse, it is too traumatic for them to speak about, people don’t believe them, and many times their abuser is not held responsible. In this new climate where sexual assault is being discussed and abusers are starting to be held accountable for their actions, it’s important for high schools to show the same kind of actions of making school a more welcoming place for students to come out and report sexual abuse. By providing teachers and counselors with better training, they’ll be better suited to help students who come to them reporting sexual abuse. And teaching students about sexual abuse through class discussions or workshops will help prevent abuse and have those who suffered, be more encourage to speak up about it. While sexual abuse has always been a difficult subject to talk about, it has to happen in order to break the cycle of abuse. Times up for high schools not doing enough in dealing with sexual assault, and now it’s time to promote a safe environment for students to speak up.

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