Social media has brought attention to sexual assault, but the community has to address the issue locally
by Isabella Franklin
With movements such as #MeToo, celebrities and the media are doing very important work by bringing attention to sexual assault, letting victims know that they aren’t alone, and empowering people to come forward. The important thing that many people are missing about the movement, though, is that victims and perpetrators aren’t only celebrities who come out about their experiences or get exposed for their mistakes: they’re people all around us that we see everyday. Dexter isn’t exempt from this issue—we can’t ignore the issue within our own community, especially not within the high school.
The Squall conducted a study about sexual assault and harassment within Dexter High School. The results showed that almost half of the students at DHS think the school doesn’t take sexual assault seriously enough.
“I have close friends and generally know about other people who find it okay to joke about sexual assault and harassment,” freshman Oliver Walton said. “They feel it’s an okay thing to joke about among other friends who have not experienced it in any way.”
Walton wasn’t the only student who reported hearing jokes about sexual abuse.
“Many of the students at DHS make jokes about sexual harassment and sexual assault,” freshman Ali Moore said. “They may be kidding, but don’t realize how it can offend and trigger other people. They see it as funny, and as if sexual harassment is a joke.”
More significantly, however, about 10% of students reported being sexually assaulted, and a separate 11% reported having felt uncomfortable or pressured in a sexual situation.
“There’s been a few times probably throughout high school, definitely like four or five times, with both harassment and assault,” one anonymous victim said. “It made me feel very objectified and it made me feel kind of like I was nothing more than just my body and that there was nothing else to me. I definitely felt embarrassed and hurt, especially when it was, like, a guy I was friends with. I also felt that I wasn’t respected and that I didn’t deserve respect.
“I feel like even if I did come forward no one would do anything, and that’s just kind of expected, which I think is really sad.”
The apprehensive and negative feelings about coming forward about assault were echoed by other victims.
“I’ve had times where I’ve gone to the counselor and tried to talk, and I feel confident, and I’m ready to tell [them], and then I just choke up in tears,” another anonymous student said.
One anonymous student came forward to report their assault, but felt that the school didn’t react accordingly.
“I told an adult here at the school,” they said. “She was the only adult who listened to me and made me feel like I was valid even if she didn’t feel that way.
“The reaction I got from the counseling staff here wasn’t ‘are you okay?’ It was ‘did you say no?’ And I was like, ‘yeah, I did say no’ and they said I probably wasn’t clear enough.”
Ultimately, the school administration decided it couldn’t do anything to help this student because the assault occurred over the summer in another city and the assailant was graduating that school year.
“I didn’t want him to go to jail,” they said. “I wanted to be able to talk to him with a teacher or principal there for a report to be made.
“One of your students is coming to you for help and you are saying no for reasons she couldn’t control and, like… what the f***? What the actual f***?”
Even when not in a sexual situation or being assaulted, some students reported being made uncomfortable through harassment or threats. One student recounted receiving sexual assault-related threats for their sexuality while on the school bus.
“I was threatened to be raped to ‘fix’ the fact that I am gay,” they said. “It was a pretty long time ago. Situations like that were really common for me throughout freshman and sophomore year.”
These threats can extend outside of school and onto social media.
“There has been a couple times when I have been harassed over text/social media,” one anonymous student said. “They usually ask for something sexual and when I say no, they get really aggressive and yell at me.”
Long after assault or harassment occurs, many victims reported continuing to feel as though it was their fault and never truly getting over the event.
“I was thirteen and he was the same age,” said one anonymous sexual assault victim. “Sometimes all the memories come in and I just burst into tears … And it’s the kind of thing that definitely does haunt you especially when you see the person every day, you’re in the same classes, same grade … You basically just feel guilty because you think it’s your fault.”
As for how the atmosphere around sexual assault both in DHS and society can result in these situations, students had differing ideas that all came back to one issue: lack of knowledge of sexual assault that leads to lack of respect for victims.
“I believe that DHS is a very upstanding school, and a lot of people at the school don’t want to talk about sexual assault because it would make us seem a lot less upstanding as a school,” junior Francis Fifelski said. He also believes that sexism plays a significant role in the lack of respect for sexual assault.
Senior Sheila Clegg voiced a similar opinion to Fifelski’s.
“I feel like they hide it because it’s an uncomfortable subject to talk about, when really we should be talking about it and taking care of it,” Clegg said.
Comments on surveys seemed to show the accuracy of these statements. Many people questioned the definition of “sexual assault and harassment,” while others said that part of the reason why it’s a problem here is because students don’t understand it. Throughout high school, students aren’t taught where to go or how to safely report their assaults. In addition, the school doesn’t teach anything directly about consent or sexual assault.
Carolyn Pidgeon, a former volunteer for the SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, explained how she worked to educate peers about sexual assault and harassment throughout high school and college to work toward preventing these assaults.
“In high school and college I worked as a peer educator,” Pidgeon said. “I began giving presentations to high school and middle school classrooms about sexual assault and dating violence. In college, I joined the student organization of peer educators on sexual assault and continued teaching and giving presentations to other organizations, classes, and Greek life.”
Even though there may not be room for it in the school’s curriculum, DHS could bring attention to and educate about sexual assault and harassment by bringing in presenters similar to Pidgeon for annual assemblies.
As for what individual students should do when there is a sexual assault or harassment to report, Deputy Gerrod Visel explained what should be done.
“First person they would tell should be a parent,” Visel said. “It’s up to you if you have a close friend you trust that wouldn’t tell anybody else, but I’d start with the parents and then have the parents contact law enforcement and/or the school principal and school counseling.”
Principal Kit Moran believes that one of the most important components of preventing sexual assault is cultivating respect for other people.
“[People need] to do a lot more listening and a lot less talking and try to understand other people,” Moran said. “I think that would go a long way for not pushing your needs on somebody else.”
Respect for victims of sexual abuse and their situations is a core aspect to preventing it in the future. Education about the topic is an easy way to help others learn what to do in these situations, get help, and learn about healthy forms of relationships in order to create respect.
While some of the responsibility to build a more respectful and safe environment is society’s and educators’, an equal amount goes to individuals. People must begin making the conscious decision listen to, support, respect victims of abuse, instead of attacking them and accusing them of lying, in order to cultivate a world in which sexual assault isn’t such a prevalent issue.