We may not Have a Rape Culture, but our Culture is to not Talk About Rape
June 2, 2014
Sexual abuse and violence, especially in school settings, has been a prominent issue on the local stage recently. Last Friday, Elliot Rodger killed two women with motives of sexual anger. Last April, the Palo Alto High School Verde released an article on rape culture at Paly, shedding light on numerous cases of date rape between students, and earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice conducted a study that found that 1 in 5 high school age women are victims of physical and/or sexual assault. These cases are only a few examples of the magnitude of the issue of sexual violence among high school aged people, locally and nationally. However, during our four years at M-A, the administration has not raised awareness about sexual violence on campus in a serious way. We’ve attended Challenge Day, annual class assemblies, and numerous assemblies targeting the issue of bullying. Although they may have mentioned sexual harassment — and even less so sexual assault — they haven’t adequately informed students about what they should do in the case of experiencing or witnessing cases of sexual violence. Go on to M-A’s website and just try to find the name of people you could go to with such issues. It’s vexing to say the least. Now, you may say that such awareness-raising isn’t necessary – sexual violence just isn’t a big issue on campus. Mr. Losekoot approximates that “zero to five” cases of sexual assault are brought to his attention each year in his three years as AVP, totaling over “5 cases … over the course of three years,” he thinks. Statistically, this line of reasoning seems flawed. Nationally, on average, 1 in 5 women in high school experience sexual violence. Now, it’s true that this number does not mean that 1 in 5 girls at M-A have been sexually assaulted; this figure could be higher or lower. However, this number does suggest that there is a good chance that more than five instances of sexual assault occur per year, which may be going unreported. After talking to an M-A student who was raped by another M-A student, we learned that although she felt unsafe returning to school, it was a bureaucratic ordeal for her to get clearance to study elsewhere and she received push-back from the guidance department and trained therapists on campus. Any trained psychologist, therapist, or counselor a student communicates with on campus should prioritize a student’s wishes when something serious regarding sexual violence is being addressed. We don’t expect for the administration (or anybody for that matter) to absolve the issue of sexual violence from M-A. But what the administration can do, and what we believe they ought to do, is initiate a conversation on campus about the prevalence of sexual violence and educate students about the support system in place on campus for students who have experienced such violence, in the effort of making campus a safer environment. Although many students scoffed at this year’s inaugural Anti-Bullying Assembly, according to Mr. Losekoot, this year he has seen fewer cases of bullying than in previous years. This correlation leads us to conjecture that something as simple as bringing up an issue in a serious way a few times throughout the year, puts it on students’ radar, which may indeed help make students feel safer on campus. As it stands, the infrastructure to give students “social and emotional support” is a “partnership program with StarVista,” says M-A’s Support Services Coordinator Miki Cristerna. The rationale behind such a partnership program is that it “tries to create strong relationships between counselors and students.” This partnership between StarVista and the guidance department tries to build these day-to-day trust relationships with students by giving presentations to ninth grade Life Skills classes (when requested by teachers), pre-ninth grade students with the Compass program, and “just talking to students at lunch.” According to Cristerna, “most of the [sexual assault and otherwise] referrals are brought to the guidance department through teachers” because students can often feel more comfortable opening up to teachers, who (like counselors) are mandated reporters. In the ninth grade Life Skills curriculum, issues of sexual assault and rape are present but, according to Life Skills teacher Ed Cotter, not featured, unless specifically brought up by students. As it stands, M-A has a support system for students exposed to sexual violence, yet like the subject itself, it is present but not featured on campus. Informing students about the issue of sexual violence and M-A’s support structure for those exposed to it — using the existing Anti-Bullying Assembly as a model or even integrating the issue into part of the existing assembly — would make M-A a safer and more informed campus. June 4 Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Elliot Rodger killed six women. June 5 Correction: Losekoot estimates 0-5 cases per year, not 0-5 in his total of three years as AVP.