In the wake of the recent news of a New Hampshire teen’s sexual assault on an underclassman, I can’t help but wonder: where is the push for Title IX education and activism for secondary schools? Title IX and sexual assault student activism is gaining speed on college campuses but has not quite been addressed in the same way on high school campuses, at least in a manner that is removed from sports-related advantages and focused on retribution for victims. Why are we waiting until college to inform students of their rights? Are not enough high school kids informed and/or passionate about sexual violence to become activists? Are school systems so afraid of tainting growing minds with ugly truths that they’ve refrained from imparting legal wisdom on their students?
This is another perfectly unfortunate example of the failure of secondary schools to adequately address issues of sexual assault on campus (and this time, with a faculty member as the perpetrator). If secondary schools are at fault for mishandling sexual assault of their students, students should have the knowledge and power to hold them accountable. We should hold schools to the same standard we hold universities to. My attempt to apply these standards to the high school both my sister and I attended within the last ten years can be seen, or skipped, below:
- A quick search on my high school’s website for “sexual assault” provides no results; it’s only when I click through to the Student High School Handbook do I find anything about Title IX, but again, nothing concerning sexual assault specifically. The onus falls on the student to report crimes against them as they are often the only witnesses, but why do we have to make it so difficult for victims to locate their resources? Kids who may be afraid to speak with a counselor initially or who may wish to remain anonymous as they navigate the aftermath may want an online option. Next steps after harassment or assault need to be outlined for middle and high school students rather than sending them on a goose chase during a difficult time, especially since it is more likely that the assault happened away from school grounds than on campus unlike college cases but still may be impacting the student’s ability to succeed at school.
- Note: Upon viewing another South Shore school’s handbook and as expected, there is some variation in how much transparency a handbook includes (see: Scituate High’s handbook for a more detailed explanation of how a sexual assault/harassment claim is dealt with). There is nothing on their website outside of this handbook about Title IX and the handbook refrains from using the term sexual assault explicitly, but this is much better than my first school’s findings.
- These statistics are the only numbers I can find for sexual assaults in schools on the South Shore (and let’s be honest, the format alone leaves something to be desired). There were ZERO sexual assault and sexual harassment cases reported in the 2004-2005 school year throughout all schools in my hometown. I fear under reporting may have brought these low numbers about but if I’m uncharacteristically optimistic, maybe not? Regardless, this information is quite outdated and I am unable to access any current safety statistics. It is a very big cause for alarm for students, their parents, and the community as a whole when these numbers aren’t readily available to the public.
The following article provides a horrifying glance into what high school students are up against: 11.8% of high school girls “reported that they were forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives” and almost half of adult “female rape victims were first raped before age 18.” Students cannot afford to wait to receive the support they deserve. The kids who may not attend college or may go on to enroll at a university that does not have a strong Title IX presence may never be informed of their rights, so it is in the country’s best interest to educate students as early as possible.