In the wake of the Time’s Up and Me Too movements sweeping across the globe, survivors of sexual assault and abuse have been encouraged to share their stories. Standing together, dozens of women accused Hollywood tycoon Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, empowering others to let their voices be heard. Many other women and men began to accuse influential celebrities and moguls of sexual assault. Over a hundred gymnasts gathered to testify against Larry Nassar, the United States gymnastics team doctor, over their experiences of sexual abuse.
Around the country and the globe, waves of support greeted the survivors, enveloping them with compassion and concern. Celebrities and political leaders denounced the actions of the alleged perpetrators, encouraging more victims to share their stories. While the movements have been instrumental in empowering survivors to step forward and seek justice, there is still one group of victims that has yet to be represented in the growing national movements – teenagers.
In the halls of many American high schools, a culture of objectification and abuse has become so normalized that people fail to realize how dangerously common teen sexual assault and harassment is. A 2011 survey from the Center of Disease Control reveals that a large number of minors have experienced sexual abuse, and how the victims are disproportionately female. While 4.5% of boys in high school – a relatively high number that represents millions of young students – reported having forced sexual intercourse some time in their lives, a whopping 11.8% of their female counterparts reported the same. Of all American girls in 7th to 12th grades, 46% have experienced unwelcome sexual remarks and 13% have been touched in an unwelcome sexual way.
For the several young victims who have reported cases of assault and harassments, however, many of their high schools have failed to investigate their claims and punish perpetrators. Under Title IX, a national law that requires federally funded schools to create procedures to handle reports of sexual violence and harassment, high school victims still fail to receive proper protection and advocacy.
Over 100 school systems across the United States are being investigated for complaints concerning their handling of sexual violence reports. In these school systems, several of the victims have been suspended or even expelled for reporting cases of rape or sexual assault – most of their alleged attackers, however, have been exempt from any punishment or consequences. Meanwhile, the stories of survivors are stifled by authorities, intensifying their struggles. Many of the victims have been subject to further bullying and harassment from their peers afterwards and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders, suicidal behaviors, and teen pregnancies. They develop feelings of hopelessness and depression as their voices are silenced by a society that refuses to acknowledge violence and wrongdoing.
Until the culture of sexual violence and harassment in schools is changed to one of openness and protection of students, the Me Too and Time’s Up movement is still unfinished. It is up to all people who value teens’ safety and well-being to raise awareness for the sexual abuse of minors. It is up to all people who have the power to speak out to represent all the young survivors whose voices have been silenced.
Learn more about this campaign to stop sexual assault in schools.
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ALICE AO — Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Alice is a high school student still searching for her place in the world. She enjoys reading all types of literature, writing short stories, solving math problems, and watching Gilmore Girls with her mom. Above all, she hopes that her words will help mold society into a more equal, inclusive, and accepting community.