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Me Too: How two words revolutionized the conversation on sexual misconduct, and what it looks like in high school.

Tony Madden, Editor in Chief

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Me Too.

In mid-October, all corners of the internet saw this rallying cry from sexual assault and harassment victims of all classes, colors and creeds. The phrase was popularized by Brooklyn activist Tarana Burke and actress Alyssa Milano, who urged the public to come forward with their stories of sexual assault, harassment and rape.

“…it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it,’ ” Burke said to CNN.

Twitter reports that the hashtag “#MeToo” has been tweeted over 1.7 million times. According to Facebook, 12 million people shared their “me too” stories in just 24 hours.

These “silence breakers” were honored in TIME’s Person of the Year issue in December. Women and men, actors and food service workers, executives and activists, politicians and artists alike all came forward to discuss their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and the impact it left on their lives.

This cultural phenomenon, in which the conversation on sexual misconduct has become less taboo and more public, comes shortly after scores of public figures were accused of sexual misconduct.

Most notable of these is Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who was accused of raping three women, and sexually harassing or assaulting dozens of others, according to The New York Times. Former Today Host Matt Lauer, comedian Louis C.K., House of Cards star Kevin Spacey and talk radio host Garrison Keillor are just a few of the over 120 people on TIME’s list of public figures accused of sexual misconduct.

According to a KHQ poll with over 300 responses, more than half of the participants are or have been victims of sexual assault, harassment or rape. Some were inspired by the “Me Too” movement to share their stories with the Kickapoo community.

“I think [the movement] is really important…it happens all the time,” senior Sarah Crooke said. “It allows people to have a platform to talk about issues.”

Crooke was sexually assaulted by two male classmates in a science class when she was in eighth grade at Carver Middle School. While a substitute teacher supervised the class, the boys repeatedly groped her, even after she told them to stop. In the class of nearly thirty students, only one of Crooke’s classmates quietly spoke up against what everyone could see was happening.

“It was just so disgusting because they wouldn’t stop,” Crooke said.

After Crooke reported the assault and the two male classmates were served with a brief out of school suspension, Crooke and her family pressed charges. In court, only one of the boys confessed to the assault, and was not punished, according to Crooke. The other classmate, she says, denied the accusations, but was still found guilty. Crooke says that this classmate served probation. She then filed and was granted a restraining order against him.

Crooke and her family were not pleased with how the assault was handled by authorities at Carver Middle School. Despite being granted a restraining order against the student who denied assaulting her, he continued to attend the same school as Crooke. She had to rearrange her own class schedule so that she did not share any more classes with the boy who assaulted her. She was also told by an assistant principal to walk into the nearest classroom to hide from this student if she ever saw him in the hallway. Crooke recalls feeling that she wasn’t taken seriously, and that she felt like an inconvenience for the school.

“I felt really bad about myself. Like I could’ve prevented it even though I know I couldn’t. I did push both of them off of me. I said no and everything,” Crooke said. “They just acted like I was a problem for the school because it raised an issue. They just didn’t really help me out.”

Carver Middle School principal Dr. Dana Powers, who was not the principal at the time of Crooke’s assault, says that school board policies are followed in any concern or discipline issue. Powers directed KHQ to the Springfield Public Schools Handbook for reference, but did not comment on whether there is a specific protocol for students who have restraining orders against other students. Neither the SPS School Handbook nor the SPS Board of Education policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation make any reference to policies regarding restraining orders.

   Crooke’s problems did not stop there. Shortly after she reported her assault, one of the students who assaulted Crooke confronted her and threatened her with retaliation, stating that “snitches get stitches,” and “bitches end up in ditches.”

   “I felt really bad about myself when he threatened me and it made me question my own personality and actions, wondering if I did anything wrong,” Crooke said.

   Crooke immediately reported the threat, and expected the student to be reprimanded; section 3.H.I of the SPS middle school Discipline Guidelines in the SPS school handbook states that after a student’s first threat of violence toward another person, they will receive 10 days of out of school suspension. Crooke was disappointed to see that the student who threatened her was never suspended, and he was allowed to continue playing sports.

   “After he didn’t get in trouble for threatening me it made me feel worthless. Like nobody at the school cared about me or my safety,” Crooke said.

   Crooke warns other students that sexual misconduct in high school does not always have to involve physical harassment. She says that boys will often become aggressive when sexual advances are turned down- specifically those involving sexting.

   “[Boys] get aggressive…they’ll bully you just because you don’t like them or you’re not interested,” Crooke said. “They don’t care about your feelings. They don’t care if you justify your explanation or your reasoning. They’ll still just try to get what they want.”

   This often puts pressure on young girls to send nude images of themselves, Crooke says.

   “…if you say no, they’re just going to keep trying. And even if you don’t reply, they’ll keep texting you, keep Snapchatting you, trying to get in contact with you,” Crooke said.

When she attended Carver Middle School in 2014, Senior Sarah Crooke was sexually assaulted by two male classmates while a substitute teacher supervised the class. After she told them to stop, the boys continued to grope her. Only two people in the class of nearly 30 students spoke up to help Crooke. While one of the students admitted to the assault in the ensuing trial, the other denied it. Crooke was granted a restraining order against this classmate, but he was not moved to another school. Crooke had to change her own class schedule so she shared no more classes with the student. She also remembers an assistant principal telling her to walk into the nearest classroom to hide if she ever saw him in the hallway. When the student threatened Crooke, stating that “snitches get stitches” and “bitches end up in ditches,” the student was not suspended and was allowed to continue playing sports at Carver. “I felt really bad about myself. Like I could’ve prevented it even though I know I couldn’t. I did push both of them off of me. I said no and everything,” Crooke said. “They just acted like I was a problem for the school because it raised an issue. They just didn’t really help me out.”

   Another student who asked to remain anonymous felt betrayed by an older male friend when he sexually harassed her over social media direct message. According to the anonymous student, she originally felt comfortable around this friend, despite his occasional personal questions. The harassment began when this friend described to multiple people that she wanted to have sex with him, how her virginity was a “huge turn on,” and discussed the sexual injuries he may accidentally inflict upon her.

  “I felt kind of betrayed a little bit. Because I had told him things about myself,” she said. “I just felt so uncomfortable…I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone talk about me in that way.”

   The student, like Crooke, said her situation was not handled well by school officials. When she reported the harassment to her counselor, she spent a total of four class periods in the counseling center in one week to talk about it.

   The anonymous student says that counselors advised her to engage once more with the student who harassed her, then block him from her social media accounts. The male student was then told by school officials to leave the girl alone.

   Counselor Amy Moran says that when a student reports that they have been sexually harassed, it would be reported to administration.

   “…that would be dealt with through discipline…’first offense: high school says 2 days ISS to 3 days OSS,’” Moran said, quoting  the SPS School Handbook.

   But to the anonymous student’s dismay, she says that no other disciplinary actions were taken against this male student.

   “I felt like he just got a slap on the hand, and I feel like I wasted my time,” the student said …he doesn’t get reported. He doesn’t get ISS even.”

   This student feels that her situation was not taken seriously by school officials, and she does not have faith that it will be taken seriously by the student body, either.

   “Somebody would be like, ‘that’s not even that bad,’ or like ‘I hear people say that in the hallway,’” she said. “It doesn’t make it right.”

   Crooke says that despite all she went through in middle school, she fears her story won’t be taken seriously either.

   “…it doesn’t seem like a big deal to a lot of people. It’s not as serious as rape or anything like that, but it’s still important and needs to be talked about,” Crooke said. “It happens all the time to people you know.”

A student who asked to remain anonymous felt betrayed by an older male friend when he sexually harassed her over social media direct message. According to the anonymous student, she originally felt comfortable around this friend, despite his occasional intrusive questions. The harassment began when this friend described to multiple people that the anonymous student wanted to have sex with him, how her virginity was a “huge turn on,” and discussed the sexual injuries he may accidentally inflict upon her. When she reported the harassment to her counselor, she was told to engage with the student once more before blocking him on social media. According to her, the male student was not disciplined. “I felt kind of betrayed a little bit, because I had told him things about myself. I just felt so uncomfortable…I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone talk about me in that way,” she said. “I felt like he just got a slap on the hand, and I feel like I wasted my time.”

   Spanish teacher Krista Wyrick is thankful that her story was taken seriously by her superiors when she was sexually harassed by a male coworker in 2004.

   What began as a collegial relationship between Wyrick and her male coworker quickly went downhill, she says. One day, he began leaving lewd messages and links to pornographic websites on Wyrick’s desk for her to find in the morning. She recalls feeling uncomfortable and found herself hurrying to leave in the afternoons.

   “I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to be in there…for the first week I just made sure I would leave by 3:00…I was really stressed because then I had no time to plan,” Wyrick said. “I didn’t feel safe to be in my room alone.”

   Shortly after the first week of feeling uncomfortable and unsafe at school, Wyrick reported the harassment and the coworker was terminated almost immediately. Still, Wyrick felt uncomfortable. She felt that she had done something to welcome the harassment.

   “I felt like I invited that behavior just because I was being friendly and saying hello…I felt like it was my fault in some way,” Wyrick said.   

   Wyrick urges people not to normalize any case of sexual harassment, especially in which someone makes a comment on physical appearance.

   “If you know that there’s been an injustice or if you feel uncomfortable you have to report that. You have to tell someone,” Wyrick said. “I think we just accept a lot of what people say just to get through the day.”

Wyrick was repeatedly harassed by a former coworker during her first year as an educator at Kickapoo. What began as a friendly working relationship quickly transitioned to the coworker leaving lewd messages and links to pornographic websites on Wyrick’s desk. She recalls feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in her own workplace. Wyrick says she would often leave work as soon as possible each day to avoid interaction with the coworker, which interfered with her lesson planning. She eventually reported the harassment and the coworker was terminated almost immediately. “I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to be in there…for the first week I just made sure I would leave by 3:00…I was really stressed because then I had no time to plan. I didn’t feel safe to be in my room alone,” Wyrick said. “I felt like I invited that behavior just because I was being friendly and saying hello…I felt like it was my fault in some way.”

   Moran also says that victims of harassment should always report sexual misconduct. She says that students must be reprimanded  for these offenses before they go on to become destructive citizens in society.

   “Usually if they’re doing it to one person, they’re doing it to more than one person,” Moran said. “Every kid should feel safe in this building.”

   Crooke, Wyrick and the anonymous student also urge all victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment and rape to come forward with their stories.

    “Be strong,” Crooke said. “Don’t back down.”

 

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