All SRHS students are quoted using pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
My first experience of sexual harassment was in 6th grade. There was a boy in my class who made disgusting and creepy sexual comments and advancements. It made me extremely uncomfortable and nervous, but my male teacher didn’t notice and I didn’t know what to do. I was only 10.
My friend was told by an SRHS teacher to “not make him out to be the villain” when she asked to not be put in a group with someone who sexually assaulted her friend.
“I remember eating lunch with a boy, and having fun conversations with him; when he left, my friends told me he had raped his partner, and that was the reason they broke up,” says Charlie, an SRHS junior. “It makes me wonder how many people around me have sexually assaulted or raped their peers, and walk above the consequences.”
It is hard to really know someone’s character based on first impressions. No one ever thinks that they are a part of the problem. They believe that because they personally haven’t sexually assaulted someone, they are good, progressive people. That is not the case. Most people contribute to rape culture every day.
In case you are unfamiliar with the term, the Oxford Dictionary defines rape culture as “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.”
This is exactly what high school does.
People have this preconceived notion that sexual assault perpetrators are only creepy old men when in reality, a lot of them are around us all the time. Sexual harassment and abuse are much more common at our school than people will admit. I can name countless perpetrators off the top of my head. All of these people still have friends, and most of them know exactly what they have done.
“I think that we ALL know that there are members of our community who have made unacceptable and inappropriate advances. My issues with our school environment are the claims of ignorance and protest from both perpetrators and peers of those perpetrators. I know that you guys are not blind to the absolutely unacceptable actions of your peers. Yet, because they are your peers, their actions are excusable because ‘they are good people,’” says Jane, an SRHS senior.
Teachers tend to be oblivious to these things. In my freshman year, I wore a low-cut shirt to school. The boys in one of my classes spent the entire period trying to spit spitballs down my top from across the room. The teacher had no idea.
In middle school, I had a boy masturbate right next to me in class while staring at me from under his arm. He did this for a couple of weeks before I reported it. I had to sign a form for the administration and they told me to not tell people about what happened. He was moved to another seat in class, but my teacher eventually moved him behind me later in the year even though she knew what happened.
I am not alone in my experiences. You could go and ask any girl or female-presenting person and they would have their own variety of stories to tell you. Just because you don’t hear about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In a 2018 article by Rhitu Chatterjee for NPR, the results of an online survey launched by Stop Street Harassment were analyzed. That survey found that 77% of women had experienced verbal sexual harassment and 51% had been sexually touched without their permission.
“…Most women (and men) first experience sexual harassment pretty early in life — during preteen or teenage years,” writes Chatterjee.
“Logan was weirdly touchy with people and they didn’t want it and he said some misogynistic things and made unwanted comments. Basically, after the incidents, my friend group exiled him due to his vile actions. People are still friends with him that are aware of his actions who don’t care and some who do not know, oblivious to the fact that he has committed sexual assault,” says David, an SRHS senior. Logan is not his real name, but the person David described exists.
Even if guys aren’t sexual abusers, many of them contribute to rape culture every day. Boys don’t listen to girls. They don’t value what they have to say. I have experienced this first hand. I am constantly being talked over and ignored, and I see the same thing happening to other female-presenting people. In a group of boys, it is very hard to get a word in as a girl. They are rude and make fun of girls who speak their minds.
“Guys only talk to you if they want to f*** you or if they want homework answers,” says Ana, an SRHS senior.
Guys treat girls like objects with no real value. Sexism and misogyny are normalized from a young age which directly normalizes sexual assault and contributes to rape culture. Things like not valuing friendships with women unless you are attracted to them, ignoring them in social settings, and talking over them all normalize the objectification of and the lack of respect for women. This makes it less likely for people to believe them and harder for them to come forward.
These problems are not unique to our school. The Department of Education data shows that in 2020, “schools reported nearly 15,000 total incidents of sexual violence, which reflects an overall 55-percent increase from the 2015-16 school year.”
Senior Daniela Suzana Oropeza Arteaga organized a sexual assault protest at her high school, Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of The Arts.
“I have had countless conversations with the administration where I have been dismissed and re-traumatized repeatedly. They use fake sympathy to make themselves feel better. I had enough and started putting posters around the school…That got the administration’s attention more than the countless reports made by students,” Oropeza told me. “This is not just an issue in my school, this is an issue across the country.”
SOTA’s protest inspired our school to do take a stand against sexual assault. SRHS students gathered in the commons to sign a poster and put on a blue ribbon to show their support for sexual assault victims. I saw many students who I know don’t support the victims of sexual assault or have even sexually assaulted people themselves, claiming to be allies. There is only a small portion of people who actually care about sexual assault and support the victims.
Sofia Storey has noticed the same patterns at her high school. She is a senior at Novato High School.
“I think the main thing that makes it so difficult for sexual assault victims to get the support they need, especially when it’s someone they know, is a lack of acknowledgment that the people we consider friends are not exempt from committing acts of sexual violence,” says Storey.
It is very hard for boys to unlearn this sexism and misogyny that have been ingrained into their minds since they were a kid. Not only is it on the kids, it is also on the parents. These children need to be taught consent and basic respect from a young age.
“The problem starts young when these (usually) boys aren’t taught basic respect and consent of women, feminine presenting people, or people different from them. Of course, it’s not always men that are the offenders, but because of their extreme privilege, it’s easy for them to not think about the consequences of their actions,” says SRHS junior Charlie.
It is entirely your responsibility to see the moral wrongdoings of your peers and call them out. Your failure to hold your friends accountable creates a harmful and toxic community for everyone. We as a community can not claim to be supportive of sexual assault victims when we refuse to call out our peers for their actions. No improvements will be made to our community unless we call out the people close to us who have made bad decisions.