The Huffington Post says that 44 percent of sexual assaults occur before the victim is 18. The Ontario Rape Crisis Centre says that 54 percent of girls who are in middle school have received unwanted sexual attention. Seeing a pattern here? Most people who have experienced any type of sexual violence have experienced it for the first time during their oh-so-cherished high school years, and yet, don’t know what to do about it. Colleges and universities all around the world have come up with strategic plans and safeguards to avoid sexual violence on their campuses. From emergency stations to a safety alert on the college app. While this is all very helpful and makes it safer for college students to go about on campus, what about the teens who are facing these difficulties in what is supposed to be their second home? Seven years of our lives, 10 out of 12 months, 5 days a week, and 6 hours a day are committed to middle and high school, and these students don’t feel safe enough to be in this building where they spend most of their days.
It’s said that high school is when teen hormones are all over the place. We have no control over what our bodies are going through and over our desires. This leads to conceived ideas that this kind of behaviour is okay simply because no one has sat down with middle schoolers and explained what sexual violence looks like and what to do about it.
Countless surveys and research projects have taken place in regards to middle and high school students who have experienced sexual violence. While the findings were shocking, it clearly showed how these schools and the education system were failing these students. A reported 30 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys from the grades 7 to 12 had been sexually assaulted more than once. 3 percent of girls who are victims of sexual assault has switched schools because of the constant assault. There’s obviously something very wrong with these numbers—the fact that they actually exist and these are the problems that students face.
Principals, teachers, parents and PTA members need to realize that sexual violence is a very pressing issue and has to be tackled head on. One of the biggest problems is students don’t feel comfortable enough to report what is going on to a teacher because either the topic of sexual violence has not been addressed in school, or they don’t want to feel like a “snitch.” In Canada, we start learning about our bodies in fifth grade and start learning about puberty in 6th grade but never touch on sexual harassment.
Sexual violence is covered so heavily in college but what about before that? If all these students are facing violence before college, why are we starting prevention when it’s too late? If more than one quarter of students claim they never got any sexual education, how can we expect them to know what sexual violence is? These students won’t understand what is going on because they were never taught what is wrong and what is right.
All this talk is great but what can YOU do?
1. Realize what sexual violence looks like: There are multiple branches of what sexual violence is, and what is looks like. Such branches that fall under this include harassment, assault, and rape—which are the three most common forms of violence that occur in this day and age. Now keep in mind that harassment isn’t always creepy men catcalling you from afar. Harassment can be unwanted comments by anyone, even from a friend. Harassment can be slight unwanted physical contact and can escalate into assault. It’s beneficial to understand what sexual violence looks like in everyday life and not only as it is perceived to be. Once you understand what sexual violence is, you’ll realize that it’s all around you and that it’s integrated so deeply into our society that we couldn’t pinpoint it first and it’ll make is easier to report.
2. Report it to an authority figure in the school you trust: After learning about what sexual violence looks like, it’s important to tell someone so something can be done. It doesn’t become another unreported attack. Finding a teacher or another authority figure that you can confide in makes it easier to talk to. Having a good relationship with someone in your school, whether it be a teacher, guidance counsellor or janitor, will help you feel at ease and know you don’t have to sugar-coat any details and fabricate your story, to protect yourself or someone. Also, always know that if someone doesn’t take you seriously or doesn’t do something about what you told them, tell someone else and keep looking for help until someone does something about it. Do not let one person’s ignorance strike you down; make sure you are being heard.
3. Help out your fellow peers: I cannot stress how important this one is. It is important to protect your peers, whether they are your friends, whether you hate them, or don’t know them at all. With this being said, no matter what your feelings are or aren’t towards a certain individual you must always help someone who you believe is or can see is being harassed or assaulted. No one deserves to face the hardship of being a victim of sexual violence. For example, even if you don’t know the person, act like you know them and have to urgently take them somewhere else, clearing them from their abuser.
4. Get your school aware about sexual violence: This may be the hardest out of the four. If you go to a school that already discusses violent nature and takes action against it, consider yourself lucky because I don’t know many schools that do that. If you’re in the vast majority of schools that don’t cover this, I’d suggest that you try talking to someone from administration and try to get a meeting with any counsellor, vice principal or principal. If you’re lucky and try to work something out where you can help educate your school and make them aware. If you want to start smaller, you can start a club that raises awareness and combats sexual violence and have info sessions. Try hold assemblies and put posters up around your school. It is important to educate your school, and not only your peers but your teachers and other figures. Chances are, if high schoolers nowadays cannot point out when sexual violence is taking place, adults may not be able to, either.
Don’t let the staggering numbers of sexual grow. Help it stop from occurring as soon as you can. Don’t sit by and watch while it happens. Don’t be silent, fight it.