Today I stumbled across a moving post on Facebook. It was from Duke University, called ‘Breaking Out,’ that features pictures of people (mainly women) holding powerful signs–quotes, phrases, memories, and statements having to do with their experiences of sexual assault–words said to them by their rapists, quotes from others on the situation, or their most heartfelt, painful thoughts. Scrolling through nearly brought me to tears.
Each of these pictures tell a story, a story that many of these women hid from themselves or their loved ones for years. Many women expressed feeling guilty, feeling alone, or feeling as if they had done something wrong to cause what happened to happen.
As I scrolled through, I realized one very very important thing. Sexual assault, rape, and sexual misconduct isn’t exclusive to college campuses. It happens in the lives of young people, middle and high school kids, every day.
This is what no one talks about. The pain, the reality of sexual assault in young people. Young people that walk around our schools, that sit in our desks.
The photo above was one of the most moving to me. It showcases an experience of a fifteen-year-old girl, a high schooler, a freshman who was raped. She was pressured, by a fellow high schooler, for sex. At fifteen.
This is what no one talks about. That these things are happening to our students, in the classes we teach. It’s so easy, sometimes, to just push these things under the rug. To pretend that our students are fine, that these things don’t happen where we teach. But they do. They happen everywhere.
So as educators, what do we do?
We open our doors and our hearts. We make ourselves available and non-judgmental. We address these issues when we encounter them. When we hear inappropriate talk in the hallways, when we come across something explicit on the internet, when we witness harassment.
We bring attention to these things in our classrooms. We find a way to make it clear that these things are not okay. And that anything that is not a yes, means NO.
We do the best we can to be a shoulder to lean on for those who are struggling. Then we reach out to other counselors and professionals to do what we can’t.
Most importantly, we acknowledge that this is happening, and that as teachers, we play tremendous roles.
These survivors shouldn’t have to wait until college to finally tell their story. They shouldn’t feel guilty or afraid. They need to know what and who they are–more than a victim. And never alone.