Sexual Assault: A Hidden Secret

The #MeToo movement sparked a conversation about sexual assault surrounding underage men and women. For privacy reasons, a few of our sources chose to remain anonymous.

On Oct. 15, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”  Using the hashtag “me too,” thousands of people replied, creating a place for victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward and share their stories.

#MeToo began trending after the various allegations against Harvey Weinstein for sexual misconduct and predatory behavior became public. As of Nov. 17, 80 women, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Cara Delevingne and Lupita Nyong’o, came forward with allegations, inspiring others to come forward with their own accusations against other members of the film industry, including Ben Affleck, Kevin Spacey and George Takei.

“When I heard about the #MeToo movement and Weinstein, I was surprised,” senior Josiah Willis said. “The Weinstein Company was something I recognized, and to see someone like him do something so wrong was shocking.”

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.” This ranges from catcalls to sex trafficking.

Due to the fear of sex trafficking and sexual harassment, some are forced to reconsider their aspirations. Junior Olivia Simone hopes to enter the modeling industry but has been urged by some to consider the risks involved.

“I think [sex offenders] think women in the modeling industry are vulnerable,” Simone said. “My parents have warned me because a lot of teen girls go for these fake agencies where there’s sex trafficking. It’s really dangerous for young women to go out and pursue a dream.”

In addition to the celebrities’ disclosures, people all over the world have begun to share their own experiences with sexual harassment at school, at home, at work and in public spaces.

“If telling their story is empowering to them, then, by all means, tell that story,” Youth Prevention Services Coordinator and Community Response Advocate Kayla Grant said. “I often hear high school students talk about how no one will listen or thinking they can’t make a difference.”

In the home environment, child sexual abuse (CSA), also known as child molestation, is one of the more common forms of sexual assault. Legally, anyone under the age of 18 cannot give any kind of informed sexual consent because they are considered a child.

“It’s important to speak out when you can,” art teacher Edward Paciorek said. “As a child, I was sexually toyed with until the age of eight by my mother. [#MeToo] relates in respect to the destruction of trust, except that doesn’t really apply to children because children don’t know any different reality. I didn’t realize I had been molested as a child until my mid-forties. As an adult, you can say ‘this is wrong’; as a kid, you can’t because you’re not in charge.”

Many of those allegedly abused by Weinstein claimed to have been younger than 18 when the attacks occurred. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 28 percent of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 have been sexually victimized.

Several students have come forward sharing stories including senior Jane Williams, whose name has been changed for privacy. She was sexually assaulted at the age of 15.

“It tears you down completely,” Williams said. “Rumors spread, and it’s bad. It ruined my life.”

Following the assault, many victims fear it was their fault or feel they should’ve acted upon it.

“As a person, I honestly could have done more,” Williams said. “But people will say something. I try to let it go, but if it is really bad, I try and say something. I am also on Twitter retweeting about awareness, but in person, I keep to myself.”

The conversations surrounding sexual assault have been changing since #MeToo began. The allegations against Weinstein were taken seriously by the Weinstein Company, as they removed him from his own company and plan to take his name out of movie and TV show credits.

“It’s kind of refreshing,” Paciorek said. “That was never the environment before, but it’s happening now. This may be the beginning of a lot of people losing their careers because they’re immoral pigs.”
Many hope that it will be easier for victims to report the crime.

“If the world changes so that people [can believe your story] without having to have 20-30 people behind you, that would be nice,” Paciorek said. “You don’t need 20. You don’t need 30. You don’t need 50.”

As a victim, Williams hopes it will be easier for women to stand up without being called liars.

“It is a gender thing,” Williams said. “Guys call girls ‘hoes’ and are so quick to believe it, but when girls call guys ‘rapists’ [it’s] questionable. It is a gender thing. It’s ridiculous. People could be more open about it if it wasn’t as looked down upon.”

While #MeToo has created an outlet for people to raise their voices, several people have urged others to start conversations within their own circles.

“A lot of people try and pin it on the women,” Willis said. “You should stick up for people in those situations and take their sides rather than just ask what you could have done.”

Some think to eliminate the issue, concepts like consent and respect should be taught and enforced at a young age.

“A lot of it has to do with your upbringing and what you see your parents doing and what you talk about or what you think is okay,” Willis said. “For me personally, I grew up with just my mom, so I learned to respect women. To see her be strong and lead a family showed me that women can be powerful.”

Grant feels it is important for high schools to create conversation on how to prevent sexual assault.

“The more we talk, the more educated we will be,” Grant said. “Change doesn’t happen through fear, change comes with education, awareness, speaking up and calling out people who perpetuate rape culture. I believe that high school students deserve to be empowered to make a difference. Your voice is important. You are the change we seek. You can make a difference. You can end sexual violence.”