All women have a story. It could be a catcall as you walk down the street. Or a demeaning joke that you don’t know how to react to. It could be an unwarranted grab or a squeeze that nobody else notices. It could be a forced kiss or something even worse.
“Every woman can agree that we feel belittled,” Junior Zoe Keeley said. “I’ve been catcalled many times from guys in cars and I hate the feeling of not being able to tell them off because it’s such a quick moment. You feel frozen. It’s something I have to anticipate if I’m ever in public by myself or in the city. I hate that it’s something I’m going to have to be used to for the rest of my life.”
All women have a story of this nature. One in four women experience sexual assault in their life, and nearly every woman faces some type of sexual injustice at some point. Women are scared to walk alone at night for a reason. They clutch their keys in a defensive position to avoid being physically overpowered and robbed of their dignity. They look twice before getting into their cars, checking to see if someone is waiting to take advantage of them. Women carry pepper spray and ask male friends to walk them home to deter strangers from assaulting them.
“When I babysit and I walk home, I carry my keys between my fingers so I can defend myself is someone snuck up on me,” sophomore Amelia Harris said.
The discussion of sexual assault and harassment is finally getting its moment in the sun. The #MeToo movement has brought awareness to the institutionalized sexual misconduct that goes on in the movie industry. Stories of assault have spread over social media platforms, encouraging women to speak up about their own experiences.
On Oct. 16, 2017, Evan Rachel Wood shared, “Being raped once made it easier to be raped again. I instinctually shut down. My body remembered, so it protected me. I disappeared. #MeToo.” Hally Amons shared, “If you know a woman, she has a story. Or two. Or a dozen. And so many of us can feel like our experiences ‘don't count’ #MeToo.”
There are conversations about sexual assault and consent going on across the nation, in high school auditoriums and college classrooms. Yet, cases such as Bill Cosby and Brett Kavanaugh show that the examination of sexual assault in our country is far from over. A man who habitually drugged and raped women, over a period of decades, was sentenced only three to ten years in jail. A man who, at 17, assaulted a girl at a party, was recently elected into a lifetime role as a supreme justice. In Burlingame, we look the other way and brush aside tales of sexual harassment.
“There's this weird rule that's floating around that when you see something, you shouldn't talk about it,” senior Kimwell Anthony Evangelista said. “And it's been told to us ever since we were kids. It’s this ‘snitches get stitches’ rule and ever since we were kids we were never meant to snitch out. And if that's not condoning sexual harassment, I don't know what is.”
When someone calls a girl a sexually offensive term, we do nothing. We get uncomfortable, hurt, and enraged, but how often do we actually say something? When we overhear the words ‘slut’, ‘whore’, or ‘desperate’, we might get upset, but we won’t turn around and tell the person off. When someone calls a girl a ‘cum dumpster’ during class, what are you supposed to do? This cycle of acceptance condones treating women as sexual objects, making it easier to turn them into victims of harassment and assault.
“As a community I feel like we have a lot of rules around us that tells us, ‘let's not talk about it because we don't need to talk about it. We could just act like it's not happening and it'll all be better’. And that's the most f*cked up thing that's happening around us,” Evangelista said, “Is that everything looks normal even though it isn’t.”
At our school, you hear stories. You hear stories of girls going to parties and getting raped. You hear about videos of unconscious girls being violated by boys that you see in the halls. You hear about that kid that likes to get girls blackout drunk at parties to take advantage of them. You can walk around campus and see these people who you’ve heard these stories about.
“I’ve heard about a lot of things about how certain guys take advantage of girls. I heard about how this one guy hooked up with this girl while she was super drunk and he filmed it to show his friends,” Junior Nicole Fassina said. “I think guys need to understand when a girl is in the right position to give consent, because something like this can ruin someone’s life. I also believe that girls need to learn to strongly express what they really want.“
But we weren’t the ones who actually experienced it. We weren’t the one who said the suggestive remark. We weren’t the one who forced ourselves onto her. We weren’t the one who got assaulted.
“I met this girl who went on a date and by the end of the day she came back to me crying saying that she got groped and I tried to encourage her to speak up and she just didn’t want to and I couldn't understand it,” Evangelista said. “It's difficult to understand something that you don't experience, and when you have the chance to speak up, you don't. And even if I wasn't the victim, but I was the person that wanted to speak up, I couldn't because it wasn't me. I think those are the type of stories that I'm most scared of. It's the fact that when it does happen, you don't do anything about it.”
We have a culture of victim shaming that discourages women from speaking up. When someone has been sexually harassed or assaulted, the first reaction is to ask “Were you drinking?” or “What were you wearing?”. We’ll believe a conservatively dressed woman who says they were assaulted before we’ll believe a ‘promiscuous’ woman. It doesn’t matter who they are, what their reputation is, or their past; no woman deserves sexual assault. Consent is consent. Instead of blaming the perpetrator, we blame the victim.
“Especially at parties it's like, well she was drunk, and it's always blamed on the girl,” an anonymous student said, “I have seen other people been, not sexually assaulted, but like sexually harassed and also slut shamed and stuff like that, which I think is like a big culture here and generally in high schools. I feel like that's an issue that needs to be taken care of.
In Burlingame, our party culture has excused basic rules revolving around consent. With high alcohol and drug use rates (55% of seniors used drugs or alcohol in their life according to the 2017-2018 Healthy Survey), sexual assault is more common. When a girl is blackout drunk and gets raped, it is her fault for drinking too much, not the man who takes advantage of her.
“But then, now that I see it from a different perspective, it's not my fault that I got raped,” the student said. “And, I kinda had that mindset and part of me still does in a really screwed up way because I feel like there's something more I could have done when it's really not my fault.”
Recent events in the news and popular culture have shed light on the horror of sexual assault. But our culture still doesn’t take sexual assault seriously. Sexual assault is defined as ‘an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person's consent, or coercion or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.’
But sexual assault isn’t just ‘an act’. It isn’t just a thing done, it doesn’t have a beginning or end, and it’s not something you can forget about. Sexual assault stays with a person forever.
“I thought that's what I had to do to, to just cover it up. I just felt really self conscious. I felt gross. It was just terrible for me and I know it's cliche to say, but I don't wish it on my worst enemy. It really is like when people say it's a violation, you feel like something is ripped away from you,” said the student.
When people defend Brett Kavanaugh, saying it happened over thirty years ago, they need to think of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. In her head, she will always be the girl who was pushed onto a bed and undressed forcibly by a boy who was trying to rape her. Thirty years later, she’s still that girl.