On September 14, a female student was allegedly held in a bathroom at Shawnee Mission East High School and sexually assaulted by a 15 year-old boy. Later that day, the same boy allegedly assaulted another girl at the school. The previous year he allegedly exposed himself to a girl while they were students at Indian Hills Middle School. This boy has shown that he is quite possibly a threat to the girls that he is around, yet some people still defend his actions.
The boy’s attorney, Lindsey Erickson, released a statement asking for the community to hold any judgements against the boy and the situation, claiming that social media has exaggerated the truth. However, maybe it’s time we start talking about sexual assault – as a school, as a community and as a nation. Whether we like it or not, sexual assault is happening around us and it’s not slowing down. Now is the best time for us to talk about it.
There is plenty of stigma that follows sexual assault, with people saying hurtful things like that victims should have protected themselves or even placing blame on victims for “inviting” their attackers to harm them. These are harmful ways of thinking that blame the victims for their attacker’s actions. Making excuses for those convicted of assault takes away the blame and makes us not see them as they are — predators.
Many of us don’t want to admit that these things are happening in our communities, but the more we ignore them, the bigger a problem they will become. Yes, it’s easier to hand these cases over to police and send someone out to talk to media outlets and smooth things over, but pretending they don’t exist isn’t doing anyone any good. We need to open up a discussion to help victims find their voice, to let bystanders know what’s wrong and to bring justice to the attackers.
Title IX was created to protect students from discrimination, sexual violence and sexual assault. Title IX is an important part of student safety and is a topic that needs to be talked about with the same seriousness. In September, the college held a trivia game called ThinkFast that they used to meet a part of their Title IX requirements. Many questions during the game had to do with pop culture and other portions of the event were filled with laughter and dance breaks. The game didn’t show the severity of the cases that Title IX covers, including those like the Shawnee Mission East attacks and what the school has to do legally to protect victims of sexual assault.
After the Shawnee Mission East allegations came out, students in the Shawnee Mission School District showed their support to the victims by wearing black. They didn’t hide what happened in their district – they opened the floor for the discussions about what happened and what they could do to stop these attacks from happening. They gave a platform for people to voice their opinions on the issue and to get rid of the harmful ideas many people hold on the topic.
It’s hard to think about these things happening to people in our communities, but the harsh truth is that they do. They happen in high schools, colleges, at home, in public and everywhere else. Unless we start the conversations that are needed to start making a difference nothing will change, abusers will run free and justice won’t be served.