When I was in 8th grade, somebody broke into my house while I was home alone with my younger sister, and I had to dial 911. When the police arrived, they questioned me and my sister. Then, they launched an investigation.
Throughout that process, I felt safe, believed and heard. I was not badgered about the amount of information I could recall. I wasn’t told that if I had acted differently, maybe the person would not have broken into my house. I was treated like the victim of a crime.
There is a stark contrast between my experience as a victim of a break-in and the experiences of victims of sexual violence in today’s world. This contrast is all too commonly felt and seen by many of my high school peers.
This past week, my high school peers and I have watched as women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford have come forward to accuse Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of committing sexual assault when he was a teenager. And we teenagers are paying attention to how our leaders are addressing these allegations and the messages they are sending to us young people.
My peers and I fear coming forward to report any forms of sexual violence because we have no effective recourse. When I was in 9th grade, I was sexually harassed by a group of boys. When I came forward to report my harassers, I was scrutinized by my peers, who told me that I was “ruining their reputations” and that it was “just a joke.” I regretted my decision almost instantly. My decision to report came so easily when I was calling 911 in a panicked fear that somebody was violating the safety of my home. But I did not have the same confidence reporting my harassers.
The toxic rape culture that reverberates through the Kavanaugh conversation is echoed in many high schools across our nation. When girls get catcalled or get grabbed in the hallway in school, we are supposed to be flattered. Boys and adults will often defend these actions as meaningless jokes or even compliments that the girl reporting took too seriously. One of my friends was literally told, “It is prom season after all, what do you expect?” It seems as though someone can always find an excuse for the behavior in the “boys will be boys” handbook.
The toxic rape culture that reverberates through the Kavanaugh conversation is echoed in many high schools across our nation.
I am now a high school senior. I was hopeful that the #MeToo movement would be a pivotal change in my life as a woman growing up in America. I hoped my adult life would be free of the fear of going out at night by myself, or going on a run past 8 p.m., or daring to tell my harasser I don’t enjoy his actions. I would be free to walk around with my headphones in without fearing that I am missing sounds of danger, or free to wear whatever I feel most confident in. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, I saw more and more women come forward in public, and I saw more and more men held accountable for their actions. We were taking steps in the right direction.
But this past week, our nation’s political discourse has validated every young woman’s decision not to report, to sit in agonizing silence while her assailant walks with impunity.
Our leaders are supposed to set an example for younger generations. Right now, we are not getting the message we so desperately need. Our nation’s leaders are writing off allegations of sexual assault and misconduct in high school and college as “typical teenage behavior.” High schoolers are hearing this message loud and clear. “Boys will be boys,” and girls should accept that.
We are told that we come forward at “inconvenient times,” as if we deliberately sit in silence so that one day we can come forward when our accuser happens to be a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States. Yes, President Trump, maybe Dr. Blasey Ford would have come forward sooner had she not been afraid. And instead of making the victims feel safe, they are being re-victimized as they are hearing their leaders dismiss their realities.
I will not be silenced. I will not let my younger sister be told that her experiences should be swept under the rug so that her male friends can get their prep school scholarships and their football scholarships, while she sits in silence and fear of coming forward.
Adults; The #TimesUp for you to address these issues in your young people’s lives. Silence is complicity. This issue is not a liberal or conservative issue; it is a moral issue. We are all watching history being written before our eyes; please do not be on the wrong side of it.