Three women's public sexual assault accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, coupled with a spike in calls to national hotlines, have victims’ advocacy groups asking what messages controversies like this send to young people, and whether those who speak up get the support they need from schools.
Under federal Title IX regulation, students can ask schools to help address the aftermath of sexual assault incidents, even if they happened off campus, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has worked to unravel Obama-era guidelines for handling sexual assault on college campuses, and many worry the effects of these efforts will translate to K-12 schools and cause them to “take their foot off the gas in responding to these concerns,” Education Week reports.
Nationwide, school resources like Title IX directors — which federal law requires districts to have — are often impossible to find or inadequately trained, according to Education Week, and advocacy groups also say that despite the rise of #MeToo, recent events’ messages about consent, combined with a lack of sufficient sex education in schools, will discourage students from coming forward and asking for help.
Sexual assault, sexual violence and other similar incidents have huge effects on any survivor. These events can cause lifelong feelings of guilt or shame, along with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network says. It can cause sleeplessness, substance abuse, self-harm or even suicide. All of these have clear effects on a student’s ability to not only have a positive educational experience, but to also maintain a high degree of well-being.
Between fall 2011 and spring 2015, there were at least 17,000 official sexual assault reports across the nation’s K-12 schools, the Associated Press found. But it’s likely that there have been many more: Studies say one in five girls and one in 20 boys become a victim of child sexual abuse, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Sexual harassment is also frequent, with as many as four out of five American children and teens facing this problem at school. There are many reasons why kids don’t tell others about their sexual abuse experiences, thus leading to deflated statistics — they could be scared, blame themselves or want to protect their families. But if there aren’t support options for students in schools, like Title IX directors or sufficient sexual education curricula, they won’t know how to even start the process, making it even less likely that they’ll speak up.
Thanks to the rise of the #MeToo movement, a massive wave of survivors have come forward to share their stories. “We often see an increase in calls when sexual assault stories are in the news,” a RAINN press secretary told CNN, But following Kavanaugh’s denial of the public allegations against him, an outcry of supporters have claimed his accusers are part of a “smear campaign.”
President Donald Trump also continues to insist that these allegations are "all false to me." Negative reactions like this from such well-known, authoritative figures produce a chilling effect on these women and survivors everywhere, effectively silencing them.
Two of Kavanaugh’s accusers were women who knew him in high school, which likely resonates with thousands of survivors who experienced sexual assault at this age. But for the sake of students and communities that deal with any form of sexual violence, this problem is essential to address. Most of young students’ days are spent in classrooms, and if this environment is disrupted with such an incident, it can have lifelong impacts that stretch far beyond the educational bubble. Students need positive learning environments to succeed academically and personally, and it’s up to teachers, administrators and policymakers to ensure these young people are taught the skills to speak up and possess the tools they need to do so.