In light of the #MeToo Movement, it’s the students who should be driving change

September 10, 2020 — by Nicole Lu

“This will be the hardest letter I’ve ever written, and it will be the hardest letter you will ever have to read.”

A Los Gatos father’s emotional message, posted on the Instagram account @metoolghs on Aug. 2, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever read.

The letter was addressed to the father of his daughter’s rapist. In it, he talked about the trauma his daughter went through as a result of the assault she endured and the fact that the boy had not faced justice. The father’s last sentence emphasized the importance of sex education and served as a call to action to parents everywhere: to educate their children on morals and discipline before it’s too late.

Ever since @metoolghs was created on July 8, over 160 LGHS students and alumni have stepped out to share their own experiences and have faulted the district for inaction in supporting survivors. Instagram account @metooshs soon sprung up on July 18 with the same mission in mind. The Los Gatos account had 188 posts as of Sept. 8, while the Saratoga one had 13.

Despite the efforts of the district in educating students on sexual assault and harassment, students play an equal, if not greater, role in supporting survivors and creating a safe environment. 

Even after SHS and LGHS have promised to drastically modify their curriculums and those of their feeder schools by incorporating new educational units for students to participate in, it’s up to us as students to pave the way in sexual assault and harassment awareness.

The MeToo movement is a very real issue, not just in our larger society, but in our own communities, schools and lives. As our peers begin and continue to speak out about their experiences, it’s our responsibility to support them until the end. 

In a time where it is so essential to cultivate an open environment where students can voice their stories without fear, every single one of us needs to comprehensively review our morals and values on where we stand in supporting survivors.

We should always listen to the survivor when they speak out, no matter how “uncredible” or “shocking” their story may seem. It’s better to support a potential liar than a potential rapist. Sexual assault and harassment are not easy topics and take immense courage to open up about. When you question or insult their experiences, it casts doubt on and disregards the person’s  feelings, which can lead to even fewer people willing to speak out. 

False accusations, though extremely rare, do occur. Searching for facts must continue to remain important, but in an environment where many survivors are high school students, it’s not up to us to intrude in the situation and dig for the evidence. Listening to survivors’ stories and supporting them through their experiences should be our priority as fellow classmates.

When someone tells their experiences, listen. Don’t make jokes or excuses for friends who are involved. As teenagers, we need to understand that we don’t know everything about everyone, not even our best friends. Maybe the survivor saw a side of your friend that you never did, and when someone opens up to you about their experiences, please support their voice and reevaluate your own understanding of the perpetrator.

Sexual assault and harrassment should be taken seriously. Even if people joke about such topics in a lighthearted way, those words may trigger someone’s memories of traumatic experiences and perpetuate the idea that it’s OK to spread those jokes because “you don’t actually mean it.” To cultivate a welcoming school environment, it may be best for us to reevaluate what we deem as acceptable “humor” and what phrases are harmful.

These experiences can happen to anyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or age, and different people have different ways of coping. Some survivors may need years to comprehend what happened to them; that doesn’t take away from their legitimacy, and their stories are just as valid. Stop bringing up arguments designed to undermine the experiences of the survivor. 

“But what about men?” Yes, sexual harassment and assault happens to males as well, and their stories should be taken just as seriously. When you use that argument to detract from another survivor’s story, however, that becomes a problem. Allies aren’t saying that these experiences don’t happen to men; you don’t need to raise awareness for one group by simultaneously belittling another.

Don’t disregard someone’s feelings just because their memory may be foggy; even if they try to downplay their trauma, it’s important to remember that their situations, no matter how severe, are still legitimate. People can cope in different ways, whether it’s making jokes to deal with the situation or turning to other practices, but it’s not up to us as outsiders to determine what they should be doing or feeling.

Most importantly, as students who are still growing among each other, be there for survivors and redirect them to resources when they feel ready. But take care of your mental health first! If you aren’t well, then you may not be in the right mental place to engage in such serious topics. Prioritize your health, but connect survivors with helpful individuals whenever possible.

The situation may be tough to comprehend at first, but there’s probably a good reason why that person opened up to you. While the school implements new modules and lesson plans, there’s only so much the district can do in terms of sexual harassment education. 

This is not just the job of a select student task force. If we want to see real change in our districts, it’s up to all of us to reevaluate our mindsets and modify our actions.

 

Sexual Assault Hotline, available 24 hours daily: 1-800-656-4673

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Due to the lightning complex that occurred in the week of Aug.17, Santa Clara County is currently surrounded by wildfires, covering the city of Saratoga in heavy smoke. The air quality was in the range of 100 to 200 for the past five days, forcing SHS to close down. Photo by Selina Chen.

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