Guest editorial: Students should know the truth about sexual assault
Park City High School student
As a student at Park City High School, I’ve personally heard students joking about rape too many times. Most of the time, the people around them look uncomfortable, but no one wants to be the person to say something. When you call them out, they often backtrack quickly, taking a defensive stance. “It was just a joke. Chill,” they say, but sexual assault is never something to make light of. Many more people experience sexual assault than they may think, and it’s things like these that make people afraid to talk about it or even report their experiences. It’s suspected that only 18-35% of rape cases are reported to law enforcement.
69% of all sexual assault victims are under the age of 30. In Utah, which has sexual assault rates much higher than the national average, 8.2% of female high school students and 5.8% of male students reported they were raped or coerced into sex. However, the statistics are even higher in college; 11.2% of all college students experience sexual assault, and 23.1% of female undergraduate students. That’s almost 1 in 4. The rates for people our age not on campus are even higher, and the same goes for BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) and people in the LGBT community. This is a problem that cannot continue to go unaddressed.
I’m part of a local group called Teen Council, which is an organization that does peer-led sex ed. We teach lessons on a wide range of topics; healthy relationships and microaggressions are our most common ones, but we also have a lesson called Know Before You Go. It’s a lesson on consent, targeted toward graduating seniors who are heading to college. The lesson covers what consent means and how it’s given in different situations, which can be complicated: for example, reading body language and how consent changes in a situation where substances like alcohol are present. We focus on specific scenarios to illustrate our points. The lesson also teaches how to be an active bystander when consent is in jeopardy. We provide resources like hotlines and organizations to contact if sexual assault occurs.
We know that our lesson isn’t anything revolutionary or a one-step fix for sexual assault. However, it’s important to talk about these things. A lot of people are surprised by the information we give them in the Know Before You Go lesson. Personally, I wasn’t aware of all the aspects of consent that are talked about. It’s especially important that we affirm everyone’s right to their own body and their ability to control their own sexual consent. A lot of people give in to something because they don’t feel like they’re allowed to define it as rape, or that it wasn’t as serious as those stories in the news about girls being dragged into dark alleys, raped and physically beaten. All sexual assault is a problem that needs to be addressed.
High school students deserve to know about sexual assault and consent. We are helping people to not become a victim of sexual assault, but we’re also educating against becoming a perpetrator of sexual assault, because many people may feel that something was consensual when it really wasn’t. This is a vital topic for high school students, and especially those of us who are heading to college, where sexual assault is a well-known problem.
Teen Council has taught Know Before You Go in past years, but we weren’t able to this year. We’re working on being allowed to continue teaching it at the high school, but if you or someone you know is interested, Teen Council is going to be teaching the lesson to anyone who wants to join in on Wednesday, June 10, via Zoom. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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