Tualatin High School speaks up with #GirlsWithGuts

Tualatin High School speaks up with #GirlsWithGuts

By Hannah Curry and Tor Gullholm

According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 97 out of every 100 rapists walk away from their victims without spending any time in jail. A majority of rape victims keep to themselves when attacked because when brave ones that speak up say something, they often get shut down.

Former Tualatin junior, Angi Coleman, decided to do something about this issue because she was fed up with hearing about TuHS girls who weren’t being supported after reporting sexual assault.
Coleman turned to Twitter and retweeted a post about how her school wasn’t doing anything to support sexual assault victims. That tweet was taken down at the request of Tualatin’s administration.

So instead, Coleman, along with a group of friends, came up with a blog, Project Girls With Guts. Students around the Tualatin area use #GirlsWithGuts as a part of showing their support.
“When my best friend told me about Tualatin forcing her to delete her tweet, I realized I couldn’t sit by and watch history repeat itself for the millionth time. So I texted a group message I was in and said I was going to start something. They wanted to help and be a part of it, so we started #GirlsWithGuts,” said Coleman.

This movement is meant to bring girls together who have similar experiences regarding sexual abuse and understanding that they have the support of others, something some victims might not be used to.
Tigard High School also sees its fair share of sexual harassment cases, which are handled by school administration.

Gwenn Stover, one of Tigard High’s counselors, is one of the first people that a victim of sexual assault may see.
“I really hope we, as a staff and as a community, establish a climate where, if a student was in a situation like that, they would feel safe coming to an adult to report it,” said Stover.

A common challenge when dealing with sexual assault is working around the time that passes after an incident–the longer a victim waits, the harder it is to provide legal help.
“Sexual assaults don’t usually occur between strangers, they usually occur in dating relationships or between people who know each other,” said Stover.
“The signs of sexual assault, like most instances of abuse, begin to show at the student level generally before staff have a chance to catch on.”

Tigard is open to enriching the discussion and spreading awareness. “Silence is not an option when it comes to this topic. We need to create opportunities for teens to talk about issues like informed consent, healthy dating and sexual assault. The more we talk about it as a school community, the better we understand how to help individuals in these situations. Social media can be a forum for these discussions, but I would caution whether social media is the right outlet for everyone. I would encourage any young person who has been victimized sexually to seek out assitance from a mental health counselor or a trusted adult in their life. You are not alone,” explained Stover.

The complaints and critiques students had for TuHS’s method of handling sexual assault prompted Coleman’s project. What our own school can do for students who are victims of sexual assault is not specified in the student handbook. A student can expect “disciplinary action to be taken” by administrators, but there is no standard punishment. Legal action, should evidence of an assault be provided, is an option for sexual assault victims.

“Someone with a substantiated assault, where we have evidence of that person being sexually assaulted by another student– if it was substantiated, the procedures of the harassment code would be followed, and that individual [the aggressor] would feel the consequences,” said Stover.
Another issue for sexual assault victims at TuHS was a lack of student accommodations being made. Students who claimed to be sexual assault victims felt distressed when they were forced to be in some of the classes they shared with their alleged aggressors, which begs the question: would Tigard support a victim by allowing schedule changes?
“I have been in situations where I have worked with someone who feels like a victim of sexual assault, where it may not have even been substantiated, and I adjusted their schedule to create comfort for them at school, without the alleged perpetrator involved ever knowing,” Stover stated. But she added, “We have some classes here where if you’re in the same class, would I deny that person access to the content? I don’t know if I can do that.”

Coleman recently moved to Florida, but was still connected with her Tualatin friends and wanted to do something to help.
Not being a student at Tualatin anymore, sharing her opinion about this and starting something new is somewhat easier for her. For example, she could tweet without having to worry about punishment from school officials.
“Ultimately I want people to feel safe and able to speak about their experiences and their feelings and genuinely be listened to, not just heard,” said Coleman. “In addition to that I want to promote a deep understanding as I think most ignorance can be solved or at least bettered that way.”

To achieve this, Tualatin junior Andi Butts decided to create an event called “Speak Up” with the help of Tualatin High School’s Advocates for Gender Equality and Sherwood High School’s Club Feminism.
This event will include a speaker who will talk and educate about rape culture and what you can do to help end it. “Speak Up” will be held on May 7 at New Thought Center of Spiritual Living in Lake Oswego. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

“To me [Project Girls With Guts] means I’m not alone. It means I can help other people feel like they aren’t alone,” said Coleman. “It’s a safe haven full of love and understanding and compassion and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.”