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Sexual assault is all around us.

 

In the age of #MeToo, it’s one of the most frequently covered topics in the news; new allegations and investigations crop up on what seems to be a daily basis. There have been multiple recent news stories about sexual abuse by educators in school districts near us, and recently it struck close to home.

 

When a former Tigard High teacher was arrested after a six-month investigation into allegations of sexual harassment during his career at Tigard, students flocked to social media, namely Twitter, to express their opinions. Many were already emotionally tense from finals week and because so many students respected him as a teacher and as a coach, the Tweets rapidly evolved into arguments. Students, current and former, bickered over their differing opinions, with some going so far as to insult others—and that’s when it became a problem.

 

If a figure of authority commits an act of sexual assault or harassment against one of their subordinates, such as the case of an educator assaulting a student, it’s a violation of trust in the highest degree. When we put our trust in adults—whether they be a teacher, coach, parent, religious leader, or otherwise—we expect them to be there to teach us, to guide us, to keep us from harm, and to be responsible with their power. None of us should have to fear the adults we look up to. In such situations, that trust with adults is lost, and we need to learn to have civil conversations about sexual assault without their guidance.

 

As a school, we need to create an environment where we can discuss and open up about sexual assault and harassment, and create an atmosphere where victims feel safe enough to report sexual assault.

 

Pending trial, many adults in the district are under legal obligation to stay silent and discussing the situation openly might show a lack of concern for the feelings of the people in our community who have been affected by this event. Since the adults in our school have been unable to create a sufficient space for us to talk about these issues, it’s up to us as students and as peers to get this conversation going. Fighting over Twitter isn’t the way to create an environment for these discussions; it only alienates our peers and divides us as a community.

 

What this recent situation has brought to light is that until we as a community are allowed to know more of the facts, everybody only has an opinion, and our beliefs won’t always line up with those of our peers. For the most part, differing opinions shouldn’t be an invitation for argument, but rather they should be a way to have conversations with our peers about our thoughts and feelings. We need to have empathy and respect for everyone; this can be an opportunity to gain new perspectives and to share ours with others. Having a different opinion from someone else doesn’t mean two people can’t continue to be friends, unless those opinions threaten a person’s safety.

 

If we truly want to be open and discuss sexual assault in a safe and respectful way, we need to start by actually talking with our peers face-to-face. We can’t be afraid to have conversations about these kinds of situations, because silence doesn’t help anyone. But when we have these conversations we need to be mature and understanding. We need to out-adult the adults in our lives in the way we approach these discussions.

 

Acknowledging that sexual assault is an issue we face in current society is the first step to moving forward and educating ourselves and those around us. We need to keep pressing our schools to educate us on these topics—if it were further integrated into our health curriculum, for example—and we need to be open about reality instead of ignoring or dismissing it.

 

Sexual assault is an issue that surrounds us and the culture we immerse ourselves in, and we have to take the first step in being fully aware of it. Start the conversation, but be respectful to each other when you do.

 

If you need emotional support, contact your counselor.

 

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

 

Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663

 

Oregon Youthline 1-877-968-8491

 

Washington County Crisis Line 503-291-9111

 

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