Photography by Morgan Browning
Design by Ellie Cook
This September, our school caught a close glimpse of the horrors of sexual assault. It incensed discussions between parents, children and administrators, but we’re not here because of one incident. The problem is larger than that. When we talked about it in September, the Harbinger promised to continue the conversation, with the mindset that if we don’t hear about, talk about or see the problem of sexual assault, it will never end.
Here we are — facing the problem.
The Harbinger is still talking about sexual assault because, to end the issue, we can’t ignore it. Feigning ignorance will solve nothing; the only way to make it go away will be through listening, learning and speaking out. And sexual assault is a problem. It is in our community here at East, where one in eight of 511 students reported in a poll that they had been sexually assaulted. It is in the colleges we’ll be attending in the coming years, where the Center for Disease Control (CDC) cites that one in five undergraduate women have experienced sexual assault.
We’re not alone in our continued discussion. The Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) has been presenting to classes at East.
Feminist Club has discussed consent, as well as bringing in a speaker who spoke about sexual assault and violence in another country. We want to work with the school in their efforts.
We also want to make sure we provide the student body with the resources to fix this problem to the best of their ability. These include suggestions like ending victim blaming, increasing bystander engagement and kickstarting a realization that all non-consensual sexual activities are considered assaults.
The Harbinger knows these conversations are hard. But for that reason, we must continue to talk. The most uncomfortable conversations resonate the most, and we truly hope that the messages we provide here will resonate with you. Throughout the piece, we’ve interspersed testimony from survivors of sexual assault, who spoke with us willingly. But the fact is, we couldn’t even fit all of the stories we heard. We hope this reminds you why the problem is so relevant.
Now, we ask you to join us as we face it together. Maybe, tomorrow, there will be nothing to face.
By Celia Hack and Robbie Veglahn
*names changed to protect identity
Laura Pederson* was empty. Empty and twelve pounds lighter, after a week of not sleeping or eating. She had been raped seven days earlier in her own home. She reported the incident, and action was taken. But she was still empty and stripped of self-respect, left a vulnerable shell of herself.
Two years of therapy and processing later, she walks through a sea of black – of a student body rallying around another survivor and the cause of preventing sexual assault. She was proud of her peers, and she wished their support was enough to keep the movement from dying out. But she’s seen it too many times: someone gets sexually assaulted, and then everyone forgets.
“It’s kind of like leaving soda out for a couple days,” Pederson said. “It just loses its fizz, and it’s just gone. It’s gone, and no one really cares about it.”
After an alleged sexual assault on East grounds was reported on by the KC Star and 41 Action News on Sept. 20, students responded with a metro-wide movement – #WearBlacktoStopAttacks – in the hopes that the national issue of sexual assault continues to be discussed. For one day, Sept. 21, students wore black in recognition of unnamed and unknown sexual assault victims throughout the school, community and country.
“Wearing black doesn’t signify sexual assault happened on [only] one day or that we should be aware of this on [only] one day,” said senior Brena Levy, one of the creator’s of the #WearBlack movement. “We want to keep perpetuating it in the school. We talked to the administration, and they want to do that too. We just want to continue the talk.”
Though a single conversation sparked #WearBlacktoStopAttacks, many conversations have followed in its wake. East parents talked with their sons and daughters about their own experiences with harassment. Students spoke with their peers about what behavior was considered inappropriate. Principal John McKinney began considering the discussion he wanted to have with his students, in which he would clarify how to report a sexual assault and emphasize the necessity of it. Creators of the #WearBlack movement, who believe sexual assault is a bigger issue than an isolated incident at East, started working with the administration to form an awareness group.
Following the alleged incident, a Harbinger survey was sent to the student body addressing sexual assault, defined by the Department of Justice (DOJ) as any unwanted sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape. Of the 511 responses,12.7 percent reported that they had experienced sexual assault falling under this definition. And while 82.6 percent responded “no,” they had not been sexually assaulted, a remaining 4.7 percent reported that they were “not sure” if they had been.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cites that 35.8 percent of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17 – middle and high school-aged students.
“People don’t address the high school stuff as much as they should,” said sexual assault survivor Caroline Tanner*. “They think college, because people are going out more, getting drunk more, everything. But it can happen anywhere, any age. Literally every one of my closest friends [has] been drunk and taken advantage of.”
To read the rest of the story, click here.
By Marti Fromm
One week after the #WearBlacktoStopAttacks movement, senior Ireland Hague continued to hear stories of sexual assault. According to Hague, students were approaching her and sharing their own stories of sexual assault. Many felt after seeing how students responded, whether it was by wearing black or tweeting about how East was a united community, that their voices had been heard. They all also appreciated the initiative the girls took to help start are conversation and hopefully change the culture of sexual assault.
But even then, the seven seniors girls – Katie Kuhlman, Kendall Dunbar, Ireland Hague, Natalie Roth, Katie Crossette and Brena Levy – never imagined how much their idea would grow. What began as a GroupMe message slowly became a movement that reached many schools in the community and even across the country. They all felt like it was empowering to see the impact they made in the community, but also in their perspective on how they approach issues such as sexual assault.
After seeing the reaction from the community, their peers and even people across the country, the girls’ have an entirely new perspective on how they approach major issues such as sexual assault.
“I was never afraid to voice my opinion,” Hague said. “But I was never taking charge of issues I wanted to change. This movement showed me that if you want to have something change, you have to take charge.”
The movement started when the girls saw a tweet from 41 Action News with a link to an article about the freshman who had been sexually assaulted. After seeing the tweet, the girls were, at first, shocked that they were first hearing about it six days after the incident. However, the girls were determined to use this incident to enact a change on people’s perspectives in the community. They set the goal of making people aware of a problem that they believe should and can be changed. The girls wanted to be a voice for the unnamed victims that didn’t have the push they needed to come forward until now.
The girls watched, on Sept. 20, as a vast majority of their fellow students came to school in black. In a poll of 511 students, 93 percent said they wore black. As well as East, Rockhurst along with 16 other schools wore black. To the girls, this experience made them feel empowered to, in the future, voice what they believe is right.
“Getting so many people to wear black made my senior year,” Kuhlman said. “It was cool to think I and some of my closest friends played such a major part in making the student body a part of something so prevalent in today’s society.”
Before the movement, the seven girls felt strongly about issues in society, especially sexual assault. But all girls strongly felt that it was an issue that needed and still needs to be discussed. Especially now that it happened to a fellow student. And many other the seniors, like Dunbar, felt connected to the issue on a very personal level.
Her seventh grade year, Dunbar was at a mixer with both seventh and eighth graders of Indian Hills Middle School. During the dance, a group of eighth grade boys surrounded Dunbar, trying to feel under her shirt and in her pants.
“I don’t consider myself sexually assaulted, just violated,” Dunbar said. “But that’s what I immediately thought of.”
In the future, Dunbar feels that she will be able talk about problems to the magnitude of sexual assault because she was able to discuss this issue that somewhat impacted her.
After students dressed in black on Sept. 21, the seven IB girls are hoping that the East community will continue to wear black annually on Sept. 21 so the discussion doesn’t come to a halt. The girls are working to establish a sexual awareness program, as well as bringing in guest speakers to conduct presentations and have fundraisers in following years to keep the conversation going.
“If the conversation dies, we’re back to square one: people not addressing sexual assault as a major problem in our society,” Hague said.
*Thinglink interactive does not work on SMSD computers
Interactive by Haley Bell and Morgan Browning
By Gracie Kost
The assault, the name-calling, the emotions you feel and the blame. It isn’t your fault.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, only 37 percent of sexual assault cases are reported to police because the victims think they’re the reason it happened.
You don’t deserve to be taken advantage of, no matter what. Just because your skirt was “too tight” or your shirt was cut a little low, doesn’t mean you were asking for it. Your state of mind, whether completely sober or incoherent, doesn’t determine how much access someone has to you and your body. Going out to a party to have a good time shouldn’t mean you’re setting yourself up to be attacked, but sometimes, that’s just how it is.
A few years ago at your typical teenage party, a close guy friend of mine asked me if I would help him find something. It resulted in him locking the door behind us and standing in front of it, forcing me to do things sexually. I guess the only thing he was wanting me to find was the discomfort and unsafe pressure he was about to force on me. Would that count as “putting myself in the situation?”
He was a friend who I was innocently helping out, and the feelings I was left with for months after were indescribable.
I felt ostracized from normality, I needed to tell somebody. But when I came forward, everybody pinned me responsible for a situation I had been the victim in. I was the one being blamed.
Often times people say, “boys will be boys, so girls must take care.” This saying sends a message to victims that we can avoid being put into these situations if we are careful enough. So we must be doing something wrong to have these things happen to us… right?
Stereotypically, as women, we are taught that our job is to make men happy, give them exactly as they please. And if they aren’t, we are the ones to blame. Victims are not guilty for the crimes committed to our minds and bodies by sexual predators. We tend to blame ourselves for getting into these situations and not doing our “job,” which gives a sense of security to ignorant, selfish people and makes them think it’s okay to put it on us. The feelings of guilt, loss, powerlessness, blame and anger surrounding us are self-induced.
Say a wallet is left on a table at a restaurant. It’s not automatically yours to take. It belongs to somebody. If I’m out at a party, it’s because I want to have fun and enjoy myself. I’m not here for your personal use. If I don’t have the ability to fully say “no,” that doesn’t mean I want to and that certainly doesn’t mean you can.
My body is my property. My personal sexual activity should be completely determined by my own choices. Nobody has the right to take that away from me, especially if the excuse is that I was intoxicated.
Somebody, please, tell me when a short skirt was an invitation for unwanted attention, whether it be name calling or assault. The fit of my clothing has no correlation to my sexual activity. I’m dressing for myself, not for you and your disturbed hormones.
Assault happens everywhere, to those and from those you may least expect. While we may not be able to end it altogether – there is voice that everybody deserves to have. A voice that will say no without fear of eyerolls and whispers in the halls. Attacks will be acknowledged, and anybody who has experienced this dreadful threat: I assure you that you are not to blame.
Infographic by Yashi Wang
Students were asked to define sexual assault in their own words:
Video by Peyton Watts and Will Hembree
Students shared gender stereotypes they frequently hear:
*Thinglink interactive does not work on SMSD computers
Interactive by Morgan Browning, Celia Hack, and Allison Stockwell
By Celia Hack
Beginning last month and continuing through January, the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) is sending two representatives to talk individually to classes every other Friday. The presentation covers everything from sexual assault to bystander responsibilities to gender stereotypes. East teachers can coordinate with social worker Elizabeth Kennedy to allow a representative of MOCSA to visit their classroom for as many hours as they can give up.
Principal John McKinney feels he has a responsibility to educate his students on the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. After a sexual assault allegedly occurred at East in September, the opportunity for more education in this area arose.
“This year took on new meaning because of the incident that took place here early in the school year,” McKinney said. “With that, we realized that we needed to do more.”
In the past and throughout this year, MOCSA spoke with health classes, made up of mostly freshmen, where they covered sexual harassment, dating violence and consent. This is the first year that they’re visiting classes outside of health, and the curriculum is different.
Though Kennedy assists the MOCSA representatives by tailoring their presentations to the grade level and class size, the presentations usually address the issue of gender stereotypes and sexual violence, as well as the role media plays in creating these things.
“I’ve felt really good about the reception at Shawnee MIssion East,” said Victoria Pickering, MOCSA’s Coordinator of Education and Outreach Services. “I’ve done the health classes this semester, and then along with Becca [Anderson], she and I are doing all of the other presentations. I’ve had some fantastic classes — really engaged, really talkative.”
However, one piece the administration considered necessary was a straightforward approach to the discussion of sexual assault. According to McKinney, the student feedback he received after a schoolwide MOCSA presentation two years ago strongly suggested the subject be treated with more maturity.
“Use actual terms and descriptions, and don’t make it euphemistic with the pencil and the balloon,” McKinney said. “Say it the way it is. We heard that from every grade level. So we shared that information with MOCSA: we’re not going to sugarcoat this, it is what it is. This building has experienced it firsthand.”
Psychology teacher Brett Kramer was one of the first teachers to have MOCSA come speak to his all of his classes.
“I said wholeheartedly yes, they need to come speak to us,” Kramer said. “Their underlying message is something we all need to hear.”
One idea that he was excited he heard about, as well as his students, was the idea of bystander engagement, or others stepping in to prevent sexual assault from occurring.
Junior Grace Apodaca was in Kramer’s class when prevention specialist Becca Anderson gave her presentation. She felt that though she and many of her classmates knew a lot of the information already, she was glad it had happened and that a greater portion of the school would be exposed to it.
“I feel a little more safe here knowing that people are getting educated,” Apodaca said.
In addition to educating high schoolers, MOCSA has been working at Indian Hills Middle School since November. A program that will look at creating a more long-term, systemic change, Green Dot, will ensure there are more than the one-presentation-per-class visits at East.
They’re working on developing relationships with students and faculty there to create an environment in which violence and harassment between students is not considered acceptable.
“We are taking a really broad approach with our work at Indian Hills, not just talking specifically about sexual violence, but violence in general,” Pickering said.
For now at East, Pickering is just working on getting people talking about the problem she knows is there.
“I gauge my success on how many conversations we create outside of a classroom, and I think that in that sense it’s working [at East],” Pickering said.
Founder of the first battered women’s shelter in Kenya, Nyakio Kainu-Lake, visited the Feminist Club to speak about her experience.
Video by Celia Hack
Video by Peyton Watts