Letter: Sexual abuse does not discriminate
November 23, 2013
Sexual abuse does not discriminate
Tuesday's Aspen Times article, "Five boys face charges for incident at school," references an alleged incident that occurred at Basalt High School in which five boys sexually harassed and committed unlawful sexual contact on two female students.
As the parent of a Basalt school student and as an advocate for victims of sexual assault, I was happy to see that the school administration, local law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office are responding swiftly and appropriately. I do, however, want to make a few relevant points that will hopefully allow this event to be used to address sexual assault in a way that we can all learn from.
As much as we would all like to think of this incident as a shocking anomaly, the national statistics, as well as my experience locally, tell us just how prevalent sexual assault is. In fact, 29 percent of all sexual assault victims are between the ages of 12 and 17, and 25 percent of high school girls nationally report having been a victim of physical or sexual abuse. In other words, this is not a problem unique to Basalt High School or unique to any particular racial, cultural or socio-economic group.
While this particular incident occurred in a more overt fashion, thus allowing it to come to the attention of school officials, most sexual abuse occurs behind closed doors through more covert and subtle methods. Yet rest assured, just because you as a parent or teacher may never hear of it, girls everywhere are experiencing sexual violence at alarming rates.
Understandably, Basalt High School has asked "that any time a student or parent believes there is an unsafe situation at the school, they should bring it to the attention of the administration." While this is ultimately desirable, I believe we must acknowledge the reality that most sexual-assault victims (in fact as many as 95 percent) do not report the abuse, and we must explore the reasons why they so often remain silent. This requires working diligently to address the roots of sexual violence on a foundational and systemic level, examining the commonly held beliefs of offenders, bystanders and victims.
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It also means being proactive not just with intervention after an incident, but with comprehensive prevention education that is offered to all students involving honest and open conversations regarding the climate that might exist within a school, within a peer group, within a family, within a team, within a culture, or within a community in which such violence occurs.
For many years, both Aspen High School and Basalt High School have included RESPONSE in their violence prevention efforts, yet it is clear we have more work to do.
I encourage anyone in need of support regarding sexual assault to contact RESPONSE's 24-hour hotline at 970-925-7233.
Program coordinator,Advocacy and Prevention, RESPONSE
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