Over the last 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of educating thousands of young people in schools across Maine. And without a doubt, one of the most challenging aspects of this has been hearing students say that nothing happened when they made reports to their school regarding sexual harassment or assault. My encouragement to “keep telling” until they got the help they needed felt inadequate because I knew few would. And who could blame them? They had lost their trust in those persons and places of power who should’ve defended them. In some cases, survivors weren’t believed or ignored and even punished for reporting.
Then, in 2017, the #MeToo movement took off. A reckoning, long overdue. The Education Department found that reports of sexual assaults at elementary, middle, and high schools began increasing: between 2015 and 2018, they rose by more than 50%. And this statistic translated into real life - the change was noticeable during my discussions with students. They started asking questions I had never gotten before; it was becoming evident that social media positively impacted sexual violence awareness. Young survivors were charged, changed - somehow newly afire with an understanding of the systematic wrongs perpetrated against them, and a drive to make it right.
With the arrival of the pandemic’s hardships, I feared for the momentum of the growing self-advocacy among students. I see now that I far underestimated the resiliency of young people and the potential for good contained in the connective powers of the Internet. Students all over the country, individually and collectively, are protesting their schools’ mishandling of their reports. One student described it as “this kind of kinetic force that was going to come out one way or another,” she said. “And so I think once they’re back on campus, it’s almost like the level of tolerance is maybe lower and combined with the sense of empowerment to speak out is higher.”
Sereniti Simpson, 17, a junior at Olympic High School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina, helped organize a student protest and walkout in October after another student was alleged to have been allowed to play on the football team despite having been accused of sexual assault. The rally called for schools to have better “precautions put in place for a safer environment for sexual assault survivors,” she said.
“I wish there weren’t a reason I would have to have a protest,” she said. “I wish that these female voices would already be heard, to begin with, and that they won’t even have to go through this, but because nothing is being done, we as teenagers and we as the youth have to take a stand because the older generation is doing nothing and kind of just passing it along.”
Although legal protections and enforcement are not as strong as they could be, there are protections in place, and they’re crucial tools in our - and in students’ - fight against sexual violence. One of my responsibilities as an educator is to make sure students have the knowledge and tools to do this.
Here are some of the basics I share with them:
Schools Are Legally Responsible to Help Survivors Who Report Violence
Schools that receive federal funding are legally required to respond to reports about sexual violence, sexual harassment, dating violence, and stalking. While a school may tell a survivor of violence to go to the police to report an incident, they are still required to help you with academic accommodations if you report struggling with sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, or any of the above situations to your counselor, teacher, or another school administrator. Schools can - and must - support survivors in a range of ways, including but not limited to:
Every School Must Have a Title IX Coordinator
Title IX relates to sexual harassment/assault in schools. It is s a civil rights law that prohibits all educational institutions that receive federal money from discriminating against students on the basis of sex. Sexual harassment/assault is a form of discrimination because it can limit or prevent a student from participating in and benefiting from a school’s educational program.
Every School Must Have and Make Known Procedures for Students to File Complaints of Sex Discrimination
If a student is experiencing sexual violence, such as sexual harassment, we encourage them to document all behaviors and incidents. Details should include the date, time, description of incident, location of incident (physical location or technology used?), witness name(s), etc. They should also keep any evidence they may have, like photos, video, screenshots, or other items. If they do report to the school and/or the police, they should document who the report was made to (name, office/org, badge or identification number).
Most importantly, I let students know that our advocates are available 24/7. To connect to one of our advocates, they can call the Maine Sexual Assault Helpline at 1-800-871-7741.
Lastly, thank you to the extraordinary teachers that are our partners in this work, inviting our educators into their classrooms year after year. The pressure on them throughout this pandemic has been well above what they signed up for, yet we have seen them step up in ways that probably many folks are unaware of. We are so grateful for you!
If you are interested in scheduling a presentation for your community or school group, please contact Kathleen at Kathleen.email@example.com or call 207-512-0095.
Written by Kathleen Paradis, Prevention Educator at SAC&SC
The free & confidential support groups that the SAC&SC offer are a wonderful way to start the healing process in the aftermath of experiencing sexual trauma.
There are many positive outcomes that can occur when participating in a group setting that will assist someone in reconnecting to the community around them in a safe and supportive way and provide a safe space for a survivor to grow, discover and heal their mind, body, soul & spirit.
Anyone who wishes to participate in a group will first meet with one of our amazing support group facilitators here at SAC&SC to discuss where the person is at on their present path and what group make the most sense for their journey to healing. For the safety and well-being of all group participants we do have a screening process to ensure that all group members are appropriate for the specific group they may become a part of. Some of the options of groups that we offer are:
Written by Jenna McCarthy, Associate Director of SAC&SC
Content Warning: sexual assault in trans communities
When it is listed that a marginalized community is more likely to endure violence than their more privileged counterparts, it is rare that we hear the reasons why. “X community is more likely to experience X” is used as a blanket statement for inherent brokenness without an explanation of different factors that could map out solutions of harm reduction. I have believed for a long time that I was broken because of the hyphenated identities that I hold as a nonbinary femme of color. On one end, there is a sense of comfort to know that I’m not alone in that narrative. However, it is not a narrative I want to allow to continue.
Trans people have a deeper history of interpersonal and systemic reasons of why we have been more vulnerable to sexual violence, and continue to be. Sexual assault is about power and control. It’s a tool that maintains cis-heteronormative values and patriarchal gender roles influenced by white supremacy. It fetishizes trans and nonbinary people for personal gain. It exemplifies a power role in law enforcement, in medical practice, in the mental health field, and more. These factors play an even bigger role for trans people of color and trans people with disabilities.
However, sexual violence isn’t limited to experiencing harm from a cisgender person or a cisgender person in power. Every individual has the ability to cause harm, and most harm from sexual assault comes from someone a survivor knows. Although it’s much harder to talk about, sexual assault within our own community exists too. Trans people have been written off as disposable multiple times, so we need to promote accountability while also promoting the necessity of making sure no one is left behind; including survivors of sexual violence.
Talking about violence in our community is heavy, it’s supposed to be. Therefore, amidst the heaviness, I hope that we learn more ways of reclaiming a sense of joy and a sense of pleasure for ourselves as well. Every individual has the ability to create healthy relationships regardless of whether they are involved romantically, sexually, and/or platonically with the people they are engaging with. Sexual autonomy and freedom are to be granted to us as much as everyone else. We are worthy of that autonomy and freedom.
Written by Maya Williams (ey/em, they/them, & she/her)
Maya is the Sexual Assault Program Coordinator at MaineTransNet. Ey moved to Maine from North Carolina in 2017 to get eir Masters in Social Work with a Certificate in Applied Arts and Social Justice from the University of New England. They have worked in social justice and consent programming with organizations such as Maine Inside Out, EqualityMaine, Speak About It and more before their role at MTN. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being sexually assaulted is one of the most shame-inducing traumas that a person can experience. So it should be understandable that victims of sexual violence don't need or deserve to be further shamed for their decision about whether or not to report the crime. These decisions are very personal and often cause victims so much personal anguish on top of what they have already experienced. There are so many well-intentioned people who think that they know what’s best for the victim, but it is important to take a step back and remember that we want to empower victims to take back the power and control that was taken from them. We want to empower victims to make informed decisions for themselves. We all get to go home to our families and our loved ones, close the front door, make dinner, watch tv, etc., while the victim is the one who has to deal with the positive or negative consequences as a result of the decisions that they make next.
We all want to see perpetrators of sexual violence held accountable for their crime. We all want justice for victims. But what gives anyone the right to say what justice means for a victim and what gives anyone the right to tell a victim that they must report it? It is insensitive to tell victims that they don't get to decide what happens next.
The argument that it is the responsibility of the victim to protect themselves and others from being sexually assaulted is flawed and insensitive. No one is responsible for a perpetrator's behavior but the perpetrator themselves!
It can be extremely empowering for victims to go through the criminal justice system and to see their perpetrator being held accountable (if that's what ends up happening). We all want individuals who commit violence against others to be held accountable. However, it can sometimes be more traumatizing for victims to report... for many, many reasons. Fear being a big one. Fear of the perpetrator, fear of not being believed, fear that they will have to recount their experience over and over again, fear that nothing will happen as a result, fear that their name and reputation will be dragged through the mud, fear that they will face repercussions, etc.
There are countless wonderful, caring and dedicated police officers and prosecutors that dedicate their entire careers and lives and who are deeply committed and care about the well-being of victims and accountability and justice. I am a huge supporter of and have tremendous respect for the police and first responders and our criminal justice system.There are also wonderful and amazing victim advocates who are caring, kind, supportive and sensitive to a victim’s wishes. If a survivor seeks this route, there are countless people who will rally behind them to support this decision and help them through the entire process.
But there are other ways for victims to get support and heal and seek justice besides the criminal justice system. It is up to the victim to decide (to make an informed decision with information about options and support and resources) what path of justice is best for them. Opportunities for Transformative Justice and access to Restorative Justice programs as well as the Civil Justice system, such as Protection from Abuse orders and other civil remedies, safety planning with advocates, and support groups to name a few. It is also important to note that sexual assault victims can get medical care at their local emergency departments without having to file a police report, but that option will be discussed with you and your decision will be respected. There are also several options available for evidence collection and medical care from a Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE/SANE).
While it is true that many survivors make the decision to report the crime of sexual assault in an effort to try to protect others from experiencing the same thing, there are many who carry guilt and shame for not reporting or for not coming forward and who may be feeling like it is somehow their fault that their perpetrator sexually assaulted or harmed someone else.
It is never the victim's fault if the perpetrator hurts someone else. The responsiblity to not sexually assault someone else lies fully and completely with the person doing the harming.
If you have or know someone who has experienced sexual violence, please know that you have options. If you are over 18 years of age, it is 100% always your decision about whether or not to report it to authorities. You are not alone. There is 24-hr free, confidential support available to you by calling 1-800-871-7741. There are caring advocates on the other end who understand. They will listen without judgement and will provide you with information, resources and options regarding next steps and will support whatever you decide is best for you.
*Important to note: there are mandated reporting requirements for minor victims/dependent and incapacitated adults and there are laws in the state and in the country that are in place to protect children/dependent and incapacitated adults. If you are under 18, or fall within a protected category, you can still get support, but the advocate will explain to you about their responsibility to report and there may be things that are out of your control that need to happen with regards to reporting to the authorities. We understand and will help support you every step of the way.
Written by Jenna McCarthy, Associate Director of SAC&SC
We are Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) advocates. Our roles are ever changing and always evolving. We are some of the first faces you will see at the hospital, police station, cours and provide wrap around support after your visit at the CAC. Our role is to believe, support and empower. Some of the decisions that have been made have been out of your control and we are here to give you back that power, We are survivore centered and will folllow your lead on your journey.
What can you expect when going to the hospital after you were sexually assaulted?
You will find a Forensic Nurse examiner and a SART advocate. The nurse will be there to provide you with medical care and will gather evidence should you decide you want that to happen. Your advocate will be there to listen, support through every step of the process. We will get you something to drink, a warm blanket and a caring listening partner. You can choose if you would like to report to law enforcement or do this evidence collection anonymously. When you are discharged, we will follow up with you if you choose and see if you need any additional supports. We will be there to process the trauma you have experienced and accompany you when you are speaking with law enforcement. We can support you through the legal system as well as making referral for legal support. We work as a team with all our partners to make sure you are never alone and always feel supported.
Our 1-800-871-7741 Is open 24 hours a day, if you find a time you are struggling please call we have advocates on the other end that can process your trauma or make referrals that best fit your needs.
Written by Deanna Walker, SART Advocate
The Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center is funded in part by Maine's Department of Health and Human Services, United Way of Kennebec Valley, and your generous public and private donations.
In accordance with federal regulations, the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center does not discriminate in the access to or provision of its services.
For help, call us at 1-800-871-7741. Phone help is available 24/7.
Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center serves Kennebec & Somerset Counties.
SAC&SC is committed to providing support to anyone impacted by sexual violence, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, ability, or any other identity.