While the issue of sexual assault has been prevalent recently in pop culture, students at ETHS — such as junior AJ Cabrera — call on the administration to change this policy in “The Pilot: Student & Parent Handbook.”
“The policy recognizes sexual assault as an issue, but is not specific enough. The policy does not ensure that punishment will be given as deserved and does not guarantee that the victim will be the first priority,” Cabrera says.
Cabrera, after speaking to various young women at ETHS, decided that the sexual assault policy needed to change. “I asked many girls what their experiences were like and they explained to me that school administrators were dismissive, neglecting to get them immediate attention to their conflict,” Cabrera says. “One girl even told me that the school told her that there was nothing they could do about the assault even though her assaulter had come after her on school property.”
After examining the current policy and deciding what changes she deemed appropriate. Cabrera reached out to Student Representative Emma Stein to present her concerns at the Feb. 28 school board meeting.
While Cabrera’s own statement was not read to the school board, it has been given to Taya Kinzie, associate principal for Title IX by Stein. Cabrera called, within her statement, for a policy that is met with “complete compliance from staff and other school authorities,” direct punishment such as suspension, immediate action once reported, immediate medical attention if needed and the right to have police present.
Principal Dr. Marcus Campbell responds to Cabrera’s statement by stating, “Those things are already in place. Usually, the disconnect is that when the accused receives a consequence. The consequence for the accused is not released to the accuser.”
Administrators are unable to release the information about or punishment given to students due to legality and confidentiality concerns. All student records are kept private due to the Illinois Student Records Act along with other privacy laws.
According to Kinzie, these aspects of Cabrera’s statements that Campbell states are “already in place” are not policies, but practices. Policies are developed by the Board. Whereas, practices include those listed in “The Pilot” and others. They are designed to implement policies.
Campbell goes on to explain that there is protocol in place which holds that administrators should ask if the survivors feel comfortable reporting their story to them, or if they would prefer speaking with someone of the same gender, sexuality or other identity. In addition, Campbell notes that students may report to any administrators; it is not limited to their deans.
Although any accusations to staff member will be brought to the attention of the administration due to mandated reporting, they are unable to discipline the accused if the incident falls out of school jurisdiction. School jurisdiction is only in place during school hours, on school property or at a school sanctioned event. However, the student will work with social workers, psychologists or counselors following their initial disclosure.
“I think we have to do a better job reaching back to those who initiated the report just so there could be some sense of the school did take action,” Campbell says. “It’s one piece that it not necessarily required by the law, it is just a human thing that an institution can do when some make a report like that.”
Campbell goes on to encourage students to form a group, or “task force,” and speak with him on how they would like the policies to shift.
The policy, currently, defines sexual harassment as “any unwelcome and unwanted verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature between groups or individuals, including use of cameras and camera phones in washrooms and locker rooms.”
The penalty for committing sexual harassment, if physical contact is involved, includes a parent conference, may be considered for suspension and may be given a referral to the Intervention of Advisory Team, for their first offense. For second offenses, one may be considered for suspension and parent conference. For third offenses, one may be considered for suspension. The words “sexual assault” are not explicitly stated in “The Pilot.”
Many students believe that as the policy stands, there is a lack of consequences for the assaulter and of resources for the survivor. While the policy is aligned with Title IX regulations, some would like to see the school do more.
“Negligence of the administration to properly address the issue and the abundance of rape culture has made us numb to the stories of victims to the point where we are unaffected when we hear their stories and unmotivated to take the proper action,” Cabrera says.
Cabrera and Stein’s actions resonate with the national movement that has pressured workplaces and educational institutions to move beyond recognizing the problem of sexual harassment and assault to actively working towards the prevention of these occurrences as well.
According to research conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Black women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are disportionately more affected.
“I hope to see a change in the culture of how both ETHS and the country handle cases of sexual assault. I would like to see the focus shift to changing male behavior, and holding perpetrators accountable in ways that can prevent future harassment,” Stein says. “ETHS exists to educate its students. If we can dedicate resources toward teaching people not to harass or assault, it would nip many future cases of sexual violence in the bud.”
Although the idea of preventative measure is Stein’s long term solution to the issue of sexual assault, Cabrera hopes that the administration will, also, address the immediate concern of survivors.
“I wanted to go to the administration first about the issue because I wanted to make sure we had used every outlet we could before going to protest so that the administration could not act like we had not already brought it to their attention,” Cabrera explains. “However, if the administration fails to act in response, protest will have to be the next step.”
The Evanstonian contacted the ETHS administration for a response on the articles within pages 12 – 14. Comments on any student records is prohibited by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). ETHS administration emphasizes the use of the resources listed on page 12.
The following interview took place with a current ETHS student who chose to detail her experience after giving two reports to the school about an abusive relationship. The first incident was outside the school’s jurisdiction, whereas, the second incident — an altercation beginning within the school building and continuing into the parking lot — occurred on school grounds. Following the second occurrence, this individual, along with friends who witnessed the incident, went to a dean and filed incident reports. The answers below speak to her experience surrounding this report and its aftermath.
Can you speak to the process that was taken during the report?
I briefly told the dean about this incident, then he made me, and my two friends that were with me, write incident reports. After, he spoke to my mom on the phone, saying that we needed to make sure all the doors to my house were locked. He advised that I did not drive or go anywhere alone. I felt heard, and that something was going to be done, but I also felt extremely anxious and shocked. I felt comfortable reporting as I have had a good relationship with my dean. Of course deans can’t exactly give their opinions, but I could tell he was shocked and disturbed.
What actions were taken as a result of your report?
To this day, I do not know if anything happened to him as a punishment. Despite the large amount of witnesses, and security camera footage, I am pretty sure nothing happened. I saw him at school the next day, so I don’t think he got suspended, and I know he is still on his varsity team. Given that he was still in the building, to feel safe in the hallways, I would ask security guards to walk me to and from my classes.
What were your responses to these actions?
I am definitely not happy with these actions. I understand that there is the factor of confidentiality. So, the dean could not tell me if he got punished in any way, but that did not help the situation. I definitely would have felt some sort of closure if I knew if he was punished, and how. I would have liked to see him kicked off his sports team and suspended. I don’t think it is fair that I walked around school scared all the time, while he got to go on with his life as if nothing happened.
How has this affected your school life?
This whole situation has affected my school life very negatively. I still do not feel safe walking around the hallways, and this event happened over a year ago. I still feel sick to my stomach and very anxious when I walk past him everyday in the hall.
How effective are the current sexual harassment policies, given your own experience?
I firmly believe that the school’s sexual harassment policies are not effective. Seeing multiple boys I’ve known to be accused of sexual assault or harassment still on their varsity sports or other extracurricular activities is infuriating. I think there needs to be a big change in the school’s policy. I understand that there are a few times when people lie about what has happened, but the school still needs to listen to all stories given by victims, and take them seriously, even if the supposed assaulter is an upper class, privileged, white male.
What advice would you give another student who wanted to report something to the school?
If I was to give advice to another student who wanted to report something, I would tell them they should definitely 100 percent do it. However, they should be ready to not receive total closure, and they should be ready to stand up for themselves and be their own advocate. I believe that one of the ways we can make a change is reporting these incidents when they happen so that the school will hopefully recognize how big of an issue this is at this school. Another piece of advice I would want to give is that if you have any evidence, bring it to the deans, as that could really help bring the assaulter to justice.
The following is a letter submitted to the Evanstonian, written by a current ETHS student.
I am a junior at ETHS and on December 16, 2016, I was sexually assaulted at school. There were no safety in the halls, and I don’t believe I was given access to the necessary resources to allow me to deal with this properly. During the time that I communicated with the school about the incident, I had talked to five adults, four of them being men. Of the men, only one of them had asked if I would be more comfortable talking to a woman. None of the five had asked if I needed medical attention. It felt as though it was being covered up.
The school has a policy in “The Pilot” for sexual harassment but not assault. The policy is out of date and needs to change. It seems to me, they have more direct punishments for less serious offenses like, theft or use of tobacco on campus. The policy states states: “If physical contact is not involved: 1st: This infraction may be considered for suspension, student conference with parent notification, referral to a school social worker, social probation; additional, 2nd: may be considered for suspension, parent contact, referral to a school social worker, social probation, referral to Intervention Advisory Team; If physical contact is involved, depending on the severity, the following actions will be invoked: 1st: parent conference, may be considered for suspension, referral to Intervention Advisory Team, a school social worker. 2nd: may be considered for suspension, parent conference. 3rd: May be considered for suspension, referral to Intervention Advisory Team.”
Nowhere in the policy for sexual assault and harassment does it state that the accused will be punished with immediate suspension, it only ever says it will be “considered.” After reading the policy, I was stunned about how lenient it was. It made me feel like my assault wasn’t going to be taken seriously. In own experience, it seemed as though the person who assaulted me wasn’t even suspended. He couldn’t come to school for two days because of the active investigation, which the school had told us would happen. My parents and I had also gotten the police involved so they had their own investigation. To mine and my parents knowledge, he wouldn’t be back at school until the police were done, and I would be told when he was back at school. That’s not what happened. It became clear that he was allowed back after the school’s investigation. It seemed as though they were protecting his privacy over my safety.
Imagine how shocked and scared you would be if you ran into your assaulter at school when I was under the impression that I would never run into him. That happened the second day back at school, I saw him in the hallway and almost had a panic attack. As I previously mentioned, I don’t believe the school had utilized the resources or had the proper training to deal with such severe cases as mine was. According to RAIN, for every 1000 sexual assaults only 310 are reported to the police. Everytime a story like this is told, there are multiple that are not. The school needs to know the difference between sexual assault, sexual harassment, and unwanted touching. The gauge that the administrators used continuously invalidated my experience. I felt as though they belittled what happened to me. It is important that we address these classifications differently, because the aftermath that the survivors face is different.
The day that this happened only one adult in the whole school made me feel comfortable and reassured. He made sure that I had what I needed, that the person I wanted to talk to about it was informed and made sure I knew the assault wasn’t my fault. My interpretation of the protocol that the administration laid out, prohibited me from speaking to a teacher I was more comfortable disclosing to. Although protocol is designed to protect students, I felt as though this limited my ability to cope and overall made that day a lot harder.
The thing about this whole situation that confuses, annoys, aggravates and upsets me most is it appeared as though the school didn’t punish him. He can still walk the same hallways as me, eat in the same lunchroom as me, still participate in his sports, that’s not okay! The form of sexual assault that I had to endure from him is considered to be the same as rape. That’s a felony. I don’t want to be in the same world as him, let alone the same school. I think it’s outrageous that he can still walk the same halls as me without a punishment. The school needs to help more with situations like these. I know I am not the first person this has happened to and sadly, I know I won’t be the last.
I encourage anyone and everyone that this has happened to to come forward with their stories and share how the school handled it. We need to stand together so that we can prevent this from happening to others. The school needs to change their policy around sexual harassment, add a separate one for sexual assault and rape, and be more prepared to help with these horrible incidents. This will help create not only a better school but a safer one.
What do we want?
Stricter sexual harassment policy that prioritizes the victim’s safety and ensures that the harassers are adequately punished and charged.
Policy that is met with complete compliance from staff and other school authorities
Direct punishment such as suspension
Immediate action once reported
Immediate medical attention if needed
Right to have police present
Below is a statement from another ETHS female student, submitted to the Evanstonian:
As a young female student at ETHS, I am constantly interacting and having conversations with my other female peers. However, alarmingly, in some of the conversations I have had with friends and other students I know, the constant issue of sexual harassment at the school has repeatedly (and alarmingly) come up too many times to count. I have witnessed my friends coming to school and having panic attacks, breaking down crying in the middle of class; and yet, while it seems that sexual harassment has so widely had its effect on a large population of female students at the school, there seems to be a repeating trend of the ETHS policy and staff failing to help these students and provide justice for victims of such abuse.
One of my friends described how she had been sexually assaulted at school, but then had felt denied and ignored by the staff after reporting the issue, resulting to her continuing to still feel unsafe within the school parameters. She was told that her attacker would be suspended from school due to an investigation of her conflict, and to her and her parents knowledge, her attacker would not be returning to school until the police that they had contacted (without help from the school) were done with the investigation as well. However, she ran into her assaulter without being informed that he had returned, resulting in her suffering from a panic attack upon sight. In addition to this, her attacker suffered no consequences whatsoever, and was able to walk away from the situation without punishment. Her attacker was able to go on with their life, while the trauma that she experienced from the attack still follows her to this day.
Another friend of mine had been repeatedly assaulted by her boyfriend during the course of their relationship and was followed by him one day to her car. He attempted to stop her from getting into her car, banged on her doors, and yelled at her repeatedly. It was a moment that caused her extreme panic and fear, and she is still forced to be in the same environment as her abuser everyday. While she had blocked him off social media and any other platform of communication, he also began to send her threatening emails in an attempt to intimidate her. However, while she reported this to the school, he did not receive any punishment whatsoever, and my friend, who was a victim of all this, was offered no consolation and was simply told that the school could not do anything to help with her situation.
I understand that the school has many limits as to what kind of action they can take in these certain situations. What I heard happen to my friends was alarming, and if it has happened to one or two people, it has definitely happened to more. In fact, after asking many girls if they had suffered from sexual assault within school and had been neglected help or knew someone who had been through that experience, many of them had a story about themselves or someone they knew. There are reforms that need to be made to the policy that will require complete compliance from staff and other school authorities. First, direct punishment to attackers must be enforced. These attackers walk away from these situations without having to suffer consequence or without feeling like they did anything wrong because they are still able to live their lives as normal. That is not okay. There are consequences to every action, and from what I have heard, the school is obviously not aware of that. Immediate action should also be required once the sexual assault is reported – my friends have told me that they were not offered help quickly enough in their time of need, even when the urgency was very clear. Medical attention and the right to have police present (if requested) is important as well. There is more that I would like to discuss with the board regarding the reform of the policy; however, my goal would be to ensure that the school is a safe and welcoming environment for all.