Students fight to discuss sexual assault


Juniors Grace Giangreco, Catherine Cushing, senior Emily Sommer, and junior Maddie Lee, members of the C.A.R.E. club, wear shirts to promote sexual violence awareness.

In an ongoing effort to raise awareness for sexual assault, students, particularly female upperclassmen, face administrative barriers, sparking conversation throughout the student body.

On the Monday prior to spring break, a Groupme (mobile group messaging app) titled “Self- love Club” was created in response to the growing popular Instagram hashtag #normalizeselflove. Prompted by junior Anna Mondschean about a month ago, this hashtag began appearing on many instagram accounts schoolwide as students posted their idea of “self-love.” The Groupme, as organizer and junior Tally Dully said, was meant to continue the conversation on self-love and change the conversation on sexual assault. Within a week, the group chat became an avenue for sharing articles, statistics, campaign ideas, and personal stories relating to sexual assault.

“The group really unifies us and makes it easier to share ideas,” Dully said.

Their current agenda is to put up posters and make announcements providing statistics and common definitions related to sexual assault. However, these plans, as Principal Campbell explained, may be detrimental to members of the ETHS community, rather than beneficial: “Anytime you bring up sexual assault you must be very careful; a lot of thought and consideration needs to be given to language, graphics, and statistics.” He said that for some, statistics, for example, are informative, but for others they are triggering, and the school is not willing to take that chance.

While the group claims “all of the campaigning is positive and comforting”, Principal Campbell and other administrators are not comfortable allowing these messages to be posted throughout school hallways, bathrooms, and over the loudspeaker.

“There’s a fine line between informing people and revictimizing victims of sexual assault,” said Campbell. “Using terms like rape and sexual assault freely over the intercom or on bathroom stalls can trigger anybody— even if they’re not direct victims.”

With other issues relating to teen trauma, such as drug use, the school carefully monitors the language used in flyers. For example, the Tinkle Times provides statistics on the percentage of kids who choose not to use a certain drug. This way, those reading the information don’t feel personally attacked.

Campbell urged the campaign organizers to ask themselves: What if I’m in that statistic? What if no one besides me knows I’m apart of that statistic?

“What we want is to start a constructive conversation,” Campbell said, “not to open up these wounds in a way that is deconstructive toward students and staff.”

Campbell follows school psychologists’ and social workers’ advice regarding these issues; these professionals assert that while raising awareness is important, using shock value is not an approach the school supports.

“That’s not the way you get those with male privilege to listen— a simple flyer— there has to be a long conversation where listeners hear personal narratives and trained speakers” Campbell said.

But for the students, these obstacles did not deter from their mission.

“The fact that they’ve been trying to stop us has pushed us to fight even more,” said Abbey Blakeman, junior and member of the school’s C.A.R.E. club, or Child Abuse Recognition of Evanston. This club started last year and has about 70 members now.

Their goal for sexual assault awareness month was to just start a conversation, so club president Emily Sommer and vice president Emilee Crabbe decided to create shirts to do just that. The shirts were ordered over spring break and share these messages: Rape is the only crime where the victim becomes the accused (Freda Adler, front), and It’s everyone’s concern (back). At first, just kids in the club received them, however as members shared the idea with friends, Sommer received more than 75 order requests for shirts.

“We never wanted to out people or force them to talk about it, but we also wanted people to know that it’s not wrong to talk about,” Sommer said.

As the Groupme and C.A.R.E. club worked to get the word out about their campaign, Blakeman sent a picture of the shirts to a group chat of her close guy and girl friends. She was surprised to receive no response from either gender.

“These are boys who have displayed inappropriate behavior in the past and girls who don’t think it’s a big deal because we’re conditioned to believe that,” Blakeman said.

Sommer also added that these issues are not directly addressed within her circle of friends because it is a difficult topic to discuss and many boys are uncomfortable addressing their sexual encounters. For those that want to speak out, they face major social pressures.

“As much as there is a stigma around sexual assault victims, there is also a stigma around men who will stand up against rape. We want to change that,” Sommer said.

A part of their campaign targets boys, for, as Sommer explained based on statistics, the majority of sexual assault offenders in the world are male.

“They need to learn what consent means and when they need to stop and listen,” she said.

Sommer is currently working to create an open luncheon for students and staff to come and share personal stories. She shared her ideas with Nichole Boyd, Director of Student Activities a couple weeks ago, but they were shot down based on administrative rules regarding this topic. Using the word rape on the shirts, for example, was said to be unsympathetic to victims and thus something the school cannot support.

Students still plan to wear the shirts on the last Thursday of the month, April 28. Sommer plans to continue fighting for the sexual assault awareness luncheon.

Other students are still working with Campbell and Boyd to spread their ideas throughout the school. It has not been an easy process, but they’re determined to raise awareness, whether it’s the national month of awareness or not, for sexual assault.

“We already started some conversation, but there’s always room for more,” said Sommer.