The Sexual Violence Problem We Don't Talk About Enough

January 19th 2016

Laura Donovan

It is well-known that institutions of higher education have a serious problem with sexual assault — one in five undergraduate women experience an attempted or completed sexual assault — but the issue impacts more than college aged females. Sexual violence at large is an overlooked problem in elementary, middle, and high school as well, The Washington Post recently reported.


In the 2015 fiscal year, the Education Department received 65 civil rights complaints pertaining to the way K-12 districts handled sexual violence cases. This was three times the number of complaints the agency received the previous year, according to The Washington Post. The Education Department is currently looking into 74 cases in 68 school districts, and this is twice as many open investigations as 14 months ago.

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Attorney Cari Simon told the publication that colleges are feeling the pressure to take action on sexual assault but that K-12 schools aren't tackling the issue of peers sexually assaulting peers as well as they should yet. 

“In the K-12 cases, I have seen a lot of complete incompetence, a complete lack of even knowing they have responsibilities,” she told The Washington Post.

A 2013 survey from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control found that 7.3 percent of students reported being physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to. Females were more than twice as likely to have been forced into sexual intercourse than their male counterparts. Two years ago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that one in four middle school students reported experiencing unwanted verbal or physical harassment at school.


Middle school students are dismissive towards harassment.

In the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study, the most common form of harassment was unwanted touching. The majority of the incidents of harassment took place in school hallways, and researchers were surprised that classrooms ranked second in locations where students were harassed the most.

Study lead author Dorothy Espelage told U.S. News & World Report in 2014 that many students were dismissive of the harassment, as if to say they thought it was the same as "just joking" around. She also told the publication that she and her team found in previous research that many school employees couldn't differentiate between bullying and sexual harassment. She said this adds to the problem because schools are ill-equipped to confront sexual harassment.

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"We are not talking to kids about what sexual harassment is," she said. "We are not talking to kids about boundaries. So when these things happen, they don’t know what to call it. They may know they feel uncomfortable and they can tell us it was upsetting to them, but the adults around them aren't necessarily talking to them about their rights."

George Takei on Rape

Alabama's "rape baiting" incident that backfired horribly.

Last year, Alabama's Sparkman Middle School made national headlines for a lawsuit surrounding the school's misconduct in a sexual assault case. Court documents state that a male student asked a 14-year-old female student to meet her in the bathroom for sex. A teacher's aide said this male student had tried to get other girls to have sex with him in the bathroom before, so she told the girl to meet him in the bathroom so they could catch him doing something wrong.

The teacher's aide promised someone would intervene before anything happened to the young girl, but the boy changed the bathroom meeting location at the last minute and was able to sexually assault her before anyone could show up and stop the assault from occurring. The young girl's family sued Madison County Schools, which was found to be in violation of Title IX, a federal law that aims to fight sexual discrimination in education.

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The unnamed female victim, who is now 20 years old, told CNN in 2014 that she felt "set up" by her teachers.

"I just felt like I was set up by the teachers," she said. "They gave me a word that they couldn't keep."

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Owen Labrie and the culture of male entitlement.

Late last year, 20-year-old former prep school student Owen Labrie was sentenced to a year behind bars after being convicted of sexually assaulting a female classmate while they were students at the elite St. Paul's School in New Hampshire. The female victim said that Lawrie raped her during “senior salute,” a school "tradition" in which younger students engage in romantic activity with seniors prior to graduation. At the time of the assault, the female was 15 years old and Labrie was 18.

Owen Labrie

“What he did to me made me feel like I didn’t belong on this planet and that I would be better off dead,” the girl said in court last October, according to The New York Times.

“Without just and right punishment, I really don’t know how I’ll put one foot in front of the other," she continued. "I don’t want to feel imprisoned for the rest of my life. I want to be safe again. And I want justice.”

The woman's father said he was proud that she stood up to this "entitled young man."

“She stood up to the entitled culture at St. Paul’s School," her father continued, according to The New York Times. "She stood up to the rape culture that exists in our society and allows 'boys to be boys.'"