The Case of Sexual Assault in MCPS Policy Paper
Safety must be the number one priority of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). From not knowing what steps to take following traumatic incidents, to fearing potential incidents, students do not feel safe due to sexual assault/harassment in MCPS.
Sexual assault and harassment are two of the leading traumatizing experiences that erode students’ well-being and educational capacity. A 2002 survey conducted on 2064 students by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), all in grades 8-11, found that approximately 83% of girls and 78% percent of boys had been sexually harassed. According to a 2010 survey by the national government (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey), the vast majority (79.6%) of women who had been the victims of rape suffered their first rape before the age of 25 and almost half (42.2%) experienced it before the age of 18. According to the AAUW, 83–92% (girls) and 57–79% (boys) in middle and high school report being sexually harassed within school (2001). These numbers show the evident problem. What is MCPS doing to solve and avoid it?
While MCPS does offer the Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program (VASAP), the reach to county and state-level support is often hard to find and intimidating to resort to. Following an extremely distressing incident, the idea of handling the trauma while having to research and look for a support system that is foreign to oneself is very difficult and can result in more stress. Additionally, programs for support are not heavily spoken of in schools (general assemblies, classroom discussions, etc). It is vital that such programs of support be localized and discussed, beginning in elementary school.
Students do not have enough local, easily accessible access to resources and support following an incident relating to sexual assault/harassment. MCPS needs to establish and publicize these means of support and add resources in every single school. More monthly classroom discussions and town halls must happen. Discussing sexual assault and harassment must be de-stigmatized for students to become more aware of available resources. This means adding the discussion of sexual assault/harassment in curriculum at a young age. Such course content should relate to support following an incident, how to report an incident, and taking preventative measures through enforcing the potential lifetime consequences students will face if they were to assault or harass another person.
Following this advancement in curriculum, schools must include more means of support for students. Crisis counselors must be implemented in all schools. Once they are implemented, students will be able to have an available source that can support them in traumatic experiences. Such counselors should have no other job besides responding to students in urgent need of help following traumatic experiences, especially as regular school counselors are overworked and can be hard to contact.
While students do have the opportunity to report incidents of sexual assault/harassment to school officials, an investigation should not be the only focus. In chapter 7 of the Students Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, the general focus is around an investigation following a report of harassment. Although reports and consequences are vital, not all survivors feel comfortable sharing their experiences. The Students Rights and Responsibilities Handbook should be revised to include support systems and resources.
Regarding investigations, oftentimes students may report incidents of sexual assault/harassment to their school and the perpetrator is still able to participate in athletics and other endeavors. I have unfortunately seen this occur, firsthand. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of other reports, but the worse reality is; perpetrators will feel as though they can get away with their actions and still have the ability to participate in sports, hold leadership positions, and hide the situation from future employers or college admissions officers. When things do get reported, MCPS must take immediate action to prevent future incidents and ensure consequences are being faced.
Response to this issue is crucial in protecting the current, and future well-being of all students. Ensuring schools are protected and safe is vital and MCPS must take steps forward in providing this safety. The mental and physical well-being of students is at risk. Above all else, health and well-being must be protected first. Students deserve to feel safe, in school and out of school.
Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gordan, Claire. “By the Numbers: Sexual Violence in High School.” Al Jazeera America, 14 Nov. 2014, 12:15 PM ET, america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/11/14/by-the-numbers-sexualviolenceinhighschool.html.
“Mental and Sexual Health Outcomes Following Sexual Assault in Adolescents: a Prospective Cohort Study.” Define_me, National Institute for Health Research Policy Research Programme Grant (115/0001), 18 July 2018, www.thelancet.com/journals/lancah/article/PIIS2352-4642(18)30202-5/fulltext.
Young, Amy M, et al. “Adolescents’ Experiences of Sexual Assault by Peers: Prevalence and Nature of Victimization Occurring Within and Outside of School.” Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008, 19 Nov. 2008.
“Montgomerycountymd.gov.” Montgomery County - Health and Human Services - Victim Assistance & Sexual Assault Program - Index, www.montgomerycountymd.gov/hhs-program/bhcs/vasap/vasapindex.html.
Written by Sinhawe Haji