By Rachel Heller 4/10/2018
Amidst widespread reports on social media of sexual assault and harassment in the #MeToo and “MeTooK12 era, Arundel students have recently joined the ranks of other “silence breakers,” coming forward with their own stories of sexual assault and harassment, including (Heller, 2018) with established protocol, according to Principal Gina Davenport.
In February, Arundel students began posting their stories on social media, with reports ranging from sexual harassment online, to sexual assault on and off-campus. Some students who experienced sexual assault or harassment spoke out on the emotional and psychological toll that these instances had on them, sometimes including their dissatisfaction with how they believe Arundel’s staff handled their reports.
After students created social media posts about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment, an additional post circulated with details concerning a student-planned peaceful protest to be held on February 9, before school and near Arundel’s front entrance. Students say they planned the protest to support their peers who felt that Arundel did not properly handle their reports of sexual assault or harassment.
In a “Conversation with the Principal” parent-teacher association meeting, held on February 5 after school in the media center, Davenport discussed the recent posts from Arundel students, along with the protest.
She addressed concerns over sexual assault and harassment circulating on social media, including one student’s report alleging that the school is testifying against them in court. According to a person in attendance, Davenport noted that the school is not testifying against the student.
On the morning of the protest day, a group of Arundel students congregated near the school’s main entrance, chanting, “We want justice.”
The protest concluded around the beginning of Pride Period after Davenport spoke to the students and asked them to create some kind of educational public service announcement, advisory lesson, or rally to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment.
“I think that’s what everybody wants to do, is to make sure that everybody’s aware that these things happen, and that they’re inappropriate, and we take it very seriously,” Davenport said.
During the protest, Amanda Saucier, and Arundel senior who helped plan the event, held a sign with the words, “2 years too late.”
According to Saucier, in 2015, her sophomore year, she received a message from a male student in one for her classes with what she first thought were “normal things that high school guys say.” She ignored his messages for a while, until they became threatening.
According to Saucier, one message said, “I’m going to rape you in class,” followed by a lewd photo.
Saucier says that when she went to a counselor with a report of sexual harassment, he told her that he would take care of it. According to Saucier, she never heard from an administrator regarding her report.
In an interview with The Pulse, Davenport addressed the handling of Saucier’s report “[Saucier] made the assumption that the counselor would pass on the information to administration, and that didn’t happen. So we didn’t know at the time what was going on with her and her [class],” Davenport said. “It was a pretty serious situation, and it was not resolved,” she said. *(see Editor’s Note)
If a student goes to a counselor and reports something, and they don’t hear from an administrator within 24 hours, they should go back to the counselor or to the administrator to make sure that it’s being take care of,” Davenport said. She later confirmed that policy dictates that counselors pass on information regarding reports to administration.
According to the 2017-2018 AACPS Parent Handbook, county policy dictates that staff members who receive a report of sexual harassment from a student “respond quickly and appropriately to investigate and intervene, making every effort to provide the student with a practical, safe, private, and age-appropriate way of reporting.”
Meanwhile, Saucier remained enrolled in a class with the student whom she says harassed her. “I felt really uncomfortable, and he would laugh in my face,” she said, remembering when she would walk out of her class in tears.
Eventually, a teacher in the class moved her alleged harasser’s seat, after the teacher saw Saucier crying.
This year, Saucier and the student she says harassed her were in the same classes. “He would stare at me the whole time in my [class],” Saucier said.
Davenport says she only became aware of the situation this year from social media posts. She called Saucier down to her office a few days before the protest in February and switched the reported harasser of her classes.
In an April 3 interview with The Pulse, the counselor did not recall an instance where Saucier reported sexual harassment. He said that neglecting to pass on a report of sexual harassment to administration “would never happen on [his] watch.” The counselor recalled meeting with Saucier many times in the past regarding unrelated issues.
Moving forward after her report of sexual harassment, Saucier wants instances of sexual misconduct to be taken more seriously. “Boys will be boys’, everyone’s always told that, but this is a serious problem,” she said.
Saucier added that she knows other Arundel students with reports of sexual assault or harassment, including senior Isabel Overbey.
According to Overbey, in March 2015, her freshman year, she was raped off-campus by an Arundel senior.
She did not report the rape to anyone. With graduation approaching, she felt that administration would not take any action against a senior, and she still wanted the student to graduate.
In her sophomore year, Overbey says that she was raped off-campus by another person, an Arundel graduate who had graduated the previous year. “I didn’t know who to turn to, so I kind of just kept it to myself,” she said. She also felt that nothing could be done about her experience, since the student no longer attended school.
Overbey noted that she has experience with helping other students who have been reportedly sexually harassed. Around the end of last year, she witnessed an Arundel student experiencing frequent sexual harassment by another student in school. “Every day [the harasser] would do something in school, and it would bother me. I would have to walk [the student] to classes sometimes,” she said.
Since the person who had been harassed was too scared to file an incident report, Overbey went to administration to file it for them. However, she says that administration told her it could not be filed because the person being harassed had to be present.
“I feel like if they’re too scared to come in we should at least write it out for them, and have [administration] tell us the next steps that we can tell them,” Overbey said.
Overbey emphasized how hard it is for those who have experienced sexual assault or harassment to come forward. “It’s been three years, and two years for me [since being raped], so I can easily talk about it now without having really bad flashbacks. It takes a while to get over it.”
Another Arundel student, who requested anonymity, in order to discuss the sensitive topic, recognized that it can be difficult for those who have been sexually harassed and assaulted to discuss their experiences. “Some people are kind of uncomfortable with going to a guidance counselor because they feel like it’s kind of a way that they relive it,” they said.
According to the student, they were in a hallway in Arundel when an Arundel student, who they had seen before but were not familiar with, wrapped their arms around them. The anonymous student says that after asking them to stop, the alleged perpetrator touched them inappropriately and said, “I’ll do what I want to you.”
The anonymous student says that when they reported the experience to a teacher, they were told that there was no point in reporting to administration. According to the student, the teacher told them that nobody would believe them. The student believes that the teacher did not have negative intentions, and felt like they wanted to help them realize that administration would not take their report seriously.
The student added that they believe the hesitation to speak out applies not only to those who have been assaulted or harassed, but to eye witnesses as well. “It’s like you can’t really rely on anybody,” the anonymous student said.
The student hopes that incidents of sexual assault and harassment are not accepted as normal occurrences: “Most people don’t even realize they’ve been assaulted, because it’s so normal.”
Another Arundel student, who also requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic, says that they still feel the effects of their alleged sexual harassment.
According to the student, in their freshman year, they were frequently harassed in school by a male student, both in person and through messages. “He sent me nude pictures of him that I didn’t want. He kept texting me over and over. Even when I blocked him, he always found a way to talk to me,” they said. The anonymous student says that their harasser would also ask them to send nude photos.
The student says that in class, their harasser would touch their thigh, try to throw things down their shirt, position himself too close to them, and talk about their body.
At first, the student did not report the harassment. “I didn’t think it was a really important matter. I thought he was just being an idiot teenage boy,” they said. “But it came to the point where I was scared to go to class. I watched what I was wearing and everything.”
After being harassed in class, the anonymous student says that a friend in the class urged them to report it to the administration. Eventually, the anonymous student’s friend told an administrator and administration called down the student to discuss the incidents. The student later talked to a counselor.
The student says they went to the Department of Juvenile Services in Annapolis to determine whether to go to court. “I was terrified. I didn’t want to do it, because the situation, it’s already embarrassing and it’s disgusting,” they said.
“I had to sit in the same room as him and his parents, and we went into separate rooms to take an interview to see what he would say about it and to see what I would say.” The anonymous student says that they decided not to go to court out of fear. “I was already terrified enough just to have the one interview,” they said.
In the first semester of the 2017-2018 school year, the student shared a class with their harasser again. According to the student, in class, their harasser talked to them about the situation between them “like it was a joke.”
The student says that they always be haunted by the reported harassment. “He literally ruined my life. I’m not allowed to wear skirts or dresses to school anymore, I’m literally scared of my actions and what I do in front of guys and everything. It’s personally in my mind forever and I know it,” they said.
The student’s brother told them that the sexual harassment was their own fault, while their dad said that they could not wear certain items of clothing to school anymore. “None of them said it was going to be okay, that it wasn’t my fault. They never said that. My own counselor said that, and the fact that she said that and not my parents, just defeated me.”
They say that they did not realize the amount of other students that have been sexually assaulted or harassed in the school until they saw other students posting their experiences on social media. “That really shocked me because it’s a school. No one should have to go through that in school,” they said.
According to Luke Wilhelm, Arundel’s guidance counseling department chair, if a student is experiencing sexual harassment, the best person that a student can reach out to is a counselor or an administrator. “Reporting to a teacher is also good, but they will typically refer a student to a counselor or an administrator” he said.
In addition to school guidance counselors, school psychologist Rebecca Schrader is another resource available to student with reports of sexual assault or harassment.
Wilhelm described the process that students who have been sexually harassed should go through: “A student reports it to a counselor or an administrator, they take a statement. Administration, the assistant principals, then investigate- interview witnesses, look at the cameras, look at the screenshots, any evidence they have – and then they give consequences based on that.
And then counselors should follow up, basically, supporting the student with whatever emotional concerns they have after that.”
Stacy Cooper, and Arundel administrator, confirmed this process, and added that it also applies to reports of sexual assault, though the consequences for sexual assault may be more serious.
“The thing that seems to be most frustrating to people, is that we can’t tell the victim’s family necessarily what we’ve done to the person that’s offended them, and that’s really, really hard,” Cooper said. “The difference is, if it does end up going to a court or to a police officer, the police officer doesn’t have that same rule confidentiality.”
On the topic of confidentiality, Davenport says that there are instances where the actions that the school takes against an offender and not publicized.
She says that the protocol that administration follows when releasing information on reports is similar to the way that police handle reports involving minors: “If it’s a minor involved, [the police] may say, “Two minors were also charged, “but they can’t give the names or the details of the case, because a minor was involved,” she said.
Cooper encourages students to report cases of sexual harassment or assault that occur off-campus as well, though any potential consequences would likely be legal if the incident does not occur in school.
“I feel like we’re doing as much as we can with the information we have. Some people just don’t like to share their information; it’s embarrassing,” she said. “And then people get upset because we’re not doing anything, but they haven’t told us anything. It’s just hard. It’s really hard.”
Davenport suggested alternatives for students who feel unsafe, but, are too uncomfortable to come forward with their report. She said that when reporting to administration, students are welcome to bring a friend, or ask their parent to come in or to call.
Davenport also emphasized that sexual misconduct is not something that the school takes lightly. “We think that it’s very serious, and we want to not only provide consequences to those who are guilty, we want to support victims, and we also want to teach people the appropriate way to behave themselves,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Information contained in this story was correctly reported as it was presented to the author. Subsequent to the publication of this story, a search of records has shown that the school counselor may have fulfilled an obligation to report this matter to the appropriate school officials.
Heller, R. (2018, April 9). Retrieved from The Pulse: http://www.arundelhighnews.com/2018/04/09arundel-high-students-speak-out-on-experiences-with-sexual-assault-and-harrassment-frustrations-with-reporting-process/