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The Student News Site of Lynbrook High School

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The Student News Site of Lynbrook High School

the Epic

The Student News Site of Lynbrook High School

the Epic

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Confronting the silence surrounding sexual assault

Anushka Anand
Sexual assault survivors can often feel invisible in the midst of everyone else’s lives.

This story contains references to content that may be difficult for those who have experienced trauma or are sensitive to topics concerning sexual violence and assault.

*Names changed for privacy

In the heart of our school culture, a distressing truth remains covered in silence. Behind bustling classrooms and the lives of busy students, there exists a grave issue that often goes unspoken and unnoticed: sexual assault. 

Any unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances, comments, requests for sexual favors or any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile or intimidating environment for the victim is classified under sexual harassment. Conversely, sexual assault constitutes touching someone without their valid consent.

“There is help out there. But nobody should have to talk. You get to choose what you want to say and when you want to say it. When you are ready, there are friends, parents, and staff who will help you.”

— 2022 Lynbrook Alum

“A person committing sexual assault is failing to give another person a choice, and failing to respect that choice,” Center for Respect founder Mike Domitrz said. 

Despite the gravity of sexual assault, the challenges in reporting these cases are complex . Survivors often face a culture of silence that discourages them from coming forward. Many individuals who have experienced sexual assault feel the stigma attached to being a survivor and worry about being treated differently if they speak out.

“Unfortunately, sometimes our society will ask survivors what they did or did not do in a sexual assault instead of focusing on the perpetrator,” Domitrz said. “When people focus on the survivor and incorrectly blame them, then that can make the survivors start to think that it is their fault.”

Incidents of sexual assault in public high schools are more common than most think. Sexual assault can affect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The experiences of male survivors have long been overshadowed by stereotypes and societal misconceptions. One out of every 10 sexual assault survivors is male. Society’s expectations of male behavior often pressure survivors to suppress their emotions and perpetrate toxic masculinity — the state of embodying the worst elements of stereotypically masculine attributes  —  and can hinder the emotional healing process. The lack of awareness and education about both male and female survivors makes it difficult to recognize their experiences as assault and for them to seek help. 

Furthermore, victims of sexual assault often experience a reaction known as tonic immobility which means that the body loses voluntary mobility. This is not a failure to act or respond, but rather an adaptive survival response. Unaware that this reaction is a natural response to assault, survivors may blame themselves. 

 The blurred line between assault and harassment often leaves students confused about what constitutes an offense, making it even more challenging for them to report. 

“People don’t really know the definition of what sexual assault means,” Aanya Mishra, junior and supporter of sexual assault survivors said. “If they think it isn’t sexual assault, they just end up pushing their feelings away and try to move on with their lives.”

Many fear the potential judgment or apathy from their family members finding out about their experiences. The added prospect of involving police or school officials can be further intimidating, and the fear of judgment or unknown consequences can be paralyzing.  The lack of a reliable support system from peers and adults is one of many factors that can leave survivors feeling isolated. 

“One of the best ways for students to support themselves is by calling into an anonymous hotline,” school-based therapist Jenna Starnes said. “It’s super important to be able to talk about your experience and mitigate any feelings of shame because it is never your fault.” 

A number of initiatives have been taken by Lynbrook’s administration to break the culture of silence and to better support survivors’ mental and physical needs. 

Among these initiatives, all staff members are mandated reporters, ensuring that incidents are properly dealt with and that survivors can receive the support they need. All mandated reporters are required by law to report all known or suspected cases of child abuse for students under 18 years old to the police or Child Protective Services. 

It is common for survivors to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the assault. They might be triggered by specific people, places, or objects that serve as reminders of their experience. PTSD can be very debilitating, and it affects both the brain and the body. It often manifests itself through panic attacks, flashbacks, feeling on edge, withdrawal, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, avoiding certain social situations, and much more.

A survivor’s journey toward healing is undoubtedly challenging, but it is an essential path to embark upon. However, for students who don’t choose to self-report, talking to a therapist in a hypothetical context can be a safe way to talk about their experiences. If the student does not give specific details about their personal situation, it is likely that there will not be a report.  

“I talked to my therapist about everything for two hours straight for the first time in five years by just implying what happened,” 2022 Male Lynbrook Alum* said. “I felt so much better, like I just flushed everything out.” 

If a student decides to report an incident, Associate Superintendent and Title IX Coordinator Trudy Gross will initiate an investigation. Title IX stresses that the investigation be prompt, thorough and impartial. All information will stay confidential between the student, Gross, the administrator who reports the incident, the police and the student’s parents. 

“I felt like I had to tell my parents,”  2022 Male Lynbrook Alum* said. “So, I worked with Ms. Starnes to come up with a contingency plan, running through every scenario of their reaction, which made me feel ready to tell them.”  

If a community hopes to work toward a more inclusive culture, it is essential that survivors feel supported and that their voices are heard. In an effort to create an environment where students can come forward without fear, the administration is enhancing transparency about the reporting process and emphasizing survivor protection through annual advisories.

For students, confronting the stigma can play a major role in creating safe spaces for open dialogue. When students, faculty and the wider community work together to challenge and dismantle these stigmas, it can become easier for survivors to come forward and share their experiences without fear of judgment.

“We collectively have more power,” Starnes said. “The more people band together and start calling incidents out, the more things will change.” 

To further assist survivors, students have access to various resources for support. On campus, the school-based therapists are trained to offer a safe and confidential space to provide guidance and assistance to survivors. Off campus, students can contact organizations like the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network which provides an anonymous hotline for survivors to access 24/7. Students can also join support groups such as Teens for Empowerment, Support, & Safety, or can find other groups through Sexual Assault Support Services to connect with others who have similar experiences, providing them with a sense of community and understanding. 

“There is help out there,”  2022 Male Lynbrook Alum* said. “But nobody should have to talk. You get to choose what you want to say and when you want to say it. When you are ready, there are friends, parents, and staff who will help you.” 

By addressing sexual assault as an ongoing issue, the Lynbrook community can work toward fostering a culture for every student to feel heard, supported and protected.

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About the Contributor
ANUSHKA ANAND, Managing Editor
(she/her) Anushka is a senior and the Managing Editor of the Epic for the 2023-24 school year. Aside from her immense passion for journalism, she enjoys engaging in various forms of art, like playing guitar, cooking, painting, woodworking, doing henna, etc.

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