(*If you have had a traumatic experience with sexual violence the news article reported in this post may be triggering for you.)
As an academic I have spent the last few years really trying to understand the sexist and gendered violence that takes place within U.S. public school system. I have this crazy optimistic hope that if I can paint a picture and explain the depth of this corrosive violence, there will be some in education community as well as the community at large who will respond.
I call this notion crazy and optimistic as it regularly occurs to me that I am merely another voice that will easily be moved to the margins as representing something either too specialized or too radical to be meaningful to common folk. Nonetheless, I have to keep hoping I will not be the only one to see the world from this lense. I have to keep hoping that I can be part of a new or different discussion about how we might educate our children to live in a peaceful and productive society.
In any case, there are a variety of ways I have come to gather information about children’s experiences of sexual and gendered school violence; but the simplest and least personally painful way I have gathered information is through simple news searches of sexual assaults occurring throughout the country.
In my weekly readings of the national headlines, I can remove myself from a personal knowledge of or relationship with either the victim or the perpetrator of any of this violence and simply consider the story of assault being told by the reporter on the scene. And in the case of good reporting, there is also the story being told by the witnesses, the bystanders, and sometimes those directly involved in this sort of violence.
Over the past few years I have learned a great deal from this sort of general media research. First, it has become clear to me that extreme sexual and gendered violence in and around schools is a weekly occurence across our country. And that this type of violence is generally treated as unique on each occasion as if it were not part of a pandemic.
Second, it seems that in order to for this sort of assault to evolve to the level of visibility, the violence against a victim has to be rather spectacular. And yet in researching this terrible violence a reporter will generally discover that the spectacular assault is merely the culmination of a history of ongoing abuse.
And finally it seems, in each case, neither the reporter nor others involved can find any context for the violence outside of the event itself. A rape of a middle school student on the way to school is simply a girl getting attacked in a freak incident. A sexual assault / hazing of a young boy on a team bus, is simply a few boys getting out of hand initiating a younger boy.
There is no context in which a reporter or those interviewed talk about the alarming number of sexual assaults that occur against young girls within proximity of the school grounds. There is no context in which a reporter talks about the national trend of sexual assault as hazing on sports teams.
Yet this sort of sexual and gendered violence against younger, female, smaller, or otherwise inferior people is the context in which these events occur. And sadly, I am used to reading about this context of sexual domination and violence, free of any reporting that would frame one event against a national trend. I simply do not expect a context or even an editorial hand wringing to take place with each of these reports….
My numbness was however challenged today when I read this article: Many watched two-hour gang rape at Richmond High Homecoming but none reported it
I read this story about 6 young males raping a 15-year-old girl beside the school grounds during the homecoming dance. A rape that was witnessed by bystanders who reportedly laughed and cheered, and a rape that was only reported late in the evening when rumors spread throughout the community. And as I read this story I was stunned into silence.
If we cannot locate and look directly at this violence and deeply consider a culture in which witnesses would laugh, watch, and participate in this sort of assault against a young woman – – I fear that our looking away has the power to consume all that is good in us and leave us with little to hope for but a world like this for our children. And so I take my cautionary words back. Do look too close. We are going to have to.