Sexual Assault Can Happen Anywhere, Even at MHS
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
While high schools are preoccupied with bullying and drug and alcohol abuse, an equally important, but often forgotten abuse is sexual abuse. In the age of social media students get barraged with mixed messages and a student’s behavior can often go too far. Knowing exactly where the line is and what to do if it is crossed is important for the student body to understand.
The line between sexual assault and harassment is often blurred, mainly because each state’s definition can differ. In Indiana, non-consensual sexual contact is a crime. Sexual harassment can be defined across the board as unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situations. While the statistic is not a hundred percent, MHS’ administration can agree on a number similar to one sexual assault happening at MHS per semester.
It is a legal requirement to have a set sexual assault/ harassment procedure in place, this procedure has to be shared with all students and teachers. The Mishawaka Student Agenda, states “Sexual harassment is prohibited.” There is no information online regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault procedures, nor is it stated in the student-parent handbook. There is also no clear procedure in the teacher handbook. Because of this, many students, teachers, and parents do not know the procedure to go through if this happened to them/ their students/ or their child. This could lead to a non-thorough investigation, or, worst-case scenario, no investigation at all.
“Harassment to me, I really try and treat it the same,” said Sean Steinkellner, one of MHS’ Dean of Students, “We have a bully report, and even though it says ‘bully’ on it, it’s really just the start of our investigation.”
According to Steinkellner, MHS’ administration uses the “Bully Report” to get the names, dates, and other basic information about the people involved in the sexual harassment situation. Steinkellner said that this “Bully Report” can be filled out by either student, counselors, teachers, or administration.
According to MHS’ resource officer Bruce Faltynski, freshman counselor Nicole Kaiser, and Dean of Students Laura Sigler, paperwork is the absolute first step to filling any sexual assault/ harassment case with the administration.
“Every situation is different, so we have to take the totality of the situation and get all the details, to determine how to handle it,” said Faltynski.
Throughout this investigation one issue became apparent: there is a lack of communication within and between the administration and student body that must correct itself in order to provide a safe environment for all.
A survey of five random upperclassmen highlighted that students are unaware of what the sexual assault/ harassment procedure is and that none of them were ever informed by staff or administration.
One MHS student experienced sexual assault last school year during a school-sanctioned activity. The victim claims a recording of the incident exists, and also alleges she spoke with two administrators. The victim came forward to student leaders, who then confided in the staff member in charge.
Because of the sensitive nature of the alleged crime, all personal information about the victim has not been disclosed. But, all sources have been confirmed and deemed reliable and trustworthy.
“I remember [the advisor] just saying ‘This stays inside the auditorium.’ But that’s as far as the instance was addressed [with those present at the activity],” witness and MHS junior, Julia Alberts said.
After reaching out to the advisor, who is no longer affiliated with MHS, for an interview she refused to comment.
“I was told no information (regarding the outcome of the situation),” the victim said, “They never gave me any paperwork to fill out.”
As mentioned earlier, Steinkellner stated that anyone can fill out the paperwork. But when asked about it again he said, “The kids don’t have to fill out that paperwork.”
“If it’s sexual assault, there’s gonna be some kind of law enforcement involved,” said Steinkellner, “Unwanted groping? Yeah, that would be sexual assault. We would have the police officer in there with us. The person reporting it would always have the option of making it a legal thing.”
“There was no [interaction with law enforcement]. They never suggested it, at all,” said the victim.
“They kinda just asked what happened, they were asking if I still wanted to be his (the accused) friend, I did not like that question,” the victim stated.
After being told that the sexual assault procedure wasn’t able to be found, from a student perspective or from within the teacher handbook, Steinkellner said he doesn’t believe the procedure is listed anywhere, but there are policies.
“It looks like something we can work on,” said Steinkellner.
Not having the procedure listed publicly, and easy to access, is not only illegal, but could also put students in an unsafe situation.
Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, and states - “Every school must designate at least one employee who is responsible for coordinating the school’s compliance with Title IX. This person is sometimes referred to as the Title IX coordinator. Schools must notify all students and employees of the name or title and contact information of the Title IX coordinator. And - Every complainant has the right to be notified, in writing, of the outcome of the complaint.”
After thorough research, the name and contact information for the mandatory Title IX coordinator for MHS was unable to be found online, or in any physical paperwork. Steinkellner had no comment on who the coordinator was and how to get in contact with them.
Sexual harassment and assault aren’t always easy to talk about, but it’s a very important conversation. According to a study, Hostile Hallways, conducted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) by the time students are done with (secondary) school, 81% have experienced some sort of sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment and assault are grossly under-reported,” said Dr. Esther Warkov, co-founder of organization Stop Sexual Assault In Schools.
The sexual assault and harassment epidemic is deeply rooted but there are solutions.
“Schools must want to make a change, they must stop normalizing sexual harassment and assault, train staff, make the reporting process safe for victims, and enforce Title IX. It takes a multi-pronged approach involving the entire school community,” said Warkov.
When someone is sexually assaulted or harassed, report it. Reporting each instance not only brings awareness, but also justice. Warkov said sexual assault shouldn’t be ignored.
Title IX states “When a student has experienced a hostile environment such as sexual assault or severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive sexual harassment, schools must stop the discrimination, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.”
“Schools need to stop sweeping sexual harassment/assault under the carpet,” said Warkov.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
By: Julia Alberts and Maxwell Collins