School is back in session. You wouldn’t know it by the weather. The stores may be showing Halloween costumes and candy, but the heat is still devastating like the desert. Still, even you don’t have kids, you would know it.
You would know it from the news. You would know it by the sudden swell of stories concerning the sexual assault of local students.
Here in Palo Alto, the city’s public school district is — again — under fire for failing to follow federal and state law —much less their own policies — when it comes to reporting, researching, resolving, and redressing sexual battery against students as perpetrated by faculty, staff, and especially, other students.
In one particularly egregious case, a male high school student was allowed to remain on-campus without penalty after violating three different female students.
Nearby at Stanford, the national epicenter of college sexual assault, new incidents surfaced as soon as students began returning to town for the fall semester. The university is on track to top the 2016 record of 33 accounts. Of course, no one knows how many victims have yet to find their voice.
Last year, Stanford became world-famous for more than academics and athletics after undergraduate Brock Turner sexually attacked an intoxicated, unconscious woman in the dirt behind a dumpster at an on-campus fraternity house.
The victim’s horror was compounded when the perpetrator — convicted in the Santa Clara County Superior Court — was given a shockingly lenient sentence resulting in just three months at the county jail, much less than the mandatory minimum, and, far short of the prosecutor’s plea.
The trial had important statewide consequences. California law was revised to expand the definition of rape to include sexual assaults other than intercourse and to disallow judges from giving lesser sentences in cases where the victim was intoxicated or unconscious.
More regionally, citizen groups have been petitioning for a special election to recall the judge, Aaron Persky, after it came to light that he has a history of bias favoring privileged, white, male, student frat-letes accused or convicted of crimes involving sexual violence.
To say the least, this seemingly ceaseless cycle of student sexual abuse is discouraging. But what is most disheartening for me, is that each time a new article is published, the accompanying online comments section quickly fills with assertions that the incident was consensual, accusations that the victim is lying, and proclamations that the perpetrator is innocent of any wrong-doing.
Now, my fellow Palo Alto and Santa Clara County residents are considered among the most highly-educated and liberal-minded people in the country. Even so, when it comes to students and alcohol and sex, the majority opinion appears to spring from men and women who have never learned the meaning of consent.
Unfortunately, this concept of consent; well, this is a topic with which I have personal experience. More accurately, I have personal experience with *lack* of consent, specifically as it concerns students, alcohol, intoxication, unconsciousness, and sex.
In my younger days, I became friendly with a guy from school. Although I did not consider him “boyfriend material”, there was a definite attraction and we had “made out” thrice, each time with somewhat increasing intensity. Still, we had always remained fully dressed and had not engaged in any touching beneath our clothes.
The next time we met alone, I was visiting him at his home. I wasn’t feeling well. I told him I had my period and did not want to be touched. While he did not disguise his disappointment, we just hung out, sitting in separate chairs; talking.
When he offered me a drink, I accepted without any real caution. While we had never imbibed together, if alcohol was available, it was normal to catch a buzz. I was not unaware of the risks imposed by this sort of situation, but I felt safe. He had never been forceful with me, and, of course, I would limit my consumption.
Besides, in my naivety, it just did not cross my mind that anyone would want to have sex during menstruation. If it had, I am sure I would have thought “eww” and dismissed the idea at once.
Anyway, I was not accustomed to drinking whiskey, and even though my glass had never seemed empty, I quickly became extremely intoxicated.
Clearly, I had passed out, because the next thing I knew, I was lying on his bed, completely naked. Immediately, I blacked out again. Then, in a fleeting moment, I became aware he was having sex with my body. Unable to move or speak, I was certainly unable to give consent. Straightaway, I was unconscious once more.
When I awoke, sober, it was obvious that he was terribly pleased with the events that had transpired. I told him that it was not very nice; that I had been very drunk. He said it had happened very naturally and that he did not regret it. It was evident he had not used a condom.
I did not tell anyone. “Drunk Girl Loses Virginity” was not exactly headline news. It was then, and still is now, an all-too-common circumstance. I had not been physically injured and did not feel emotionally traumatized. In all honesty, the idea that anyone would care about what I wanted, or what I was feeling, or what happened to me, had never been properly planted in my brain.
With maturity, of course, I came to understand that I should have reported the incident. Not for any personal vindication; back then, even the most violent rape cases were seldom given appropriate attention. But because even a minor reprimand from some independent authority might have made him think twice about his actions and possibly saved some other young woman from the same fate.
Obviously, it doesn’t take a Sigmund Freud to appreciate my aggravation at the all-too-prevalent attitude among the public of accepting such student-on-student sexual attack as “kids just being kids”.
Or, for that matter, my abhorrence at an American president who boasts of his own serial sexual assault and harassment of women including teenagers. Not to mention, my scorn for a Secretary of Education who promises to pare protections for students who suffer sexual abuse.
Recently, I asked a high school student who works at my gym to share her thoughts about the rampant sexual assault plaguing our community’s educational centers. She feels the only realistic hope for prevention lies in the values that parents teach to their sons.
Based on the standards of behavior expressed by so many of our local fathers and mothers, I am not optimistic.
© 2017 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.