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SAFER tackles sexual assault and harassment

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According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (Rainn), there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. One of six American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. One of every ten rape victims are male.

Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.

In response to the negative stigma around victims of sexual assault and harassment, five Lincoln students from the graduating class of 2017 took initiative to create a safe and welcoming environment where students can comfortably talk about sexual assault and harassment.

Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) is a student run club at Lincoln and other schools nationwide. The Lincoln chapter was founded in November 2016 by Emma Urness, Selia Peña, Emily Ehlers, Paulina Kuchepatova and Sophie Hill. The club began after these students felt inspired by a friend who had created a similar club at Cleveland High School.

When these students graduated in 2017 the SAFER leaders transitioned to a new group, and transitioned again in 2018 to current seniors Joe Schlechter, Julia Ziegler, Tori Siegel, Maggie Satchwell and juniors Audrey Walker and Mia Nelson.

Urness explains that she “felt successful in my time as a SAFER leader… It is still being run today which makes me very happy.”

The original founders of SAFER at Lincoln were all professionally trained through Teen Council, which is Planned Parenthood’s peer education and leadership program None of the current SAFER leaders are involved in Teen Council but the original SAFER leaders trained the current SAFER leaders with information they had learned from Teen Council.

Current SAFER leaders trained alongside all the SAFER leaders in the Portland Metro Area this summer with the Prevention and Education Coordinator of the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force.

Siegel has done several online trainings for response and education on sexual violence and is a member of the advisory committee to the Task Force. Other information is obtained through local non-profits such as Stop Sexual Assault In Schools and the Oregon Women’s Equality Coalition.

SAFER has become a trusted place for Lincoln students to confide in peers about  questions and help regarding all things related to safe sex, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

After SAFER was originally founded, “I didn’t receive another report of a sexual assault off campus for two years,” said Principal Peyton Chapman. “It was in the last month that this conversation came up again. I had taken for granted SAFER club and consent lectures and health classes, this stuff is working – it was very naive.”

 

SAFER’s work at Lincoln

“SAFER works to prevent and end sexual violence within the Lincoln community and the greater Portland community through education and discussion,” said current SAFER leader Tori Siegel. “SAFER is an inclusive space that prioritizes the needs of the survivors but strives to be a place for all to learn.”

“We didn’t know what would come out of our efforts, but we wanted to create a safe space at Lincoln for all people to discuss the topics SAFER addresses,” said Urness.

SAFER currently has weekly meetings every Tuesday in room 141.

SAFER covers topics that relate to sexual violence, rape culture and consent culture. Topics include current events with the #MeToo and #BelieveSurvivors movements.

“Initially, [SAFER] was a club that was going to be empowering, validating and affirming, and then the next step was education and creating the safer consent lectures,” said Chapman. “[SAFER leaders] became a visible presence around the school and the community that this was something that the school, the community and the students stood for.”

Consent is a main focus of SAFER.

“Discussing consent is always one of the most important ways you can talk about these topics. Discussing healthy relationships is extremely important for people because everyone deserves to know their self worth and how to respect one another,” said Urness.

“The student body is supportive and all the members of SAFER are very supportive,” said Siegel. However, “there are students that don’t believe that sexual violence is a problem or they are very ignorant to the problem. Some people feel attacked by the existence of SAFER.”

 

The need for SAFER continues

On Friday, October 26, Principal Chapman called for an emergency assembly to educate the school community about response practices concerning sexual assault upon students request. The assembly was then cancelled last minute.

“As soon as I [called the assembly], counselors and other educated people told me ‘this is not a best practice.’ I wouldn’t want to do anything that retraumatizes victims. I’m trying to move down the list of things that would make people feel heard, but a large assembly isn’t going to be one of them,” said Chapman.

On Saturday, November 10, SAFER leaders Satchwell, Siegel and Nelson were involved in the Consent Convergence, an event organized by nonprofits Volunteers of America and the Raphael House with the goal to “gather and build knowledge, envision, and take action to create a culture of consent, equity, and safe relationships for all.”

“Teachers made [Consent Convergence] part of extra credit and got the students to be more involved in it,” said Ella Meloy, a member of SAFER.

 

Plans and goals for the future

In the future, SAFER leaders “hope that the club and the administration can work together to better address violence in the community,” said Siegel. This will be done through lecturing about what consent is to eighth graders as well as seniors with a larger focus around college. Lectures this year were taught by SAFER leaders in Freshman Leadership Inquiry classes, and were previously taught in freshman year history classes.

“I really like how [SAFER] started doing the consent lectures to freshmen because I think it’s really important that freshman start learning early and we start creating this environment in our school that makes it comfortable to talk about things that we usually don’t talk about,” said SAFER member Ella Meloy.

“We hope to provide safety bags for the seniors when they go off to college,” said Siegel, and “are hoping to plan a teach-in or an assembly with the administration in order to help the school become in compliance with Erin’s law.” (In 2015, Oregon legislature passed Erin’s law, which requires the development and adoption of child sexual abuse prevention programs for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in all Oregon public schools.)

Currently, leaders Siegel and Satchwell are working closely with Vice Principal James McGee to make sure Lincoln is also in compliance with Title IX. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibit sex discrimination in education, according to the American Association of University Women. Both sexual violence and harassment are covered under Title IX. Procedures for reporting sexual violence incidents are also going to be posted around the school.

Chapman explained that her legal authority is not absolute, but “I can offer the mandatory curriculum and if our district isn’t doing that, I can advocate to the district and push that agenda until it happens. It’s something that is mandated by our state and federal law and our district needs to respond,” said Chapman

“We are not in compliance and we need to beef up our curriculum and we can’t rely on PE and health classes. We are going to have to look at where we can put the curricular units into juniors and seniors.”

Chapman continued to say that “When I sent the vaping email out, we had been struggling with vaping for two years. [In the last two months], five young women have come forward with reports of sexual assault that happened off campus. Now that I know, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to reconnect with students, trying to understand what’s happening, what pieces of it I have jurisdiction and legal authority to address and which pieces of our curriculum need to be completely ramped up.”

“We’re in an age of accountability and I didn’t really understand where the concerns were coming from because they were happening off campus and I didn’t have the information and I also didn’t know what we weren’t doing that we were supposed to be doing. I need to listen to kids and I need to get the curiculum down; that is the school’s obligation, and if the school is not meeting the standards or the expectations or the legal requirements then that’s something I want to address,” Chapman continued.

“The administration has made a great effort to cooperate with the [SAFER] leaders in any way they have the jurisdiction to do so and we have been very thankful for that,” said Schlechter.

“There have been moments of miscommunication between us [and the administration], which has caused confusion. But we feel much more supported now that we’re having regular and direct communication,” said Siegel.

“We have a goal to further teacher training in terms of sexual assault response as well as best practices for teaching such material in classrooms. There is currently a PPS wide push to bring privileged advocates into our schools. Privileged advocates are trained individuals who have a legal obligation to keep disclosures of sexual violence confidential, basically the opposite of a mandatory reporter in terms of confidentiality,” said Schlechter.

SAFER is starting to work with the Health Action Network (HAN) to create more lectures and teach-ins. In the past, HAN has worked with SAFER to involve parents in discussions about rape culture. This partnership hopes to reestablish such discussions.  

With increasing attention to the #MeToo Movement, the Kavanaugh hearing and Title IX advocates, SAFER leaders and Chapman both have goals to create a safer and more welcoming environment for all students. They hope to raise awareness and educate youth about sexual assault; implementing a stronger curriculum and abiding by the recent state and national laws  is the next step.

“Once we give it time for the curriculum and the teaching and the reflection to be implemented and impact kids’ lives than I think we will see a change,” said Chapman. “Our district just woke up in August and then students came forward too, and now I feel much more aware than I was before that this is an issue.”

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