Sexual assault assembly may have hurt more than it helped



Sarah Khaledi, left, and Meggan Atkins from the Women Against Violence Everywhere (WAVE) Foundation, hosted assemblies on May 16 addressing topics around sexual assault awareness.

Jay Kent, Staff reporter

While a recent assembly addressing sexual assault spawned conversation, not all of it was as positive as organizers had hoped. Nearly every aspect of the assembly was criticized, from the timing to the presenters themselves.

On May 16, the Women Against Violence Everywhere (WAVE) Foundation hosted two identical assemblies – one for upperclassmen and one for freshmen and sophomores – addressing topics around sexual assault. Organized by head nurse Suzanne Porter and activities coordinator Bryan Gordon  in light of the #MeToo movement, the assemblies were held in the auditorium where two representatives from WAVE walked the student body through a prepared slide show. Almost immediately staff members had issues with the assembly.

“It’s a very sensitive topic to talk about from both male and female perspective, and I feel like it’s not a subject to be discussed in an auditorium in a mass assembly,” said Cleveland’s mental health counselor Sara Maupin.

Maupin described having met with Cleveland students who are victims of sexual assault days after the assembly.

“I actually have met with several students … who are victims of rape, and they were very uncomfortable in it,” Maupin said. “They actually put their hoodies up and kind of hid. For them it was very painful; it was not supportive, they didn’t learn, it wasn’t that kind of nurturing environment where you can learn something from it.”

The tone was set early on in the presentation by the presenters.

“At the beginning [one of the presenters] said ‘Everyone raise your hand if you know of someone who’s been a victim,’ and that just totally threw them into a tizzy because they know they were both raped but they couldn’t raise their hand because they felt like everyone would then be looking at them,” said Maupin. “It really triggered them.”

Students were given the option to opt out of attending the assembly and sit in a designated “safe space” or go to the Teen Health Center for support.

The issues raised didn’t end once the teaching began. The language used by the presenters in their presentation was considered non-inclusive by many.

“I think it was also a little too focused on only women get hurt, and I know lots of guys who have been hurt,” said Maupin. “So, I didn’t feel like … they acknowledged that in the beginning, but throughout the presentation it was still more focused on the men being the perpetrators.”

Humanities teacher Evin Shinn raised concern about the presenters’ language surrounding the LGBTQ community.

“It definitely – I think – felt to students like it was anti-men,” he said. “They said it a lot: ‘We know we’re talking about heterosexual relationships right now.’ Yes, and like – then give some examples of gay couples, give some examples of lesbian couples, give some examples of trans couples … like give some examples. And you didn’t have a trans person up there, you didn’t have a queer person up there, and so once again the question becomes who is this being geared towards,” said Shinn.

The presenters themselves were center to some of Shinn’s criticism.

“We have two white women who know nothing about our students, and they’re going to talk to us about sexual assault and consent, and that is – to be honest – that’s the story that’s being already told in the media around the #MeToo movement. That it is white women who are telling the story, and that’s not true, and that’s not true,” said Shinn. “There are students who are transgender who are also getting sexually assaulted. There are black and brown folks who are also being sexually assaulted. It is not only white men who are doing the sexual assaulting. It’s also everybody.”

While the assembly had its issues, it was not universally panned. Even in her reservations, Maupin was thankful the assembly spawned the conversations it did.

“Anytime you get people together talking about things – I think – that’s productive,” she said. “And I think for some kids who were completely unaware of a lot of this it was probably helpful.”

Head nurse Suzanne Porter saw some benefit for the student body as well.

“I heard people say ‘You know what? I never did think I could say ‘no,’ or how to say ‘no,’ or how to be vocal.’ So, if a few people got that and it saves them from situations, hey, good for it,” said Porter. “I’m glad a few people benefitted and it helps them in the future, good for that, no matter how bad it was.”

Looking towards the future, staff members hope to continue the conversation, preferably in health classes.

“I think the content was … relevant content, it was good content,” said Shinn. “I think when you’re having it in a health class you’ve created a space for us where we can have these conversations.”