By now, you're probably familiar with #MeToo, the hashtag turned cultural phenomenon in which brave women and men outline the sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination they've experienced in various capacities throughout their lives. Sexual misconduct obviously isn't okay for anyone at any age, but a new hashtag is shedding light on its disturbing and oft-ignored presence in elementary, middle, and high schools.
Created by the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, #MeTooK12 encourages young people who have had these experiences to speak out. According to a 2017 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which was reported on recently by the Washington Post, accurate data on sexual assault in schools is woefully hard to find. An analysis of data from the 2013-2014 school year revealed that 79 percent of schools report zero incidents of sexual harassment and assault. Of course, as experts are quick to note, this doesn't mean it doesn't happen—it simply means it's not being reported. In fact, in a 2011 study by the AAUW, almost 50 percent of student between 7th and 12th grades said that they had experienced some type of sexual harassment, and 87 percent expressed that it had a negative effect on them.
Stop Sexual Assault in Schools was founded by Seattle parents after their daughter was raped by a fellow student on a class field trip. Their efforts to hold the student and the school district accountable were "met with avoidance, denial, misinformation, falsification, and violations at every juncture," according to the nonprofit's website.
"Few people of influence understand how sexual harassment and assault devastate the lives of K-12 students, their families, and friends—beginning in elementary school; and the younger the victim, the more devastating the impact and greater vulnerability to repeated assault," a spokesperson for Stop Sexual Assault in Schools said in an announcement of the #MeTooK12 campaign. "Not only do the survivors' emotional and psychological scars endure long after the incidents, their social lives, education, and career dreams can be shattered."
The hashtag and the stories that have already come out of it expose the disturbing fact that sexual assault and harassment know no age limit. Alarmingly, many of the stories being shared seem to center on adult teachers preying on students, though there are also plenty where harassers are in the same age range as their victims. #MeTooK12 shows us that it's never too soon to empower young people to speak out and to begin educating them about what consent means and looks like. It also reveals that it's high time we begin believing young people and holding harassers, whether they're teachers or students themselves, accountable for their actions.