The White House VP’s office last month invited four organizations to participate in a discussion of K-12 sexual violence. Everyone present (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, the American Association of University Women, the National Women’s Law Center, Girls Inc., and the VP’s office) readily acknowledged the gravity of K-12 sexual violence. Yet policymakers and the public remain in the dark. It wasn’t enough that the CDC declared adolescent sexual violence a serious health threat back in 2012. Policymakers—along with the public—haven’t connected the dots: sexual harassment and violence are not isolated events. No, sexual harassment and violence are devastating students’ lives on a daily basis across the country, even in the “best” schools. Students have come to view sexual harassment as normative, and even take blame for sexual assault. Schools routinely downplay or deny reports of sexual misconduct so that students have no incentive to report. Yet, even with limited reporting, the word is slowly getting out. Perhaps it will soon dawn on policymakers—and the public—that college campus assault has its origins in the K-12 breeding ground.
While policymakers turn a blind eye on K-12 sexual violence and schools suppress reports of sexual violence, the media must expose this epidemic. Although we’ve seen reports on a few egregious cases of sexual violence, the media has failed to inform the public about the everyday violations that destroy students’ educations and lives. The Washington Post recently reported on the magnitude of K-12 sexual violence and profiled the SSAIS movement to address it. Yet there are countless cases that should be in the news on a daily basis. Consider, for example, media apathy to a press release concerning multiple rapes in an Indiana school district that earned it a federal investigation: not a single news outlet produced an in-depth report on this alarming case. It’s critically important that the media report — even if only from the victim’s perspective — when other parties refuse to cooperate. These brave K-12 survivors and families deserve the opportunity to educate the public just as college students have raised our awareness of campus sexual violence. We are in the dark ages when it comes to the epidemic of K-12 sexual violence. It is the civil rights issue of today’s youth.