Stop Sexual Assault in Schools is Global Girls Worldwide Women Advocate/Resource of the Month!

by Esther Warkov, SSAIS co-founder

Adapted from the September, 2023 newsletter of Global Girls Worldwide Women.

I didn’t plan to become an activist in my 60s until our daughter was raped on a high school field trip. Like most parents, I entrusted her academic success and safety to the school. But our lives were forever changed by the nightmare of the 2012 assault, its aftermath, and the school district’s outrageous response. Even after the assailant admitted he was told to stop multiple times, even after the rape was medically confirmed, the school district’s attorney wrote that “sex” (rape!) on a fieldtrip does not mean its chaperoning policies failed! The district’s failure to promptly and equitably investigate, to prevent retaliation, to treat our daughter with basic human dignity led to a federal investigation and two-year battle. Unable to contain my moral outrage, I organized demonstrations that attracted extensive media exposure.

After hearing from families nationwide about their experiences of institutional betrayal and learning about the alarming rates of peer/educator sexual abuse, I cofounded Stop Sexual Assault in Schools. Inspired by the college anti-rape movement’s outspoken survivors, I implored the public to connect the dots between K-12, campus, and workplace sex discrimination and violence.

Because minors fear speaking out, we’ve relied on intergenerational activism to bring together four generations of experience.  I’m inspired by nonagenarian feminist attorney Sonia Pressman Fuentes, fortified by support from the National Women’s Law Center, Public Justice, activist-professor Caroline Heldman, our volunteer advisory board, and the families who seek help. Inaction is not an option: “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” as the GGWW website aptly notes. While age and health can be a challenge for some of us, we can all find ways to make change, even from home.

It’s only in school districts where students and parents demand change that change occurs. So I’ve immersed myself in the dissemination of our project SASH Club – Students Against Sexual Harassment. It remains a constant source of frustration that the public remains oblivious to the harms normalized K-12 sexual harassment/assault cause, as if these are “other families’ problems.” No, these harms bleed into all our lives. 

Learn more about the motivation to start SSAIS: