Rape Culture revealed: in BUSD

Avatar of Ayla Conway
Opinion Column

For some, rape culture may seem to have a degree of separation from their lives. After all, we live in the “Berkeley Bubble.” While rape culture is very present at Berkeley High School, often people pretend it isn’t. I sent a form out to friends and classmates asking them to anonymously share any experiences of or feelings about sexual harassment during their time in Berkeley Unified School District. Not only the content but the amount of responses I got was shocking.

One friend on the cross country team recalled a time when she was “just getting back from a run … wearing a t-shirt and some running leggings, … and one guy called out something along the lines of, ‘I like that a*s.’” She felt “embarrassed and disgusted and mad” in the moment but thinking about it afterwards had a feeling of almost pride. She realized this was because harassment is seen as “some sort of entrance experience that women … have (to have).” What’s terrible is that this is the case; being harassed is seen as sort of an “entry-level requirement” for women.

Berkeley schools boast success in upholding Title IX, but that’s not a given. Another friend who requested anonymity, told me about a time when she was repeatedly harassed by a classmate in sixth grade. “My friend and I reported him to the school, like we’d been told to do. They had us fill out forms, detailing exactly what he did. Then we were told it would ‘be handled’ and sent away … The harassment started again. I was still hopeful that the school would do something to help me, so I reported it again. I was told that the school needed to focus on helping him, and not get distracted by other things. They told me not to tell them about it again.” 

This blatant lack of response to repeated reportings is shocking, but not at all uncommon. In almost all experiences I’ve had or people I know have had, the burden is always placed on the harassed. “Try to avoid interacting with them,” “Maybe don’t wear that skirt again,” or “Just ignore it,” are common “solutions” given to people facing harassment. More time is spent telling people how to avoid harassment than telling them not to harass. That seems pretty counterintuitive to me.

I asked my friends about ways they stay safe and take precautions to avoid sexual harassment and assault. They gave answers like “I always have location tracking on,” “I stay extra alert of my surroundings when I’m alone,” and “I try not to walk alone at night.” These are just some of the ways that people, typically non-men, constantly — and maybe subconsciously — think about rape and harrasment. From a young age we learn that we need to be careful so that we don’t get hurt. Which isn’t wrong. But the issue is that the root of the problem isn’t being addressed nearly as much as this short-term solution. Instead of teaching kids how to stay safe from harassment we need to teach kids not to harass. And schools need to be a part of that, instead of being a part of the problem.