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Why Norman, OK Matters – a look at what happens when students come forward with rape allegations

As protestors gathered on Monday, November 24th waiting to hear the findings of the grand jury in Ferguson, a much smaller but still very important protest was happening around an entirely different matter in the city of Norman, OK. You see, three teenage girls had come forward and accused some of their school mates of rape. Sadly, their fellow students took a page right out of the rape denial handbook and instead of offering them support, they began a campaign of aggressively bullying these girls. The unrelentless attacks were so traumatic, further compounding already traumatizing events, that all three of the girls ended up withdrawing from the school.

This is not a unique situation. When news of Steubenville, Ohio became public, part of the community’s reaction was to victim blame, slut shame, and harass the victim. In some cases the girls (and sometimes boys) change schools, drop out and choose to homeschool, or they finish their school years as social pariahs trying to find safe places to hide in their school building.  Sometimes, as is the case with Rehtaeh Parsons, the victims involved have ended up taking their own lives because the harassment has been so severe.

In 2013, Daily Coleman came forward as the victim of a rape in her Missouri town. Instead of support she writes that “days seemed to drag on as I watched my brother get bullied and my mom lose her job. Ultimately our house burned to the ground.” (Source: XO Jane) As a result of the intense bullying Daisy experienced her family moved, Daisy attempted to take her own life, and a targeted campaign against Daisy occurred. (Source ABC News 20/20) But Daisy remained brave and vocal, even identifying herself publicly in the press, as she sought justice (which she ultimately did not find because all sexual assault charges were dropped though her alleged assailant was found guilty of child endangerment for leaving her in the freezing cold on her front doorstep).

In Sayreville, N. J. the football season was cancelled this fall amid charges of sexual violence as a part of the football team’s hazing practices were revealed. This caused an “atmosphere of recriminations” according to sources, who go on to say “the search is on for the snitches – the kids who killed football in Sayreville.” (Source: BBC News) The victims in this case, all boys, sought justice but found instead that they had even more reason to fear for their safety. (Please note: we’ll be discussing the topic of hazing in January with authors Eric Devine, Anthony Breznican and Johsua S. Cohen)

These real-life examples show how these stories can sometimes play out. A survivor comes forward to share their story, sometimes seeking justice and sometimes just seeking support, and the very schools they go to for help end up becoming a fierce battleground, often with targeted campaigns (frequently online and in the hallways) where they get no respite from the storm of accusations against them. Suddenly the accuser finds themselves the accused and victims find themselves having to go on the defensive. Best friends turn against them. Bodies are slammed against lockers in “accidents”. Words are written on lockers. And all the while teachers and administrators will often turn their backs and pretend that nothing is happening. Adults who are entrusted with the safety of our children turn their backs while these aggressive campaigns happen.

But then this year, the tide started to turn. In July, a teen named Jada spoke out against those who harassed her and a campaign known as #IAMJADA went viral.

The students in Norman, OK could have gone silently, but they found that they had the support of their community. Members of the community began asking why the school administrators weren’t doing more to protect these girls from the bullying that was happening and a new campaign, #YESALLDAUGHTERS, broke out in the community. As a result of these protests, charges were filed against the alleged rapists and the girls have some chance at a criminal investigation, which had previously seemed unlikely.

There are several important things happening in Norman, one of which is that we are finally seeing a challenge to the ways in which students have responded to claims of rape in their school hallways. Those protestors lining the street in Norman indicate progress compared to the reactions of students just a few years ago in Steubenville. It indicates that there may be reason to hope that the way that we respond to those who come forward as victims of rape and other types of sexual violence may get more community support, as opposed to the abusive protests they have suffered in the past, compounding the emotional impact of the crimes committed against them. But one way that we can help make sure we continue to make progress in this is to talk with our teens about how we respond as a community or as a school or as an individual when someone comes forward. Christa Desir has already written a few great posts as part of The #SVYALit Projecrt on the role of first responders. But today I want to present you with some titles that would be a good background for discussing how communities – how schools and the students that fill their hallways – respond in these situations.

Fault Line by Christa Desir

“Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?
Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.” (Publisher’s Description)

Some Boys by Patty Blount

“Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.

When Grace meets Ian she’s afraid. Afraid he’ll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses the town golden boy of rape, everyone turns against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But…Ian doesn’t. He’s funny and kind with secrets of his own.

But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?
A gut-wrenching, powerful love story told from alternating points of view by the acclaimed author of Send.” (Publisher’s Description)

Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

“Climbing to the top of the social ladder is hard—falling from it is even harder.  Regina Afton used to be a member of the Fearsome Fivesome, an all-girl clique both feared and revered by the students at Hallowell High… until vicious rumors about her and her best friend’s boyfriend start going around.  Now Regina’s been “frozen out” and her ex-best friends are out for revenge.  If Regina was guilty, it would be one thing, but the rumors are far from the terrifying truth and the bullying is getting more intense by the day.  She takes solace in the company of Michael Hayden, a misfit with a tragic past who she herself used to bully.  Friendship doesn’t come easily for these onetime enemies, and as Regina works hard to make amends for her past, she realizes Michael could be more than just a friend… if threats from the Fearsome Foursome don’t break them both first.

Tensions grow and the abuse worsens as the final days of senior year march toward an explosive conclusion in this dark new tale from the author of Cracked Up To Be.” (Publisher’s Description)

Canary by Rachele Alpine

Staying quiet will destroy her, but speaking up will destroy everyone.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party.  Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team.  The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.” (Publisher’s Description)

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

“Some schools have honor codes. Others have handbooks. Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.
From the glossy pages of its admissions brochure, the prestigious Themis Academy appears perfect in every way: exceptional academics, extraordinary students, the kind of extracurriculars to make an Ivy League proud, and zero instances of student misbehavior. But this boarding school isn’t as pristine as it appears. There’s a dark underbelly to the perfect record the Themis administration flaunts. Student infractions are rampant, and it’s up to a secret vigilante society, the Mockingbirds, to maintain order on campus–a responsibility their members take very seriously.

Alex Patrick never thought she would need the Mockingbirds. But when she’s date-raped by another student, she doesn’t know where else to go. As much as she’d like to forget what happened, she can’t escape the daily reminders of what went wrong that terrible night. Before she can summon the courage to take a stand, she’ll have to accept that her battle for justice is not hers alone. Standing up for someone, especially yourself, is worth the fight.” (Publisher’s Description)

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

“Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.” (Publisher’s Description)

All the Rage by Courtney Summers (coming April 14, 2015 from St. Martin’s Griffin)

“The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous.But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.
With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women after an act of sexual violence, forcing us to ask ourselves: In a culture that refuses to protect its young girls, how can they survive?” (Publisher’s Description)

Every Last Promise by Kristin Halbrook (coming April 21, 2015 from HarperTeen)

“Perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson and Gayle Forman, Every Last Promise is a provocative and emotional novel about a girl who must decide between keeping quiet and speaking up after witnessing a classmate’s sexual assault.
Kayla saw something at the party that she wasn’t supposed to. But she hasn’t told anyone. No one knows the real story about what happened that night—about why Kayla was driving the car that ran into a ditch after the party, about what she saw in the hours leading up to the accident, and about the promise she made to her friend Bean before she left for the summer.
Now Kayla’s coming home for her senior year. If Kayla keeps quiet, she might be able to get her old life back. If she tells the truth, she risks losing everything—and everyone—she ever cared about.” (Publisher’s Description)

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