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Learning from Maine West: We can no longer afford to ignore the implications of hazing and sexual violence in our schools

A look into the prevention of hazing and sexual violence in our schools.

GURNEE, IL (December 2012)  In the tragic hazing case at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, IL, we are seeing, yet again, an incident in which young men’s—children’s—safety has been grossly neglected at best, knowingly compromised at worst.  As a community, it was gut-wrenching to hear allegations that three new members of the boys’ varsity soccer team were sexually assaulted as part of a hazing ritual in September; it was made worse in hearing that the coaches of the team most likely knew about, and sanctioned, this and past assaults.

As we see more and more men and boys coming forward to report abuse by both adults and their peers, the need for sexual assault abuse prevention and education programming for youth is becoming increasingly clear.  As a community, we have to start asking the tough questions: how do I keep my children safe?  What will I teach my children about respect?  What will I demand of my community and leaders to ensure tragedies like this do not repeat themselves?

What are some of the important points to remember as this case moves forward?

This is not a sex scandal – It’s a sexual abuse scandal where children are put in a position of power over one another and then grossly abusing that power to exert control over one another.  It’s about leaders within an educational institution protecting, and condoning, sodomy in the name of ‘team bonding’.  It’s about bystanders failing to step forward and stop abuse. This is what this story is about.

Bystanders must act – We must all make the pledge that when we suspect or see abuse taking place, we must do everything you can to stop it. We can’t afford to respond to sexual abuse in slow motion. We must tell survivors to tell and keep telling until someone hears and supports them. Bystanders should heed the same rule: tell and keep telling until the abuse stops. Every one of us, no matter our position or our age, has a profound obligation to protect one another from sexual abuse.

Leaders must lead –The assaults at Maine West have shown that a failure of leadership results in further abuse. All leaders of institutions, families, civic groups or communities must demonstrate zero tolerance of sexual abuse. Leadership can’t stand back and hope that these crimes will simply end.  And they absolutely cannot seek to cover abuse up in the interest of protecting their own personal or professional interests.  As a leader of any kind it is your obligation to teach children that they are in charge of their own bodies and empower them to come forward and seek help if they ever feel afraid or confused.  We need to emphasize that helping victims and stopping perpetrators is an emergency and should be dealt with as such.

If you suspect that sexual abuse may be happening to someone you know, please believe, validate, and empower that individual.  Let them know that they are important, and that help is available.  Know that all it takes is one person to believe and inspire strength in a child for the healing process to begin.   Also, know that there are trained professionals waiting to join in this support at centers such as ZCenter.

Don’t be shocked – Abusers can be anyone: nearly 90% of child and 85% of adult victims know their abusers before the abuse or assault happens.  The stranger rape scenario is not the norm. Additionally, it’s important to realize one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused or assaulted before their 18th birthday.  Sexual assault is not a women’s right matter and it has no demographic preference; it is a social justice and human rights issue that is relevant to every gender, race, religion and sexual orientation.

ZCenter is here – ZCenter services are available 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year. Because of the generosity of our donors and supporters, we can offer counseling, advocacy and prevention education at no charge. Communities must utilize these services to help victims of sexual abuse recover and to work to prevent future abuse. If you or someone you know has been the victim of this type of abuse please contact the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center Support Line at 847-872-7799.  Also, keep in mind that ZCenter has prevention education programs that cover the following topics:

  • Up2Us: Empowering men and women to work together to Question, Support, and Interrupt the gender socialization that often leads to interpersonal violence, including but not limited to sexual abuse.  This particular case highlights the need for programs like this to inspire men to become actively involved in reducing all forms of violence—against women and children, and also, one another— by working to change attitudes and behaviors that lead to and maintain violence.
  • Pre-K, Elementary, Middle, and High School Prevention Programs: including topics such as date rape, dating violence, gender equality, risk reduction, and anti-bullying.
  • Community Education Programs available to clubs, parent groups, religious groups, civic groups, corporations, and other organizations.  These programs cover topics such as adult sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape trauma syndrome, child sexual abuse, incest, human trafficking, internet safety, supporting high-risk populations, and prevention.
  • Professional Training directed at those professionals who work with survivors of sexual assault/abuse, such as police officers, court personnel, military personnel, medical personnel, educators, social workers, and human service providers.

If you would like more information about any of these programs, or would like to schedule a training for your organization, please call us at (847) 244-1187. Of course, you may visit our website at any time for more information on our services.

What happened at Maine West was both an example of gross negligence by people in positions of power and another wake-up-call highlighting the urgent need for us to start dialogues with youth about healthy sexuality and relationships.  It’s our obligation as a community to try and ensure that history does not repeat itself, that we hold our leaders accountable for their actions, and work to build a community that does not tolerate sexual assault and abuse.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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