High school sexual harassment and assault should always be punished

Joanna Baker

When Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice on Oct. 6, it sent a powerful message to all of America: acts of sexual harassment committed in high school, no matter how vile, won’t be punished later in life.

As a female in high school, I find this rhetoric extremely disturbing. Several of my peers and close friends have experienced sexual assault; at school, they are forced to interact every day with the people who assaulted them and caused them permanent emotional trauma.

According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network, an organization that runs a sexual assault hotline, only 31 percent of rape cases are reported to the police, while only 0.6 percent of rapists — 6 out of 1,000 — go to prison for their actions.

This trend applies not only to rape, but to sexual misconduct in general. The pattern extends to the high school level, where sexual offenses committed by students within the school go unreported, and the students go unpunished.

While the MeToo movement certainly brought the issue of sexual assault into the public eye, much of its focus was on sexual abuse committed by adults. This doesn’t resonate among some of my peers who believe that making bad decisions, even at the expense of others, is just another part of being a teenager.

If Brett Kavanaugh faced the appropriate ramifications for his cruel acts, it would have sent a message to Grady students and high school students across America that even as a high schooler, sexual harassment or assault are never okay, and the consequences will catch up to you.

The part of the brain that controls decision making is not fully developed in high school students, and this certainly must be acknowledged when addressing the issue of sexual harassment. However, in the media, particularly in cases such as Brett Kavanaugh’s, high school students are portrayed as lacking any rational thinking skills whatsoever.

As a student, I find this incredibly insulting. I believe most teenagers are smart enough to know what constitutes harassment or assault. Unfortunately, it seems that some of them just don’t care.

This system is extremely unfair and unbalanced. Perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault are allowed to stay free without any repercussions whatsoever. Conversely, their victims are deprived of their mental health; the incident can affect their academic life, personal relationships and physical health, too.

Victims of assault, in particular, may be left with permanent psychological damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the same mental illness commonly found among war veterans.

Committing sexual assault does not simply represent a mistake on behalf of the perpetrator; it exposes a fundamental flaw in their personality. It involves forcing oneself onto a vulnerable person and taking advantage of them, and it shows a complete lack of respect for the victim’s emotions and boundaries.

Students graduate and life moves on, but the psychological wounds of sexual assault remain with victims forever. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how young they were when they did it. No perpetrator of such a heartless act should ever be allowed to go unpunished.