by Jackie King & Sonali Muthukrishnan
In the past two weeks, dozens of Los Gatos High School students have come forward as survivors of sexual assault.
A rising LGHS sophomore became the first to speak up by sharing her story in an Instagram post. She alleged that, on Feb. 8, she was raped by an older member of the LGHS football team.
“Life is now like a constant nightmare,” the student wrote. “I live in fear. I was terrified to go to school, I was so exhausted from the nightmares. I was scared I would see him in the halls, I couldn’t concentrate in class… people would give me a hard time for never going, but little did they know what I was carrying with me.”
In the days that followed, thousands of people liked her post, and hundreds commented in support. The post would mark the beginning of a Me Too movement within the LGHS community.
About a week after the first student survivor came forward, LGHS alumna Abbi Berry created a viral post of her own, advocating for the school to adopt a zero-tolerance policy surrounding incidents of rape and sexual assault.
In her caption, Berry wrote: “I wrote this because I want change within our community. I am sharing this because I cannot do that without all of you.” Her message quickly garnered hundreds of comments and became widely reposted.
The day Berry released her post, a rising LGHS senior created a petition aiming to “Ban Student Rapists from LGHS Sports, Dances, Rallies, & the Senior Graduation Ceremony.” The petition “demand[s] that any student found guilty of rape in a court of law or by the district’s Title IX Coordinator be automatically banned from any future participation in sports, dances, spirit rallies, school plays, and their senior graduation ceremony.” Currently, it has over 5,700 signatures.
Later that night, another rising LGHS senior to created @metoolghs, an Instagram account made for students to anonymously share their experiences with sexual harassment and assault at LGHS and in the broader Los Gatos community. In less than two days, the account gained upwards of 1,000 followers. As of Jul. 21, over 72 LGHS students have submitted personal accounts of sexual assault or harassment. The creation of the @metoolghs account encouraged a student at Saratoga High School to start a similar Instagram account for SHS (@metooshs).
After gaining a large following, the @metoolghs account administrator worked with local allies to publish an anonymous survey in the hopes of gathering data on incidents of sexual harassment and assault within the LGHS community. The survey found that 399 of the 655 participants experienced catcalling and verbal harassment from an LGHS student. In the case of physical assault, 294 people stated that a student attending LGHS groped them without their consent. Furthermore, 137 individuals said an LGHS student or alumni kissed them without their consent. A total of 67 people shared that an LGHS student raped them.
The survey also revealed that 431 individuals said they knew someone who had been raped by an LGHS student. Three hundred nine participants stated that they witnessed somebody being sexually harassed or assaulted by a student of LGHS. Fifty-five people shared that an LGHS student took non-consensual nude pictures of them. Ninety-four people have had their nude images shared without their permission. Over 50 percent of participants (325 people) said they had seen naked pictures publicly posted or shared with others without the person’s consent. Over 65 percent of responders (433 people) said that they or someone they know developed mental issues due to sexual harassment or assault.
The free-response area of the survey allowed participants to provide additional statements. 166 different people shared first and second-hand accounts of sexual harassment and/or assault taking place within the school community. One student responded, “The sexual harassment [I experienced] at LGHS ultimately led to a suicide attempt my freshman year.” Another stated, “Many girls have experienced rumors where guys have either told stories, embellished stories, or completely made up stories of sex with them… These stories spread very fast and wide and usually don’t go away… While it’s not as physically harmful as other forms of assault and harassment, it’s very painful and extremely emotionally and mentally damaging.” Two former LGHS students who graduated in 2016 responded to the survey with separate stories of being raped by the same boy. Both alleged he was “the star of the football and baseball team.” Another anonymous alumnus said, “I’m a guy and it happens to us too.”
On Jul. 10, the LGHS administration sent out a copy-paste response to the people who emailed them: “The issues you raise deserve our full attention. Our administrative team, including football program leadership, has taken immediate steps to open an inquiry into any specific allegations of wrong-doing and to begin an honest conversation regarding how we can improve our education and prevention activities… There is certainly more work to be done, and we will do it.”
A week later, on Jul. 17, LGSUHSD Superintendent Mike Grove sent out a school-wide email, stating: “We have begun an inquiry into the serious allegations made to sexual harassment and assault on our campuses. This inquiry will look into any specific allegations as well as broader perceptions regarding cultures of fear and silence or a culture that ‘allows’ inappropriate behavior.”
Grove also acknowledged that many incidents go unreported, writing: “In light of this, we will initiate and publicize an anonymous reporting system this fall so that all students have a safe and secure way to report inappropriate behavior if they do not feel safe reporting it themselves.”
The superintendent went on to explain that LGHS will be expanding on existing curriculum to “build understanding and eliminate incidents of discrimination, sexual harassment and assault, and bullying.” LGHS will also be working closely with their K-8 feeder districts to expand the education on these matters.
He emphasized that everyone must “continue to support all of our students in speaking out when they witness or experience assaultive or offensive sexual behavior, discrimination, or bullying and as a community, we must remain committed to doing all we can to promote school and community environments free of hostility and fear, whatever its source.”
On Jul. 14, ten LGHS students and alumni created an Instagram account with the username @fromsurvivorsforsurvivors (FSFS). Their organization’s mission statement reads: “We are a movement that is committed to sexual assault awareness, education, and recovery. We strive create a safe space for survivors and allies to speak about their experiences and support one another.”
The group also released a petition, entitled “LGHS: Better Title IX Reporting & Investigation, 4 year Sex-ed, & Survior Resources,” which specifically calls for a “detailed and public Title IX investigation process and reporting protocol…four year sex education curriculum teaching about healthy relationships, consent, body image, and sexual assault/harrasment, [and] sexual assault awareness and recovery resources on campus.”
On Tues., Jul. 20, FSFS announced that, with the support of the school district, the Los Gatos Police Department, and the Los Gatos Fire Department, they would be hosting a survivor solidarity sit-in on Sun., Jul. 26 at 9:15 AM. The socially-distanced event is set to take place on the LGHS track.
Addressing the event on her Instagram account, Berry stated: “This is not meant to attack the football team. I see a toxic culture that harms students in EVERY space at LGHS. I want to fix that. I want our community to heal. This is for [the survivors]. This is for our community.”
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