After a series of sexual assaults at Ashland High School in Ashland, Oregon, a group of teens created a Facebook messenger chat to offer students a safe space to share their stories. They called the group “Survivors Circle”, and anyone from the school was welcomed to join. For Bella, a 16 year old that was assaulted by a fellow student at Ashland High School, sharing her story wasn’t enough.
Bella wanted the school to take proper action against her assailant. The school conducted an investigation into the assault, but failed to find enough evidence to press charges against the boy. Rules were set in place to keep the assailant away from Bella, but she still continued to relive her worst nightmare whenever she passed him in the hall. He barely received a slap on the wrist from the very institution that’s supposed to teach him how to behave in the world as he becomes an adult. Bella knew that if the school couldn’t do right by her, she needed to take further action on her own.
Another female student from Ashland High School named Emily decided to come forward after the school failed to help her seek justice against the boy who sexual assaulted her. The school allowed the student to roam the halls as if nothing had ever happened. That’s when she decided to take matters into her own hands by sharing several screenshots of a Facebook chat where the boy admitted to assaulting her, and discussed how easy it was for him to do it because she was intoxicated.
She also included a statement about her experience and encouraged people to share her post in order to make her story a public matter. Hundreds of people shared the conversation, but unfortunately, it was taken down from Facebook after someone reported it. Emily, like Bella, knew that if the school couldn’t do right by her, she needed to take further action on her own.
Together, Bella and Emily fought for justice. Eventually Emily’s assailant, who has a history of harassing other girls, was found guilty and expelled from Ashland High School. Emily received a letter of apology from Ashland High for not taking the proper action initially.
School districts are required by law to share materials with students that informs them about where and how they can report their assaults. They’re also required to immediately report any assault to the police so they can conduct a thorough investigation. Because of Bella and Emily, Ashland High School is now offering mandatory training sessions for their staff members. The district is also planning to publish information about sexual assault so students can have access to the material.
Survivors were given the means to have their voices heard so that they no longer have to keep their stories within a Facebook chat. It is important to give assault victims a platform to tell their stories, because stories can ignite radical change on a larger scale. Thanks to students like Bella and Emily, sexual assault victims now have the proper means for justice.
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