Sexual assault continues to be a risk to teens everywhere, including on Mercer Island. In the confidential Washington Healthy Youth survey conducted last year at Mercer Island High School, 14 percent (+/- 7.5 percent) of seniors (one in seven) said they have been sexually assaulted. This is more than the number of seniors that reported having been bullied in the last 30 days.
As Washington is one of the states that does not require schools to record the number of assaults that have been reported each year, there are no statistics on the specific number of cases at Mercer Island High School. According to the Mercer Island Police Department school resource officer at MIHS, there are usually two or three reports of sexual assault per year — a much smaller number compared to what is actually taking place.
Mandatory reporting laws require any teacher, administrator or counselor at MIHS to report any sexual assault they hear about to police. So what is causing the discrepancy between what students report they have experienced and the number of reported sexual assaults?
As a community, we must make sure to create an environment where it feels safe to report sexual assault, where perpetrators are punished and where there are active prevention efforts to keep assaults from occurring in the first place. It is also important that survivors be allowed to choose how to report and deal with assault in a manner that is most empowering to them. Based on the information and numbers, it seems the current Mercer Island community has room to improve.
To begin, engaging in discussions about sexual assault and promoting consent education is an immensely important part of preventing sexual assault. If someone makes a rape joke or suggests consent is not important, call them out on it. Our culture condones, normalizes and denies sexual assault and that needs to stop.
To parents, teach your children and teens (especially teens) about consent, starting when they are young by demonstrating what consent is in everyday settings. For example, teaching kids it is important to ask for permission before embracing a friend or giving them an opportunity to say yes or no to everyday choices.
It is also important to know how to respond and what resources are available if you, a friend or a family member is sexually assaulted. If someone discloses they were sexually assaulted, believe them and make sure you articulate that what happened was not their fault. No matter the situation, it is important to remember that responsibility for the sexual assault or rape rests solely on the perpetrator. Sexual assault happens in all communities, even Mercer Island, and while this may be an ugly truth, confronting the issue head on is the only way we can make it better.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has resources for survivors/victims of sexual assault and advice for supporting friends and family at www.kcsarc.org.
If you are in need of support or are in a crisis, you can text the crisis line at 741741 for any reason. Mercer Island Youth and Family Services and its counselors at the high school are also great resources.
If you want to get involved in changing policy to support survivors, RISE (www.risenow.us) is a great place to start.
Allison Bunker is a member of the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Community Advisory Board and a junior at University Prep.