Informing Hillsborough County students about resources for victims of sexual assault

A recent study released by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center found that 13 percent of female middle and high school students in Florida feel unsafe at school. And according to the survey, this is with good reason.

The survey, “Status of Girls Well-Being in Florida,” found that one in ten female middle and high school students has reported being raped either on a school campus or by a fellow student. In light of this, Democratic Florida lawmakers are pushing for change.

These efforts are being led by State Senator Lauren Book, who founded Lauren’s Kids, a center focused on preventing sexual assault through education and awareness, as well as providing support to survivors of abuse. “It is up to all of us to foster safe relationships and safe communities,” Book said, as reported by Florida Politics.

And Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) isn’t immune to this statistic. The result of a survey in 2015 showed that 42 percent of students in Hillsborough County didn’t know how to report sexually inappropriate behavior. Since then, HCPS has made increasing this number a priority, by reexamining training given to principals and administrators to handle this issue.

However, according to one student who was sexually harassed, these efforts might not be enough. “Our school doesn’t often mention sexual assault the way it covers other issues,” she said. “Teachers love to dress code girls which inadvertently pushes boys to believe women need to cover themselves. Hillsborough could definitely do a better job when talking about sexual assault.”

Currently, School Board policy, based on Title IX of the Florida Educational Equity Act, defines sexual harassment as any unwanted advances, request for sexual favors or physical and/or verbal behavior that is sexual in nature that interferes with an individual’s work or educational performance.

After being harassed by a fellow student on campus, the student said that she wasn’t sure who on campus she could turn to or where to go for support. “It’s just not a topic that has been addressed at all and victims of sexual assault don’t have many options,” she said. “The best thing the school could do to support victims of sexual assault is preventing further assault and providing an environment where everyone feels safe.”

And that’s just what school psychologist Barbara Brock is trying to do. “The important thing is that the students know that we are here, and we can provide counseling and guidance for you,” she said. “Students need to know that we can help to deal with potential triggers on the school campus, as well as do our best to make students feel safe at school.”

Brock is planning to provide students with information on the resources available to students who are victims of assault or harassment, as well as how to identify and avoid these behaviors on campus.

“Many victims feel embarrassed to share their story,” the student said. “The County definitely needs to create a safe environment for everyone.” Students who have been sexually harassed or who are victims of sexual assault can contact Corbett Trauma Center at (813) 964-1964 or seek counseling with the school psychologist.

Note: The Hillsborough High School student quoted in this article requested to remain anonymous to maintain privacy.