ETHS tackles sexual assault

Susan Du

Sexual Assault Awareness Month coincides this year with an ongoing criminal investigation of an alleged sexual assault incident at Evanston Township High School on April 16.

Community organizations and individuals involved with the school say the point of sexual assault awareness is not to emphasize its significance only one month of the year, but rather to sustain constant conversation.

Police learned a 14-year-old male student had forced a 15-year-old female student to perform a sex act during school hours at the school, 1600 Dodge Ave., as a result of an investigation conducted by ETHS staff as well as the Evanston Police Juvenile Bureau, according to a news release the Evanston Police Department issued the day of the incident. The male student was charged with criminal sexual assault.

ETHS PTSA president Cherie Hansen said although she is deeply saddened by news of the alleged assault, the important thing to remember is that both parties are children who need support in one form or another.

“No matter what the act is, we’re talking about a teenage boy and teenage girl, so my thoughts went right away to both of them,” Hansen said. “It’s sad that something like this could happen at our school.”

Because both individuals involved in the incident are minors, there is no public information about either of their identities or present circumstances. However, community members have raised concerns about what resources may be available to not only those directly involved in the alleged assault, but also the broader ETHS student population in light of this recent incident.

Wendy Dickson, YWCA director of domestic violence services, said cases of sexual assault occurring within such close proximity to students could affect school culture on a deeper level.

“I think with the bigger picture, I would like to see an overall education and awareness program not just for the kids, but for the faculty and the security guards and everybody that was involved,” Dickson said. “It was a terrible situation, and hopefully they’re getting that healthand support they need.”

Dickson said although the YWCA hasn’t planned special programs or events for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, she is working with Northwestern groups to organize events dedicated to the issue on campus. She said the YWCA regularly works with ETHS on holding sexual violence prevention support groups as well as providing education about dating violence and access to health resources.

“I have confidence that the school is handling things,” Dickson said.

ETHS currently has an ongoing Act. Care. Tell. program that focuses on various topics relating to health and the student experience. The A.C.T. topic of May will be “healthy relationships,” which will include discussions about sexual assault, according to ETHS communications director Evangeline Semark Lemoine.

In addition, ETHS students have the option of reaching out to the school’s counseling department to discuss the alleged assault. The school also has an anonymous hotline for students to report any information or complaints they may have regarding sexual health or other general safety concerns.

Hansen said ETHS is constantly creating new opportunities for discussing sexual safety, which is more effective than making a special effort to increase related programs or events only during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“Really, it’s ongoing training,” Hansen said. “Just through courses that we have through the school, the sex education course that we have through the health department, I think that these things are discussed quite often with our kids. Honestly, the conversation just keeps going, and we’re constantly reinforcing that ETHS is a safe environment.”

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