Students raise awareness of sexual assault

Juniors create petition and survey for students on sexual assault within community

Photo from the petition created by junior students to gather data about sexual assault in the North Shore

On Jan. 25, a group of New Trier juniors published an anonymous survey on sexual assault for their peers to fill out, in order to raise awareness within the community.

In a matter of only 4 hours, the survey had already garnered over 400 responses coming from sexual assault victims. In total, they received around 685 submissions.

I’ve learned that this is a much bigger issue than I thought. There were hundreds of shocking, graphic replies on the survey. I didn’t realize the magnitude of sexual assault going on in the community”

— Anna O'Donnell

The objective of the group, which is unaffiliated with the school, is to promote awareness and education for sexual assault, by changing the school curriculum. Despite the goal, the members were shocked at how many responses they received.

Group member Anna O’Donnell, who joined because she wanted to help educate her peers and hold the school accountable, was surprised at how many people had shared their stories on the survey.

“I’ve learned that this is a much bigger issue than I thought. There were hundreds of shocking, graphic replies on the survey. I didn’t realize the magnitude of sexual assault going on in the community,” said O’Donnell.

Group member Sophie Gerdeman agreed with O’Donnell, saying she didn’t realize how large of an issue this is.

“It was overwhelming to see how many people had experienced what we are trying to raise awareness for, and how many people don’t feel safe,” said Gerdeman.

In addition to the survey, the students created a petition that advocated for New Trier to raise awareness for survivors and expand sexual assault instruction. The petition received a little over 1,300 signatures.

With the results the group gained from the survey and petition, they held a meeting with Winnetka Principal Denise Dubravec to address the issue and discuss how to problem solve.

During the meeting, the group conveyed that NT needs to provide survivors with more counseling and revamp the health curriculum that covers sexual assault.

“We talked about implementing a program in advisory and a better program in health class. Students need to know what sexual assault is to help prevent it, and also need to know how to cope with it. We are pushing for the administrators to implement more preventative measures,” said O’Donnell.

Winnetka campus Principal Denise Dubravec plans to work with the group to increase student awareness of sexual assault.

“It is our hope to increase student knowledge and awareness on this topic and to dispel myths and misinformation on school policy and procedures in addressing reported incidents. We take reports of sexual assault and harassment very seriously and want to work with students to address these important issues as a school community,” said Dubravec.

In addition to talking with Dubravec, the group has a meeting scheduled to discuss the health curriculum with the kinetic wellness department chair.

“We will be meeting again with students along with the KW Department Chair and an Adviser Chair to review current practices, and to plan for practical tools and information that can be used for all grades, including information about identifying unhealthy relationships, sexual violence prevention and awareness programs, and other useful resources,” said Dubravec.

Group member Jessie Nadler says the current information being taught at school on sexual assault is neither comprehensive nor beneficial to the student population.

“We need more updated and palatable education. It needs to be in a form where high schoolers will take it more seriously. Students also need consistency throughout school. Each year, advisories should spend time discussing sexual assault, besides just health class,” said Nadler.

O’Donnell adds that, “last year, we watched a worst-case scenario movie on a girl getting killed by her boyfriend to learn about sexual assault. That was important and meaningful, but we need more realistic education, and we need it more ingrained in New Trier.”

Due to a lack of practical education on sexual assault, the group claims that the environment at New Trier is not a comfortable place for survivors to come forward.

“Some people are so insensitive about sexual assault at our school. This is a serious and harmful topic, so it’s scary to see people making jokes,” said Nadler. “I joined the group because I noticed that enough students did not acknowledge the severity of the issue.”

On the survey the group had published, there were students making crude jokes as responses. Some of them included telling the group to “shut up,” or that they were “doing this for attention.” The group feels that due to the lack of meaningful education on assault, students are less likely to take the topic seriously.

Despite the disheartening comments on the survey, the group received positive feedback as well.

“There were so many people who messaged us privately and thanked us for creating the survey. These people need to know that they are not alone,” said Gerdeman.

While group members have made it their mission to advocate for survivors of sexual assault, they are not especially concerned with exposing assaulters.

“There are a lot of misconceptions being made about what our group is trying to accomplish, and many think that we are trying to ‘expose’ assaulters, but that really isn’t our main goal. The victims deserve justice, but we aren’t here to authenticate experiences, we are here to provide support and raise awareness,” said Nadler.

The group will continue to work with administrators to promote the need for more extensive sex education at school.

“Sexual assault can come in many different forms, and isn’t just an occurrence between boys and girls. Anyone can be assaulted, and it affects everyone,” said Gerdeman.

NT Help Lines
Text TREVHELP to Text-A-Tip (844-823-5323) to connect with an anonymous therapist
Go to TrevTips to report safety concerns anonymously
For concerns that require immediate attention during the school day call 847-784-2200 for the Winnetka Campus or 847-784-7501 for the Northfield Campus

General Help Lines
Sexual Assault Hotline…………………… 800-656-HOPE (4673)
Chicago Rape Crisis Line……………………888-293-2080
Child Neglect/Abuse…………………………800-252-2873
The Disaster Distress Helpline…………800-985-5990
Text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor
Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline … 877-863-6338 or 877-TO END DV
LGBTQ Help………………………………….….866-488-7386
National Alliance on Mental Illness….708-524-2582
National Runaway Line…………………….800-786-2929
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline…..800-273-8255
Opioid Help……………………………………..833-234-3643
Poison Control…………………………………800-222-1212
Suicide Prevention…………………………..800-273-8255