School club uses social media, raises awareness for sexual assault

Senior+Will+Trone%2C+co-president+of+Intersectional+Feminism+Club%2C+discusses+submissions+for+%E2%80%9CWhy+I+Didn%E2%80%99t+Report+with+the+rest+of+the+club.

Matt Petres

Senior Will Trone, co-president of Intersectional Feminism Club, discusses submissions for “Why I Didn’t Report” with the rest of the club.

By Peter Pu, University of Chicago Laboratory High School

A school club has launched a social media account to raise awareness about issues around reporting sexual assault.

As part of the broader #WhyIDidntReport movement, Intersectional Feminism Club created in February an Instagram account for victims in the Laboratory Schools community to detail the complex reasons culminating in their decision to not report the incident.

Since the 2018 allegations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, more than 54,000 posts have been published on Instagram posts under #WhyIDidntReport. As accuser Christine Blasey Ford was questioned for not reporting the assault when it occurred in the 1980s when they were both teenagers, victims of sexual harrassment and assault have revealed factors discouraging them from reporting these incidents. 

In the United States an incident of sexual assault occurs on average once every 68 seconds, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. More than two out of three of these incidents are not reported to the police. 

All identifying information is omitted in the stories published on the Intersectional Feminism Club Instagram account. According to Will Trone, club co-president, the account is not a platform for reporting incidents of sexual assault. These stories will become part of an art piece to be displayed during Social Justice Week. 

The club’s other co-president, An Ngo, is an editor for the Midway but was not involved in the reporting for this article. 

The platform was not intended to be a place for people to report. It was just intended for kind of a narrow purpose, which I think has value.”

— Will Trone

“This platform is not intended to bring anyone justice,” Will said. “The platform was not intended to be a place for people to report. It was just intended for kind of a narrow purpose, which I think has value.”

Lab encourages victims and witnesses of sexual assault or misconduct to report potential violations of Lab’s policies, according to Betsy Noel, Title IX coordinator, in a statement to the Midway. The available avenues for reporting include direct communication to Ms. Noel or another administrator or submitting a Google Form. Ms. Noel is then responsible for connecting victims to resources and informing them of the options.

On the Instagram account, students have voiced concerns of facing disbelief from the community, blaming themselves for the incident, and protecting the reputation of the perpetrator. Nationally, about two out of three incidents of sexual assault involve a perpetrator that is acquainted with the victim, according to the RAINN. U-High counselor Camille Baughn-Cunningham said that the nature and prevalence of the submissions was not a surprise. 

“As much as we all have an appreciation for some of the things that sets Lab apart and makes it a special place, unfortunately, it doesn’t keep these kinds of things from happening,” Dr. Baughn-Cunningham said. “And so it was not surprising that it’s happening. It was not surprising that it’s not always being reported.”

Ms. Noel’s statement reiterated that reporting an incident to an outside organization does not constitute a report to Lab, and sharing stories anonymously on social media does not initiate an investigation. 

“When Lab learns of these types of anonymous disclosures, the school works to raise awareness in the community about the support that Lab provides,” Ms. Noel wrote in the statement. “For example, the school may respond by reviewing sexual assault policies, reinforcing and expanding school-wide educational programs, and reminding our community members about available resources, including counseling, health, and mental health services.”

Maybe this is a start for many of these people who chose to share and that hopefully somewhere down the line there is an ability to report in a more specific way to address their heels healing and to address the perpetrators actions as well.”

— Camille Baughn-Cunningham

As all submissions to the Instagram account are anonymous, the site administrators are unable to verify the credibility of the published stories. Dr. Baughn-Cunningham hopes that people use the site for its intended purpose and not take advantage of the space.

Will said, “Are you really gonna have 18 people lie about this? Maybe, but like, I choose to believe that at least some of them are credible, that there is some truth.”

In terms of addressing sexual assault at Lab, Dr. Baughn-Cunningham said the solution starts with education for both survivors and perpetrators. Following the launch of the Instagram account, Intersectional Feminism Club hosted workshops for Consent Fest during the week of Feb. 28. 

Dr. Baughn-Cunningham said, “Maybe this is a start for many of these people who chose to share and that hopefully somewhere down the line there is an ability to report in a more specific way to address their heels healing and to address the perpetrators actions as well.”

This story was originally published on U-High Midway on April 5, 2022.