Chiawana teens arrange school walk-out, bringing awareness to prominence of sexual assault amongst students

PASCO, WA – Chiawana High School students organized a walk-out today, lasting about two hours, for the purpose of raising awareness about sexual assault and proper education to combat it.

According to some student organizers, they tried to organize a school sit-in last winter because many students were sharing their stories of surviving sexual abuse.

“We had everything planned, but then administration came on the loudspeaker the day before and discouraged us from not doing it. So it didn’t happen,” said Cerena Robledo, a Chiawana student and rally organizer.

Robledo went on to say that students tried to meet with administrators to reschedule, but that they didn’t hear from them again, not even until after spring break.

Pasco School District Public Affairs Director Anna Tensmeyer said in response, “Administrators at Chiawana High School were aware that students were planning a protest last winter and met with students to see how the administration could best support their efforts. It was jointly decided to move the activity to April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The administrators did not receive further information from students until today, April 27.”

However, after the last few weeks, with the news breaking of Chiawana photography teacher Jeffrey Whiston being arrested for alleged sexual exploitation of a minor (a 16-year-old Chiawana student), many of the Chiawana high schoolers felt that was the last straw.

“It is disgusting. People are blaming the girl like it was her fault that she let Whiston take pictures of her, but it was his responsibility. She was a child, and he was a man who had full control of the situation,” said Robledo.

Whiston is accused of taking sexual photos of this 16-year-old girl.

“He was our teacher and a lot of students trusted him and liked him,” said one anonymous student, “So while I was surprised, I also think that we should protect her and do our best to make sure he is held accountable. She probably trusted him because he was a teacher.”

Students chanted, “No means no,” and held signs that said “Stop protecting predators,” and “She was only 16,” amongst others.

Many students shared their own stories of surviving sexual abuse.

According to RAINN, every 68 seconds, another American (whether woman or man) is sexually assaulted. Every nine minutes, that victim is a child.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted (raped or attempted rape) in their lifetime. Around 24% of men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, but this number could be much higher with the amount of cases that are never reported. 1 in 3 women who are raped are raped between the ages of 11-17, 1 in 4 men who are raped are attacked between ages 11-17, while the age range that experiences the highest risk of rape or other sexual assaults is 12-30 years old.

Another student organizer, Hannah, who created the Instagram page @notalone_tri said she received around 500 messages from Tri-Cities students and alumni sharing their survivor stories as well. She said many were assaulted by other students. Hannah experienced this herself.

“Both my rapists went to Southridge High. I was constantly harassed by a boy in science class too. He was threatening to squeeze my thighs and do other inappropriate stuff. My teacher watched every single day and moved us to the front of the class and sat us next to each other and thought it was funny. And he has a daughter!” said Hannah.

Robledo said that when students wanted to write the names of their abusers on their posters, that they were encouraged not to by administration.

“We need to protect the victims and not the predators,” said Robledo.

Tensmeyer said, “It is true that students were discouraged from writing student names on posters because that would be in violation of district policy regarding communication with students and display of information.”

“The point we want to make is a couple thing: make sure we have comprehensive education starting as young as middle school on consent and sexual harassment/abuse and how to get help if you’re a survivor of that,” said Robledo, “We also want our schools to do a better job of protecting us from these situations and take sexual harassment and assaults seriously. This is happening way too often.”

Tensemeyer stated the following in response:

Staff at all Pasco schools are committed to providing safe and supportive opportunities for discussions and ensuring students have access to resources available throughout the community. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our students is Pasco School District’s (PSD) highest priority.Any student who has experienced sexual harassment at school can make a report to any school administrator or the district’s Title IX Officer. In addition, students can report concerns by using the district’s SafeSchools Alert system for an online, text, or email report. More information is available on PSD’s Report a Concern webpage.

Here is a list of resources to access in Tri-Cities:

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs

Domestic Violence Services Benton and Franklin County

Support Advocacy and Resource Center

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Article Source: Fox 11