How High School Students Launched Their Own #MeToo Movement During the Pandemic
Speaker 1: 00:00 When most schools across California shut down last year, teenagers were stuck at home. And for some that meant months alone to reflect on experiences of trauma in high school, but they didn't all keep that pain to themselves. Instead, hundreds of young people turn to social media to share their stories. K Q E D, reporter Holly J McDean to talk to students in Los Gatos and San Diego County about what it's been like to push for change on campus. During distance learning, Speaker 2: 00:39 Lynn has played the flute since she was 10 years old. And it's a big part of her identity. Music is how she stays calm. Speaker 3: 00:46 Especially in high school band was like my, the main thing in my life. Like all my friends were in band, everything revolved around band. It was like, I don't know. Definitely very important to Speaker 2: 00:56 Me only using her middle name to protect her privacy. Lynn is a senior at Mira Mesa high school in San Diego County. And she's taking on a lot for any teenager. She's running an Instagram account called me to in SD where students anonymously share experiences of harassment and assault. Speaker 3: 01:13 I mean, I kind of started, I wouldn't say a trend, but the movement at my school. Speaker 2: 01:21 So she was in an abusive relationship with a boy. She started dating when she was a sophomore. She says he would pressure her into sending explicit photos and that he sexually assaulted her. He denies the allegations. Lynn says she wishes she had better education around what healthy relationships are supposed to look like. Speaker 3: 01:40 All my friends, they tried very hard to get me to leave. I just, I didn't want to listen because, you know, I was gaslighted to the point where I thought, Oh, I mean, you know, he loves me or whatever, which obviously is not true, but when you're in it like that, it feels like it is true. Speaker 2: 01:59 After the relationship ended in 2019, her mom found diary entries on Lynn's phone, describing the abuse and reported the ex-boyfriend at the school. Lynn and her ex-boyfriend were both in band, Speaker 4: 02:11 But there were times where, you know, there was a concert and I walk into the storage room who's right there. And I just left. I couldn't be there. And in the hallways and the library, I still had to see him. Speaker 2: 02:26 The ex-boyfriend says he was never disciplined. The school district declined to comment on the case, citing privacy laws, but said that allegations of assault are taken seriously. Last summer, Lynn saw an Instagram account set up for San Diego students to share stories of sexual abuse that made her feel comfortable sharing hers to her. Ex-boyfriend saw her post and let the carton of eggs outside her house. She says, if that was the worst that could happen, there was no reason to be afraid. Speaker 3: 02:56 So that's when I decide like, okay, he does not have this power Speaker 2: 02:59 Me. She went from posting her own story to running the me too in SD Instagram page. It has over 1300 followers. Many of the posts include the names of alleged perpetrators, both students and teachers. The stories are posted anonymously and have not been verified. Lynn says, she's received threats for running the account. Speaker 3: 03:20 If I stop, then that's letting them win. And I refuse to do that. So I just kept going Speaker 2: 03:26 Spokesperson with the San Diego unified school district. So the district has made police aware of the account and that allegations made anonymously are difficult to investigate. The spokesperson said the district has also worked with student leaders to get the word out about how to recognize and report abuse. People are still sending Lynn their stories. Speaker 5: 03:48 He took away all of my firsts without considering my consent. I dropped Speaker 6: 03:52 Out of band the following year because I just felt like no one was on my side. I felt bad. And I didn't tell him to stop because I was scared that he would be mad at me. Speaker 2: 04:04 Occasionally she takes breaks from reading the post for the sake of her own mental health. There are dozens of accounts like me too, in SD, throughout California, including one for students in the affluent Silicon Valley town of Los Gatos Speaker 5: 04:19 From the outside. LG is I feel like perfect teams and perfect clothes from perfect families. And don't forget the money, but like most seemingly perfect things. You just can't see the cracks yet. Speaker 2: 04:34 That's from a film made by a Los Gatos high school senior about the me too campaign happening at our school. Speaker 5: 04:40 The post read, I'm not sharing this post for sympathy, but to be heard earlier this year on February 8th, I was raped Speaker 2: 04:49 That post inspired other students to share their stories and eventually set up their own Instagram account. Since then more than 100 students and alums have shared their experiences with harassment and assault, Speaker 6: 05:03 The entire senior class guys and girls made chance with my name shaming me. And in that moment, I truly wanted to be dead. I didn't want to tell my friends because I was afraid. They would think I was making the whole thing up. Believe it or not. I ended up apologizing to him. After that encounter. We always find a way to blame ourselves Speaker 2: 05:34 In response to the wave of stories. Online Los Gatos high school students held a rally on the football field last July, Speaker 4: 05:41 But I believe where it's on power. And if saying this out loud gives others reasons as well. Then I will. Speaker 2: 05:48 That's Abby Berry. She graduated from Los Gatos high school in 2018. She's one of the organizers of a new advocacy group from survivors for survivors. She looked out at the football field and told everyone she was a survivor Speaker 4: 06:03 And I'm a survivor of sexual assault, harassment and rape. And I still believe in the power of words. Thank you. Speaker 2: 06:11 Unlike the San Diego County, Los Gatos students didn't name perpetrators online, but student organizers say there was still a lot of pushback in response to the attention they were bringing to the football team. Abby says athletes are glorified at the school and that allowed them to get away with abuse. Last summer, Abby wrote an email calling on the school to confront its rape culture. Speaker 7: 06:33 And my mom didn't want me to send it. She was like, you could get in trouble or like you could get face backlash. And I remember literally being like, I don't care. This is an issue. And I was so angry. I was just so I was just livid. I wasn't ready. She Speaker 2: 06:49 Sent the email to all Los Gatos staff and wrote the entire community was complicit in these issues. After she sent it one teacher and football coach replied all he wrote wrong. If this young lady has had something bad, happened to her in the past, she should take it up with the individual who is responsible. Speaker 7: 07:09 And that was just really disappointing. It's really disappointing to like hear teachers and advisors at the school, taking sides. Speaker 2: 07:16 The teacher did not respond to requests for comments. Abby worries about the students who face backlash and lost friends for speaking out. Speaker 7: 07:25 Well, that's why I kept saying like, please, like if you get backlash, just send it to me because like, you guys are still in school and I know how much reputation counts in high school. And I know how much it just means. Jackie, once you get to college. And I just, I knew like I was really scared for them. Speaker 2: 07:45 Megan Farrell is the district's title, nine coordinator. She handles complaints related to sexual abuse. She says the County has been divisive, but she says, it's also made the district aware. Some students feel like they're not doing enough. Speaker 8: 07:58 It, it it's important. The voices of students, if they don't want to come to us, I think we have to understand why that is, but we also need to know what what's being complained about in order for us to do our jobs. Speaker 2: 08:10 She says there are many reasons. Young people are reluctant to turn to their schools to report abuse. They may not be ready to tell their parents or want to talk to the police who schools have an obligation to tell. There were no title IX complaints filed against students in the district and the 20, 19 to 2020 school year. And only two. This school year Farrell says in response to the account, the district set up an anonymous tip line Speaker 8: 08:36 That students would have another outlet to reach out and provide any kind of information that they needed to provide to us. And anonymous reports are difficult to investigate, but if we have some information, at least we can go down a road and start looking into a matter Speaker 2: 08:53 In an email to family members, the superintendents of the district had launched an inquiry into whether the district has a culture that allows abuse to continue. The district has also hired a consultant focused on restorative justice to give community members impacted by these issues. A chance to talk. Abby Barry says, she knows real change will take a long time and a lot of persistence. And she says, if nothing else, the online movement has at least started a conversation that wasn't happening before. Speaker 7: 09:22 I know that like, regardless of the fact that like, we may have not been able to like change policies or like move mountains for the school. We got the town talking about it. We definitely like shocked the town. Um, but I think it like changed even in a little bit for the better Speaker 2: 09:47 Over in Mira Mesa, Lynn is still running the San Diego account. Her mom says she's proud of how much he's seen her daughter grow. We're not using her name to protect her identity. I Speaker 6: 09:58 Really am grateful that she found the strength to help other people in middle school and high school. She retreated a bit, but in our household she's always had a voice. And I think she's finding it again. Speaker 2: 10:16 Lynn never returned to school in person, her senior year. And a big reason for that decision is because she didn't want to confront abusers in person. She's headed to college in the fall and plan to continue to advocate for victims there. So Speaker 3: 10:29 I would like to still, you know, be involved with this account and maybe transform it into something bigger or, you know, brought in, you know, the audience of this account. Um, so yeah, I definitely want to keep going with that. Speaker 2: 10:43 Now she's encouraging others at her school to start a club to address sexual assault on campus. The students leading these efforts are hoping the support networks they've built online can find a way to continue in person. When more students returned to school. I'm Holly J McDean Speaker 9: 11:08 [inaudible].