This summer, Gavin Kennedy ’16 started a project to help combat sexual assault at high schools and colleges. A large part of Kennedy’s mission is to “educate kids our age about [sexual assault], because it’s extremely complicated.” Kennedy explained that he wants people “to understand the issue.” Kennedy believes that the number of cases of sexual assault can be lowered if students are educated about what it is and what its consequences are.
The creation of Kennedy’s project coincided with a trial that occurred this summer after a senior boy at St. Paul’s School was charged with the rape of a freshman girl. The girl, aged 15 at the time, claimed that the senior had sex with her, while the senior pled innocence, claiming that they had sexual contact but not intercourse. In the end, the senior boy was convicted of a felony charge and four misdemeanors.
When asked about the events that took place at St. Paul’s, Kennedy stated, “Some people just don’t realize how rigid [the statutory rape] law is. People don’t understand that if someone is under the age of consent, they literally cannot give consent.” Kennedy continued, “If [an upperclassman is] about to go hook up with a freshman, they should [be thinking] ‘I should not be doing this.’”
Kennedy stated that sexual assault is “a complicated issue with a lot of parts,” and that students’ full awareness of each part is necessary in order to make high schools and colleges safer. He explained that Title IX is the principle sexual assault policy of many universities and that at universities that abide by Title IX, all sexual assault cases go to the Title IX officer at the school, “who is inclined to side with the victim.”
Kennedy continued, “Title IX is about gender discrimination, which raises a philosophical question about whether or not sexual assault is discriminatory towards a certain gender.” He added, “Also, the idea of consent changes everywhere you look at it. Schools define it, states define it—there are definitions everywhere.”
The first step of Kennedy’s project is to educate students on the issue. He plans to give sessions at DA to detail sexual assault laws. At a school meeting, for instance, he will describe how these laws affect us in the Deerfield community and beyond. Looking ahead, Kennedy said, “I think I want to have students [discuss] their own policies, and see what kids our age think about the issue and how it should be handled, and from there we can see what policies need to be changed or implemented.”
Through conversation and surveys he has created, Kennedy hopes to gain a sense of students’ attitudes towards the Deerfield policies and gauge whether or not they feel as if these policies are sufficient. He also plans to offer his own solutions to the community about how to best manage issues and confusion with sexual assault.
Since last year, Deerfield’s Sexual Assault policy has changed slightly. For the first time, the administration has defined the word “consent” in the Sexual Intimacy Policy to read, “It is never legal to engage in any intimate contact without another’s full consent. Consent is more than “no means no”–it represents an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each party to engage in sexual activity.” Additionally, freshmen and seniors are now officially prohibited from getting parietals with each other, unless they are visiting in groups.
One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to usnews.com. Additionally, according to Aljazeera America, 20-25 percent of college women experience rape or attempted rape, with freshmen and sophomores, both male and female, being most likely to be victims. Kennedy hopes that through education and policy reform, those numbers will drop, and the issue will become one that people are willing and able to discuss more freely.