‘A big, big problem’

High school students say disturbing details from Kavanaugh hearing hit uncomfortably close to home

Raquel, 17. (BBC News/YouTube)

The impact of Christine Blasey Ford’s and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony during last Thursday’s hearings is continuing to reverberate throughout the country — and sparking conversations among countless high school students who say that Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior sounds all too familiar to events transpiring in their own lives and social circles. Speaking with BBC News as part of the network’s Ask America project, a number of teenagers involved in the Los Angeles-based sexual violence education program Change the Talk spoke about the prevalence of sexual abuse and assault among high school students — and how the Kavanaugh hearing served as a chance for many to finally allow for public acknowledgement of the issue.

“Twenty-four-hour news, phones, computers. We’re all very aware of what’s going on. It’s something my friends and I talk about almost on a daily basis — either in our own lives or what’s going on in the world or in media,” said Raquel, 17, noting that her AP Government class effectively turned into a referendum on the topic during the morning of the Kavanaugh hearing.

“It also is just really frustrating to be a girl or young woman and have to deal with these things,” she continued. “It’s just generally accepted like, ‘It’s because boys will be boys,’ or ‘That’s how the world works.’ I do think there’s a long way to go. I still know people who post on their Instagram stories like, ‘Respect women, value women, treat all women with respect,’ and I had seen them trying to make out with a girl who was intoxicated at a party a week before.”

“It’s a big, big problem,” added 16-year-old Alyssa. “I have had people who i know personally who are victims of sexual harassment or assault and they’ve come up to me and expressed to me how they felt about it and it was just really sad. They felt like they couldn’t do anything about it and in turn would be blamed for everything and shamed. It was so horrible and heartbreaking for me to hear.”

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2018. (REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

The Kavanaugh hearing, she said, only furthered the feeling that institutions were effectively pushing women to stay silent about incidents of assault involving socially powerful boys or men.

“We would talk about it so much,” said Alyssa. “I can’t tell you how many lunches we spent upset over the fact we felt that our country and the politics that were meant to support us were turning their back on all of us.”

Rudy, 17, said that he hadn’t “realized it was a conversation I needed to have until I had the conversation,” noting that #MeToo movement had turned the problem of sexual assault at their school into “an uncomfortable invisible elephant in the room.”

“With Kavanaugh something has changed,” he said. “With celebrities, it’s in Hollywood so it definitely impacts you because it’s your idol but it’s not personal. When it’s a high school student, you definitely feel like, ‘That could have been me.’ And some people, it was them.”

For 17-year-old Will, the Kavanaugh case illustrated the impossible position that victims are put in when they come forward with assault claims — either at the time of the incident or afterward.

“If sexual assault happens and it’s perpetrated by a younger boy we say, ‘We don’t want to ruin his life or his future,’ And then when it happens or comes out as an adult, we say that we shouldn’t hold the adult accountable for the actions of his past self and that maybe he’s changed. What that does is it traps survivors in between one man’s past and one man’s present,” the teenager explained.

Watch BBC News interview with the students below.

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