The Face in the Mirror: Sexual Harassment at Latin

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Photograph: Alamy

By Lucy Limanowski  I’ve been at Latin for thirteen, going on fourteen years. I am comfortable saying that I know most of the student body, and the faculty as well. I am also aware of Latin’s reputation as a promising, highly prestigious private school and the student stereotypes. What most people don’t know, though, is the social dynamic at Latin in the student body, and the issues within it that no one ever wants to talk about. I spent last summer interning at the Attorney General’s Office in the Community Relations and Civil Rights bureau, and I learned a lot about the sexual assault crisis not just in Illinois, but across the country; I studied everything from lawyers and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) dealing with the issue of backlogged rape kits to talking to the victims themselves about how to make the system more patient-oriented. What I took away was the realization that in high school, not just Latin, women have been subjected to harassment daily without even processing or understanding the severity of the situation. According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 44% of victims of sexual assault/harassment are under the age 18, 68% of the incidents are never reported, and 98% of sexual predators will never spend a day in jail. These statistics are not to scare any high schooler but make them aware of the treatment that goes unnoticed so often. Catcalling, labeling a girl based on a guy she likes, unwanted messages and conversations that make someone uncomfortable because their gut feeling implies an unwanted sexual undertone, are all examples of harassment that I know both me and almost every other girl in my class have experienced at Latin at one point or another, and everyone accepts it as “boys being boys” while the girl becomes a “slut.” A majority of these instances, however, I notice take place out of school, with little to no recognition of it two days later in class. Too many times have I seen a girl too vulnerable to know that the boy she’s flirting with is aware that by taking her into the other room, alone, it is illegal. When I have tried to intervene, I am seen as the person making things harder for him as he tries to get with her. Then, a day or two later, I see those exact same two people walking throughout the school after having yet again a normal weekend. To follow this procedure, the girl will be called in the hallway and cafeteria by the name of the boy who took advantage of her, and he gets high-fives from his friends whenever she passes by. I understand how the youth can have an underdeveloped sense of self, especially in high school, but under no conditions do I reinforce nor support this insane acceptance of this aspect in our culture. The other day I overheard two girls in the science center walking to class talking about two people dating. One girl questioned why the boy keeps cheating on his girlfriend, to which the other replied, “Oh well that’s just Latin guys.” I know this conversation is not the best representation of our male students, but the reputation predisposed to incoming students is that gender and your features are the ultimate qualities that will determine where you are on the social scale. Even worse, I don’t see anyone telling a teacher or counselor immediately whenever they feel uncomfortable in any situation. Not that one has to, but there needs to be an open dialogue on these matters. Latin, of course, as a student body, has a lot to work on socially by accepting not just women, but any individual of any ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference as not objects or outsiders because they don’t look like you or kiss who you would, but rather as just another person. The reason why I draw closer attention to the issue with women is because little to nothing is being done in our curriculum on gender equality, and hopefully Latin will be able to bring awareness to the sexist behavior that we so comfortably and shamefully disregard.]]>