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#MeTooK12: A new hashtag for students sexually assaulted or harassed in K-12 schools

#MeTooK12 is a new social media hashtag created by a national nonprofit organization, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS), to encourage young people who were sexually harassed or assaulted while attending K-12 schools to speak out.

An extension of the #MeToo social media movement, the new hashtag is an effort to highlight sexual harassment and assault at K-12 schools, a problem that has received far less public attention than on college campuses and in the workplace. Accurate data on the extent of the problem is hard to find; a 2017 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which works to advance equity for women and girls, said:

AAUW and other organizations have long been skeptical of schools’ low reporting rates when it comes to sexual harassment and bullying. AAUW recently revisited the 2013-14 data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) to further examine differences in reported rates by state and differences in the rates at which girls and boys report sexual harassment. The analysis revealed that more than three-fourths (79 percent) of all public schools reported zero incidents of sexual harassment. If these numbers are accurate, 79 percent of schools have zero students coming forward to report cases of sexual harassment — despite many research reports providing evidence that this outcome is statistically impossible.

The issue of sexual harassment and assault gained national attention in 2017 with a tsunami of sexual misconduct allegations against some of the most powerful men in entertainment, politics and business. It started with revelations in the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine about allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and quickly spread. The #MeToo hashtag went viral on social media, with women telling their stories of sexual harassment and assault in a movement that may be a tipping point for women’s rights in the United States.

The #MeToo hashtag was started by actress Alyssa Milano, though a “Me Too” movement against sexual harassment and assault was started years ago by social activist Tarana Burke and her Just Be Inc. nonprofit organization to help victims of sexual harassment and assault.

The latest offshoot, #MeTooK12, came from SSAIS, which was started by Esther Warkov and Joel Levin. They are parents who say their daughter, a Seattle high school student at the time, was sexually assaulted on a 2012 overnight field trip. They fought for years with the Seattle Public Schools district about culpability in the case before settling for $700,000.

This 2016 story by Washington Post reporter Emma Brown reports that Warkov and Levin went to school officials right away but said they got conflicting information and spent several years trying to figure out what happened, eventually winning a federal investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The district said in a 2014 statement that it did not admit liability for the alleged rape but did consider the settlement a fair deal “that allows the district to focus its efforts on improving our processes to prevent and respond to incidents of sexual harassment.”

The issue of sexual harassment and assault on school campuses gained new attention in September, when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidance to schools on how to deal with sexual assault on campus. It was a reversal of course on federal policy that has played an important role in driving schools to do more to protect sexual assault victims.

DeVos withdraws Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault. Read the letter.

Sexual assault survivors to Betsy DeVos: ‘Exactly who are you here to serve?’