This coming week, April 22-26, Hood River Valley High School staff and students will tackle a tough topic: Sexual assault.
This is the third year the high school — and the community — has participated in the nationally-recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Week. At the high school, the theme is another nationally-recognized program: “It’s On Us.”
There are two reasons for implementing the program at the high school, said teacher and program adviser Mandy Webster: One, it’s an Oregon state mandated education program, stemming from Erin’s Law (see sidebar for details), and two, it brings everyone together at the school around the topic of sexual assault and how to work to stop it.
As a mandated program, freshman and juniors cover the topic in health class, and sophomores and seniors in English. But “It’s On Us” week brings the topic to the foreground for all students at the same time.
“It’s a bystander-focused program, getting everyone involved to stop this from happening,” said Webster. Each day will have a focus, from myth-buster activities (“There’s a lot of misconceptions out there about sexual assault,” she said) to talking about what consent looks like to an art installation.
One day will also focus on why victims don’t report sexual assault — rape is the most under-reported crime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, with 63 percent of sexual assaults going unreported to police.
Five adults meet yearlong with students to plan the week. The group has also partnered with other community and school-based programs, such as Helping Hands Against Violence, Girl Up and the HRVHS environmental club.
This year, male students gathered on a non-school day to film a video focusing on consent and what that means.
Junior Tanner Whitmore directed the video, and explained its plot as such: “A group of guys watch the movie ’16 Candles’ leading up to prom, with little breaks in the scenes of the movie — one character stops the movie and goes into a discussion of how (what’s being portrayed on screen) is not a good idea.”
Whitmore said the video took a month of planning.
“It’s a cool project,” said Webster. The video will show on Wednesday, the theme of which will be consent — what it is and what it looks like. Webster said that another element of that day will include teacher Niko Yasui serving tea to students to demonstrate consent: “Do you want tea? Or maybe you wanted tea but now you don’t want tea,” said Webster.
Having “It’s On Us” week right before prom is perfect timing, she said. On Friday, the students will be invited to take a pledge to help end sexual assault.
“It’s been a learning process, learning from each year,” she said. “We’re creating a culture of awareness at the high school — get that belief, that buy in, that it’s up to all of us to create a safe environment and look out for each other.”
In addition to the high school’s activities, both Hood River City Council and Hood River Board of Commissioners have passed proclamations recognizing April 22-28 as Sexual Assault Awareness Week.