“This will always be the story of my freshman year, the year you chose not to keep me safe, the year you chose him over me.” –High school freshman Tori Burns
Tori Burns should have been enjoying her freshman year at Berkeley High School – but instead she was standing before a crowd of people addressing the School Board members in Berkeley, California.
Sexually battered and harassed by two boys when she was in middle school, she had been assured by school officials that there was a safety plan in place when one of them moved on to Berkeley High School with her this fall. But the stalking and harassment didn’t stop.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and here at FUTURES, we admire young women like Tori, who are willing to share their personal stories because they don’t want other students to experience the same abusive behavior that they endured. We’re angry and sad that sixth grade boys are asking classmates to share nude photos. And we’re increasingly appalled by the growing number of high school students, all over the country, who are sexually assaulted and harassed.
In Tori’s case, she reported ongoing harassment to her teachers. To her school administrators. And ultimately, she and her family met with the district superintendent. His advice? The safest thing she could do is leave Berkeley High School.
So, flanked by friends, family and more than 20 supportive members of a student activist group called BHS Stop Harassing, Tori addressed the School Board: “BUSD chose the boy over me. They valued his right to an education more than mine.”
Tori has since dropped out and transferred to another high school.
Unfortunately, we hear stories like this all too often, and even as we applaud young women like Tori for persevering under such tremendous stress, we can’t lose sight of the fact that the school system failed her. And more importantly, our culture failed her‒and many other girls‒by normalizing disrespectful and bullying behavior both online and off. We cannot stand by and simply respond that “boys will be boys.” We must all play a role in teaching young people about healthy relationships.
Over the past few years, we’ve worked closely with the filmmakers of Audrie & Daisy, an acclaimed documentary that is now streaming on Netflix. The story of two teenagers who were sexually assaulted by high school athletes whom they knew, followed by an aftermath of cyberbullying, the film has become a uniquely valuable tool to spark much-needed discussions about an increasingly abusive culture among students, parents, educators and advocates all across the country.
This April, we’re utilizing Audrie & Daisy to promote 3 actions that you can take in your homes, schools, and communities. Under the umbrella #KeepMeSafe, we suggest ways to expand the conversation, learn about Title IX’s federal protections, and to advocate for legislative change and support among your elected officials.
To stand up for girls like Tori, visit bit.ly/AprilKeepMeSafe.