Perspective: MCPS' response to sexual harassment and assault is lacking

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

by Lizzy Alspach

Content Warning: this article discusses rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.

Over the past summer, many users on social media came forward with their experiences with sexual assault, rape, and harrassment in Montgomery County schools. Magnified by the large social media presence during quarantine, word of these survivors and their experiences spread around the Montgomery County community. Accounts dedicated to advocating against sexual assault and harrassment have been created as well, such as @/metoomoco and @/thenomennescioproject on Instagram.

Just this past month, pleas from students were finally addressed by the MCPS school board. Nick Asante, the current Student Member of the Board (SMOB), posted on his Instagram account about MCPS’s handling of the situation. It described how to handle cyberbullying, as well as a notice from the superintendent that the board is ensuring every story is heard and addressed appropriately. Also, Nick Asante published notice for town hall meetings that the board would be holding encouraging students to come and talk about their experiences.

With the #MeToo movement in full swing, many students and others in the community deemed MCPS’s response to rape and sexual assault and harassment claims lacking. In the “Think Before You Post” portion of the announcement, MCPS said that “social media should not be used as a platform to harass, threaten, embarrass, target, or to accuse someone of a crime.” While this is true, MCPS using this analogy to reply to accusations of rape and sexual assault and harassment carelessly implies that victims coming forward about their abuse are lying.

Too often, victims of sexual abuse are pushed off as “liars” and “attention-seekers” by the media and others around them. This is a very harmful narrative that prevents justice from being served. With MCPS creating this narrative, they are inherently discouraging transparency and supporting victim blaming.

Not only that, but MCPS has only “Bullying and Harassment Forms” to address misconduct within schools. MCPS assured the community that all forms are being taken seriously and addressed properly. However, many students have come forward claiming that their bullying forms were dismissed and marked off as solved with insufficient action taken. On top of that, many bullying reports have been dismissed by administration in certain schools, with administrators blocking students on Twitter when they are questioned about sexual assault cases at their school.

Nonetheless, students continue to push for MCPS to act on the cases that have been dismissed. When it comes to “lying” about sexual assault, harassment, and rape cases, it is important to note that statistics provided by show only 2-6% of people that come forward about abuse are lying. It is common for survivors to be victim-blamed as well, such as by being told they shouldn’t dress or act a certain way if they do not want to get assaulted.

For all of what MCPS claims, the response to sexual harassment, assault, and rape allegations is unacceptable. Student activists all across MCPS have continued to raise their voices against the county’s response, refusing to allow these issues to be swept under the rug.