The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
“I went along with things I wish I hadn’t.”
“I could not run out partly because he was like a sandbag on top of me and for fear of ruining my chances of admission to the school.”
“The school lied to me, they lied to my family, they attempted to pit me against my parents. They completely isolated me from my friends.”
This is a sample of the seven messages that students of St. Paul’s School, a boarding school in Concord, N.H., anonymously shared about their experiences with sexual assault on the Instagram account, @spssurvivors. After seeing her own experience reflected in these statements, St. Paul alum Morgan Aspinwall jumped to action.
“I wondered what can I do to harness the fact that people are willing to talk, they’re willing to do something, and they’re willing to be brave and share their story,” said Aspinwall, who majors in international affairs at the University of Georgia. “How can we take that energy and propel it forward?”
The answer was a public Google map indicating locations of reported cases of sexual assault and activism internationally. Aspinwall, 19, created the map with support from I Have The Right To, an advocacy organization founded by a former St. Paul’s student and her parents.
The map is meant to initiate conversations between students, parents and schools, according to Moni Hill, the communications director for I Have The Right To. “Everybody thinks that it’s just happening at their school or in their friend group. So, it really is stunning to see the pin drops on the map all across the country.”
The organization works with 12 schools nationwide to implement curriculum that teaches faculty how to handle sexual assaults and students how to report it.
St. Paul’s School also embarked on a collaboration last year with the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. The partnership began with a comprehensive audit of the school’s sexual misconduct prevention and response programming, and includes additional trainings and yearly reviews.
Everybody thinks that it’s just happening at their school or in their friend group. It really is stunning to see the pin drops on the map all across the country.Moni Hill
Nationwide reports of sexual violence rose over 50 percent in 2016-2017, compared to the previous school year, according to Education Department data.
“Students must feel that when they report sexual assault they will be taken seriously. That they’re not going to be blamed, punished or retaliated against for the assault,” said Esther Warkov, co-founder of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools. “Schools must make reporting a safe and trauma-informed process, which may include confidentiality.”
Aspinwall regularly collects data from online news reports on sexual assaults or sexual assault related activism. The map covers 679 cases of sexual assaults and 110 instances of activism since the mid-1900s.
However, Aspinwall worries that there’s only so much search engines can do for her. According to RAINN, over two out of three sexual assaults go unreported. Warkov said because so few assaults are reported, news outlets are unable to accurately portray the extent of the problem.
In the future, Aspinwall hopes to add features that allow cases to be filtered by state, a ‘heat map’ that shows where cases are most prevalent, and an estimate of how much money sexual assault cases are costing taxpayers in each state.
“It is really difficult to hide from data,” said Aspinwall. “Hopefully, [the map] allows people to have more open conversations and to recognize negative personal experiences or issues within their communities.”