A Message from the Head of School
As the head of an all-girls’ school, I have had many questions today about how we talk to the girls about sexual assault. Let me begin by saying that we have been talking to the girls about sexual assault since well before the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Report and #MeToo. As a girls’ school, we are well aware of the threats girls and women face today, and have faced for generations. And let’s be clear, sexual assault was wrong, 75 years ago, 50 years ago, 25 years ago, and it’s wrong today. “It was a different time” does not hold up as either an excuse or an explanation.
The challenge for me today is to explain to the girls the double standard women are held to on the topic of sexual assault. The girls ask why it is that when men spoke up and revealed that they had been sexually assaulted by priests, nobody responded by saying it was a different time, nobody asked them to produce witnesses or evidence, and nobody looked to the victims to hold the perpetrators accountable. Not once did they hear a statement like, “Father xx could not have done that. He was our family priest, he administered last rights to my dying mother, he baptized my son, he married me.” Even more importantly, these accusations were turned over to the authorities, including the Pope and law enforcement, for investigation. Finally, it was not the expectation that the victims of priest sex abuse or their fellow parishioners should investigate or hold those responsible accountable.
Today the girls were bombarded with news and social media depicting a woman who was described as a hero for coming forward and who simultaneously faced a line of questioning meant to prove that she should not have spoken up if she could not produce witnesses or evidence. They were reminded what happens when women speak their truth.
They are left wondering why the people in power in our country, who are overwhelmingly men, and are also their brothers, their fathers, their uncles, and their friends, are unwilling to extend the same protections to women they see extended to men. They wonder if they were ever the victim of sexual assault, who would believe them, who would step up to defend them, who would step up to protect them and who would ensure justice?
I have also been asked if the girls have been energized by the call to action evident in recent women’s marches or the number of women running for office, and the answer is yes. The girls at Miss Porter’s School are prepared to go forth and shape a changing world. They are informed, they are resourceful, they are bold, and most importantly, they are ethical global citizens. They hope, and I hope, that their sisters AND their brothers will likewise join them so that 20 years from now when they reflect on the events of this week, “it was a different time” will in fact be a true statement.