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Sexual assault and prevention strategies should be openly discussed

If there's one thing that attending the Bryn Mawr School since I was 5 has taught me, it's to never back down from a challenge or turn a blind eye to injustice. For a long time, I had assumed that the rest of the world acted in the same way. I thought that good would always prevail over evil. However, when I read the disturbing fact that 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in prison, I was flabbergasted. How could a nation that prides itself on protecting the rights of the people so grossly endanger women every day?

Many have heard of Emma Sulkowicz's plight as she has carried her mattress throughout her college campus to protest the disappointing result of a sexual assault complaint she made, which was deemed unfounded by Columbia University. Ms. Sulkowicz, dubbed "Mattress Girl" like a feminist superhero, recently graduated, carrying her mattress across the stage in her cap and gown. This action was seen as quite controversial, but why has rape become such a taboo topic?

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Men and boys are more likely to suffer sexual assault themselves than to be falsely accused of rape. And the discussion of rape, sexual assault and sexual respect has been either hushed or poorly led. I remember hearing from my friends at Gilman that the entire high school laughed and joked during an assembly on sexual respect. However, this was not because they were blatantly mocking and disrespecting sexual rights, rather because the leaders and presenters of the assembly discussed it in an almost laughable and outrageous manner. They did not provide any useful tools for rape prevention or ways to respect their partners.

Many schools across America have a sexual education program, but how many have a sexual respect education course? Last February, Columbia University created a sexual respect education requirement, after 23 students filed a federal complaint alleging the university made it difficult to report sexual assaults. Now all students on Columbia's campus will be required to attend workshops or complete art projects related to this theme. Ms. Sulkowicz had fans and critiques of her protest, but her efforts have let a tiny drop of water splash into a vast bucket of change. It may take a million more drops of water, thousands more protests and many long years before a real difference can be seen in society, but fighting for change is the only way to progress at all.

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The real world is not like Bryn Mawr. Not everyone will support me in everything I do. As women, we may be put down or discriminated against time and time again, but eventually we won't. Seventy years passed between the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, which focused on women obtaining the right to vote, and the passage of the 19th amendment. It may take even more time for women to gain control over their own sexual and reproductive rights, but it would be a crime to ignorantly waste away our days. As a rising senior, it will not be long before I leave my rosy, benevolent bubble, but I won't soon forget the lessons I've learned and appreciated. I promise to speak up when I see something wrong, never to stand idly by and to help in any way I can. I won't let injustices occur against my own sex everyday without speaking up. Whether I'm running or walking, I promise to move toward progress and change. Because in the end, all anyone can ever do is take a step forward and hope others will follow behind them.

Isabelle Ciaverelli is a student at Bryn Mawr School; her email is ciaverellii@brynmawrschool.org.

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