Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes acceptance speech highlighted how much the #MeToo movement has resonated in politics and entertainment. However, the end of her speech propelled the discussion forward about the movement’s future. Part of that future now resides with society’s youngest generation, and a #MeToo debate of its own has developed within the education community. Educators and concerned parents formed the #MeTooK12 hashtag in January to spark a movement encouraging students to speak out about their sexual assault and harassment experiences in K-12 schools.
“These entitlement behaviors [and] the normalization of sexual harassment starts in K-12, with the schools not really disciplining students and not really talking about it,” said Joel Levin, who started the national nonprofit organization, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) with his wife Esther Warkov after they said their daughter was sexually assaulted on an overnight school field trip in Seattle.
A 2017 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) revealed that more than three-fourths (79 percent) of all public K-12 schools reported zero incidents of sexual harassment, despite many research reports challenging this outcome as statistically impossible. Reports also show a sharp rise in the number of federal civil rights complaints alleging that K-12 schools have mishandled reports of sexual violence.
Now, #MeTooK12 has inspired hundreds of children to come forward with stories of sexual harassment and has sparked criticism of the effectiveness of Title IX protections for victims. Further aggravating observers are the Trump Administration’s changes to Title IX enforcement, which has made it harder for accusers to prove their claims.
#MeTooK12 has encountered the same challenge as its inspiration, #MeToo. Tarana Burke, who founded the #MeToo movement after she realized she didn’t know how to respond to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted, said progress is possible when everyone is included in the conversation. “Ending sexual violence will require every voice from every corner of the world and it will require those whose voices are most often heard to find ways to amplify those voices that often go unheard.”