This story is fiction and the picture is a stock photo.
The students shuffled into the gymnasium and found their way to their assigned seats. No one was told what the assembly was about. No one really cared. As long as it didn't go on too long, anything was okay to get out of the classroom for awhile.
The principal of Lincoln High School and one of the two assistant principals stood at the end of the gym watching the bleachers fill up. Both of the end bleachers were also opened and nearly filled with parents who arrived a few minutes earlier. Kelly Griffin leaned toward her superior.
“This is already a detriment to my career and if something isn’t done this will surely implode, not just on me, but on all of us. I don’t care about my career as much as I care that this behavior is stopped.”
Parents were told that the assembly had to do with potential changes to student safety. Those who probed for more were politely denied any preview. Just the same, the teaser was enough to get twenty percent of them to take time away from their busy lives.
With the bleachers filled and students settled, Jack Barton stepped to the podium. He welcomed everyone and thanked the parents who came. His look shifted equally between the student body and the parents as he spoke.
“A presentation has been prepared for you that is, to my knowledge, completely unprecedented. I have agreed to allow one of your classmates to address this assembly. I believe as strongly as she does that she carries a burning and necessary message to this audience. Though, her presentation is of her own design, I have reviewed her outline and format. She has my unwavering sanction for what she about to say to you. Please welcome your classmate, Ashley Henderson.”
As Ashley walked to the podium the entire audience was silent. There was not a single attempt to initiate introductory applause. The principal and his colleague watched quietly also.
Ashley did not hurry in her step. She held herself up straight and walked with deliberate confidence. Snickers, grins and nudges went around a few circles. Some were accompanied by low volume off-color comments.
Ashley did not greet her audience. It was not because they had not applauded her entrance. She simply felt that to greet them would be too phony in the context of what she about to say.
As she spoke, Ashley’s voice was even and as confident as her walk to the podium.
“I have come here today to tell to you about some innocent and shattered lives. They have, or least had, many things in common. They were all happy and beautiful young women. Like all teenagers, they did some things from time-to-time that they should not have.”
As she paused, Ashley moved her knowing look from the eyes one young girl in the audience to another.
“Of those things that they should not have done, was getting a too intoxicated at a party. That happens to many teenagers at one time or another. However, it is not license for what happened to next. Some teen-aged boys, whom they thought were their friends, took advantage of the girls in their semi-conscious or unconscious state.”
“They were RAPED by teen-aged boys at the party while others looked on. Some even took photos or video. Being intoxicated is not synonymous with consent for sex. These girls awakened later to find themselves in a strange place and without their clothing.”
Ashley paused again. This time her eyes moved about the audience and stopped, one at a time on the people that she knew to be guilty of such betrayals. Her look was not returned as each gaze was down or immediately dropped when it met hers.
“After the incident, they were stripped of their dignity and RAPED over and over again but in a different way. Their photos and their stories were passed around via word of mouth and social media. These innocent girls were called sluts and blamed for what happened to them.”
Again, she her eyes picked individuals from the crowd but, this time, of both genders.
“Two photos lit up the huge screen above and behind Ashley. Of these three girls that I am telling about, two of them chose to take their own lives rather than go through another day of ridicule, mental torture and being ostracized by nearly everyone except their immediate families. That is the price of a few boys getting a few seconds of sexual excitement while they took their turns RAPING these girls. That is the price of the giggles, snickers, sneers and taunts from classmates, former friends and peers that should have tried to help these girls whether before, during or after they were raped.”
She did not let up. Her sweeping look and the silence of each pause amplified her message.
“The third RAPE victim has chosen to remain as anonymous as her community will allow her to. With all of my heart I hope that she can put her life back together without deciding to end it as the others did. She is victim to the same behaviors as the other two girls. I feel her pain and suffering. I… feel… her pain... and her suffering.”
With each of the pauses in her last sentence, her increased inflection clarified her expression. The inflections continued as she spoke.
“I feel her pain, suffering and sense hopelessness because there are boys sitting right here in these bleachers that did the same to thing to me. They are your heroes but they are my tormentors. Since they RAPED me, far too many of you have stood by them to ignore, slander, ridicule me and join them as my tormentors.”
The purest silence of another pause was not violated by a single sound. Perhaps for fear of someone seeing their ugly truth, few eyes in the audience met any others, though many were beginning to redden and well with empathy and the reality of what had happened.
“My parents have received anonymous letters and anonymous phone calls suggesting that, if they had been better parents, then their daughter wouldn’t have become a slut. My brother’s friends no longer include him in their circles. With exception of a couple of teachers, no one has approached me to ask what they might do to help me.”
“Before this RAPE I had experienced one sexual partner. Can anyone tell me how that makes me a slut? Can anyone tell me why you have no derogatory name for your heroes who RAPED ME?”
There were no more pauses. The tempo and the mood were set and the train was hurling down the tracks. The air horn had sounded the warning.
“No doubt, you’re all wondering what I hope to accomplish here today. First, you must understand the when a girl or woman is RAPED part of her dies. She will never be whole again.”
“The girl who clings to frail anonymity, I expect, is grieving that partial loss of herself. That is why she chooses anonymity. She’s trying to learn how to get on with what is left of her life after she was RAPED.”
“The other two girls couldn’t cope with their partial death while vermin continued picking at their wounds, keeping them inflamed and festered. They decided to complete the job on their own. It, no doubt, seemed less painful than suffering a lonely half life. With a hanging noose they forced their tortured souls from their dying flesh. The heroes responsible still walk free.”
“I am not ready to shrink into anonymity or total death just yet. I can’t say that I won’t get there. The other girls had much longer than I to have their strength drained from them. However, until I can absolutely no longer go on, I’m here to do everything that I can to ensure that no other girls at Lincoln High School are RAPED.”
Don’t stand on the tracks, kids. This girl is not stopping now.
“I am here to call you out! I call out, first, to those who I thought were my friends but stood by and did nothing while I was RAPED. Some of you were at the party and you knew that something wrong was happening but you did nothing to try to stop it.”
“I am here to call you out! I call out the parents who made that party available to under-aged drinking and without supervision of any sort.”
“I am here to call you out! I call out those who watched, photographed and shared my RAPE with others. In addition, I call out the people who gave them audience without protest.”
“I am here to call you out! I call out those who blame my parents and me for my RAPE. I call out those who have abandoned and ostracized my brother.”
“I am here to call you out! I call out those who think that this is no big deal. I call out those who think that it is okay because, after all, boys will be boys.”
The train slowed down. Along with the audience, Ashley was quieter but she continued to speak.
“I am not going to call out the boys who RAPED me. That is for those of you who enabled them to do so. They are your heroes. If you think that what your heroes did was okay then I challenge you.”
“I challenge any one of you, or any number of you, to remove all of your clothing and allow those around you, whether girls or boys, gay or straight, to do whatever they want to you. Would that be okay?”
Ashley took another pause. Some individuals were returning her eye contact now. There was awareness in their eyes.
“It is not okay. We all know that. We all do wrong things. RAPE, however, is a wrong thing that should NEVER happen again to anyone at Lincoln High or anywhere else.”
Ashley’s tone was softer but still very strong.
“I call you out one last time. I call you all out to say that this will never happen again. This will never happen again. This will never happen again.”
She increased her volume a little with each repeat. With the third repetition, her brother stood in the bleachers and joined in.
“This will never happen again! This will never happen again! This will never happen again!”
Her brother’s friends that had ostracized him began, one by one, to stand and join in the chant. Soon everyone was joined in. Everyone except the heroes, that is, were standing and chanting. No longer emboldened, the heroes shrank into their seats.
There was one voice and it said, loud and clear, that no one was ever going to be RAPED again at Lincoln High. The support of the assembly didn't make Ashley feel whole again but there was hope.
The energy from her peers gave her hope that the other girls didn’t have. The energy from her peers gave her hope that she might be able to go on. The energy from her peers gave Ashley hope that all RAPISTS at Lincoln High, both existing and potential, had been thoroughly emasculated.