December 19, 2013

Mt. Blue High School students demonstrate about sexual violence awareness

English teacher John Schoen said his students were called to action by teen fiction book “Speak,” about a freshman girl raped by a senior.

By Kaitlin Schroeder
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — Inspired by teen fiction book “Speak,” a group of high school students demonstrated in downtown Farmington early Thursday with signs urging those passing by to speak out against sexual violence.

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READ THIS: Mt. Blue High School students Tashia Berkey, left, and Cassie Ross distribute information about sexual violence during a silent demonstration on Main Street in Farmington on Thursday. Passerby Robert Underwood took some pamphlets.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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silent AND CLEAR: Mt. Blue High School students and staff demonstrate silently against sexual violence by holding signs and distributing information on Main Street in Farmington on Thursday. From left are Jonah Bragg, Cassie Ross, Tashia Berkey and teacher John Schoen and his wife, Patty.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The cold weather didn’t curb the students’ enthusiasm, as they energetically tried to get the attention of drivers in front of the post office with their signs and readily offered what they learned about sexual and domestic violence.

“I think they’re getting a lot out of this,” said John Schoen, the group’s teacher, standing nearby with a sign reading “Stop Domestic Violence.”

The book Schoen’s class read is about a ninth-grade girl who spends her first year of high school as an outcast from her peers at school for calling the police to a party where she was raped by a senior the summer before she started high school.

“It made me cry,” said 15-year-old Tashia Berkey.

After reading the book, Schoen said his class talked about ways they could take the book further than just a classroom exercise.

“I said, ‘Do you want to make it a little more? Let’s go do something. Let’s go be uncomfortable,’” he said.

Schoen said the class came up with the idea to hold the demonstration and they made the posters with Sexual Assault Victim Emergency Services advocate Kristen Plummer. After the demonstration the students will write a third-person article about their experience.

Plummer said she works in education and awareness work at area schools and said its encouraging to see the teens working for awareness in the area.

“It’s great to see young people out in the community trying to do this positive thing,” she said. “They’re sending a clear message about sexual and domestic violence.”

The fictional protagonist in the book is an example of more than 230,000 people in the U.S. who are victims of sexual assault annually. Like in the book, about three out of four sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.

“I’m surprised it’s so common,” Berkey said.

Cassie Ross, 14, who was passing out fact sheets with Berkey, said the goal of the demonstration was to inform the community about sexual and domestic violence.

“It’s to make people more aware. It’s a hard thing to talk about,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder —
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