Author: Micaela Martin

LORAIN, Ohio — Students at Lorain High School took a stand against sexual assault after a fellow classmate says she organized a protest to raise awareness following her own experience as a sexual-assault survivor.

The organizer said approximately 250 students assembled at the school's auditorium and shared their stories of sexual assault for nearly two hours. Some allegations were recent and related to the school and some were from early childhood, she said.

"I wouldn't have been able to speak without everyone's support and everyone being there. But I'm just glad that I did, and I was the first one to start off, and it made so many other people feel comfortable to come up and tell their story," said the organizer.

Spectrum News does not reveal the identities of reported victims of sexual assault. The organizer, a 15-year-old Lorain student, estimated 50 others shared their stories.

"I knew there was going to be a lot, but this, like, really just broke my heart at how many students this happened to and how, like, the school just doesn't show that they care about us when it comes to situations like this. And they don't want to talk about situations like this. And they just sweep things under the rug," she said.

The sophomore said she is a cheerleader who was sexually assaulted by a football player during the school day. She said it happened inside a classroom at Lorain High School in September.

"I went to the counselor about it first and he had said things like, 'boys have hormones' and made me feel, like, maybe I shouldn't come out about this and made me crawl back into that hole. And I kind of just tried to get past it, but I realized that I wasn't getting over it, and wasn't getting past it," she said. "So, I had went to another trusted adult in the school, and they actually went to the assistant principal, one of the assistant principals, and, at first, she made it seem like she really cared and like things were going to happen, but eventually it felt like she was just like trying to hurry up the investigation. She was saying things like, 'Oh, if it were me, I would have fought him. I would have done this. I would have done that.' And she made me feel, like, I was being victim-blamed. And after that, it just like made me think about how many other students they have done this to. So, that made me want to start the protest."

Nancy Kortemeyer is the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Beech Brook, a nonprofit that provides behavioral health services with Lorain High School being part of the organization’s school-based program.

“You know, most people just don’t believe that it happens and they don’t believe that it is so prevalent and then, the children are not believed when they come forward and try to talk about it," said Kortemeyer. "I hope that not just Lorain, but other school systems, too, become aware that this is happening a lot and they need to do whatever they can to make the environment safe for children to come forward and talk about it and have people there who are qualified to help them with their trauma."

Following the demonstration, Lorain City Schools brought in a crisis team, which includes sexual trauma experts from Beech Brook and the Nord Center as well as detectives from the Lorain Police Department.

"I am aware of the situation. Children’s Services and Lorain Police have met/are meeting with these juveniles," an LPD spokesperson said. "Children’s Services will complete and forward any referrals to the Detective Bureau, so that they can be reviewed/assigned."

Lorain City Schools released a statement in response to the protest directed to Spectrum News reporter Micaela Marshall.

In response, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Graham said he, “witnessed a moment in which all of us in attendance will be forever changed.”

“Our kids are hurting," he said in a statement. "And we, the adults, and all of our systems and processes and promises, are failing to keep them safe — from one another, from us, and from themselves.”

Kortemeyer said more education on how to handle sexual-assault allegations is needed for those in schools working with children.

“Trauma doesn’t go away. Untreated trauma doesn’t just go away with time. It really needs to be addressed," she said.

The student who sparked the conversation plans to continue to share stories of other survivors anonymously on social media, with the hope that real change will come from it.

"Anyone who wants to anonymously send in their story, they don't have to be from Lorain High, can send in their story and I will post it. And that's a way of them getting heard, I guess, or a way to help them feel heard," she said. "And I've gotten so many messages from people that, like, are saying that's a good way to, like, help them be heard. And it's just, like, I'm glad that that's the safe place for people to share their stories."

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