NORWALK, Conn. -- Rebecca Gaumerklein and Kassidy Wynne hatched an idea two months ago to raise awareness about sexual assault at Norwalk High School.
This week, the 15-year-old sophomores, with help from The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Stamford, have created a compelling list of schoolwide activities designed to do just that.
“There are always these horror stories about what happens at parties and things are shushed,’’ Wynne said. “I thought it would be a good idea if we created awareness.”
On Monday, the girls planned a schoolwide assembly that included Jessica Buchanan, Outreach & Prevention Coordinator for The Center, and Cora Delibertis, a hotline volunteer at The Center.
They will distribute teal ribbons Tuesday, and will wear signs with facts, statistics and information Wednesday. They are encouraging students to bring donations for The Center on Thursday, “Dollar Day,” and have a Supporting Survivors Day planned for Friday. The programs coincide with Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which began April 1.
“The Center came to talk to our health class about sexual assault to us last year,’’ Gaumerklein said. “I remembered them and I asked my teacher if I could talk to them to discuss doing something here. I started talking to Jessica, and she was really excited about it.”
The girls stunned Buchanan with their request. “I didn’t know they were sophomores,’’ she said. “I thought they were seniors. They are just so mature and responsive to emails. I was really impressed. They felt compelled to get involved.”
Gaumerklein, head of the school’s Spectrum Alliance, had experience in running events. When Wynne asked her about creating events to develop awareness for sexual assault, she said yes.
The girls said they became aware in middle school of the impact sexual assault can have on individuals, families and friends. As they have gotten into high school, they have learned of more frequent and intense forms of assault.
“I’ve had friends who have had some bad things happen to them,’’ Wynne said. “Photos leaked online, stuff like that. I owe it to them to spread awareness. It happens all the time. Younger, older, same age, it doesn’t matter. People do stupid things and they don’t even realize it. We want people to feel safe.”
Gaumerklein and Wynne received support at Norwalk High from adviser Carol Marinaccio. Gaumerklein said the teachers and the school have been receptive to their goals. She will find out this week what the response will be among her peers.
“Some people don’t realize how if affects them or think it’s not necessary,’’ Gaumerklein said. “That just shows you how much it’s normalized. People don’t think it’s a big deal or it doesn't affect them. Well, that’s not OK. Maybe we won’t reach everybody. But if we can get some people, girls and boys, to absorb this information then that’s great. Hopefully this is something we’ll be able to do for the next two years.”
The girls said school administrators take action when they learn of inappropriate conduct but said the reported or discovered assaults pale in comparison to the actual number that occur.
“I think we’re slowly starting to reach more people,’’ Buchanan said. “We’re getting more media coverage. It does say something about our society. We need an army of Kassidys and Rebeccas. I think it’s like turning the Titanic around.
"The younger that we reach them and they understand the differences between a healthy sexual relationship and one that involves assault, the better we’ll be.”