23 Aug 2014
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The ETHS Incident: How Does Such a Thing Happen?

Regardless of how these two high school students ended up together in a stairwell during school hours, community members share their opinions.

The ETHS Incident: How Does Such a Thing Happen?

I was in high school once.

I did stupid things. Embarrassing things. Things I knew I shouldn’t have done. Not only do I remember these events: I have proof. I’ve been reading through all of my high school diaries, and they’re truly mortifying.

Like many of my peers, I had hormones racing through my body, which often led to feelings of confusion and, occasionally, actions that seemed almost beyond my control.

As a teenager, I believed I was invincible. Didn’t you?

Unfortunately, last week, an Evanston Township High School student allegedly believed himself invisible while engaging in a sexual encounter in a stairwell during school hours, only to be caught by an ETHS security employee.

When news first broke about the incident, it sounded like a 14-year-old boy had forced a 15-year-old girl into a sexual act against her will. As a soon-to-be high school parent, my gut reaction was, “If the school’s so big that a girl can get yanked into a dark corner and forced against her will into a situation like that, well…” It was the stuff of parental nightmares. I gather that enough parents and community members felt the same way, since ETHS quickly issued a public statement about the incident not having been a random act.

The wording was so vague: Not a random act. What exactly does that mean? Does it mean the boy picked someone intentionally – perhaps someone he knew – and forced her into an unwanted sexual situation? Does it suggest they knew each other and it was consentual?

I’ve heard it suggested that when the students were caught in that compromising position, the girl blamed the boy, merely claiming she was “forced,” perhaps out of shame or embarrassment at being discovered.

Last week I asked a few people what they thought about the situation. One woman said she didn’t understand why some people were blaming the security team for this; as she pointed out, “They were caught in the act by a security guard, weren’t they?” A little late into the process, perhaps, but caught nonetheless.

I wondered aloud if anyone thought this sort of incident might have happened before. One woman (who pointed out she’d attended an all-girls’ Catholic high school), said, “Of course it has!” The first woman then added, “When you send your kids there, just tell them not to touch the handrails...”

The fact is, Evanston Township High School is the country’s largest high school. At 65 acres, there’s literally no way every single corner of property can be monitored at every single moment. While kids will be kids, and they’ll often take risks, some risks will be more stupid and dangerous than others. It’s a high school, and these are kids.

That said, when something like this happens, we want to know why. If this was some angry boy out to do what he pleased, regardless of the consequences, who or what is to “blame”? His parents? His educational system? His decision-making skills? Why on earth would a 14-year-old do something like this to anyone, let alone in a public place during school hours?

Does something like this make ETHS a “bad school”? Is nearby Stevenson High School a “bad school” because one of its administrators was recently caught texting inappropriate messages to a student? Is one situation worse than the other?

I’ve been inside Evanston Township High School recently to drop off forms for my incoming freshman, and I had to stop in the Security Office before going anywhere else. From what I observed, there’s a system in place that tracks students’ whereabouts non-stop. Kids are not permitted out of their classrooms without specific permission and an intended destination. And so, how did this incident happen in the first place?

I don’t know the kids involved in the ETHS incident, but I wonder how they’re doing. The boy was allegedly arrested and the girl is presumed to be a victim. I cannot imagine what either one is going through. I also wonder if and how the school can assure a community that something like this – no matter what transpired, be it assault, misconduct, etc. – will never happen again.   

As mentioned, I was a high schooler once, but my indiscretions were never the subject of columns in the local online news sources and beyond … thank goodness. No matter how much old dirt I dig up in my childhood diaries, the incident at ETHS, no matter what happened, strikes me as truly mortifiying.

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