Featured Stories


Film takes aim at national K-12 sexual assault, student rights

SCREENSHOT COURTESY: ESTHER WARKOV - In a scene from the film, young actors gather around a computer to video-interview an expert on Title IX protections. If Esther Warkov had known about Title IX protections in public schools after her daughter was allegedly raped in 2012, she probably wouldn’t be doing the work she is now.

Her daughter probably would not have dropped out of school to avoid interacting with her alleged rapist, and the family led by two PhDs would probably have continued along the comfortable path they were on.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Warkov and her husband, Joel Levin, spent months fighting with Seattle Public Schools, a battle that has since been covered in local and national news outlets.

Today, they lead a nationwide nonprofit from their Sabin neighborhood home in Portland called Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS).

“We’re really interested in reeling people in, letting them know that we’re here,” Warkov says.

In particular, they are excited to announce a project funded in part from a grant through the American Association of University Women. An hourlong video titled “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our Schools!” was partially shot in Portland with a Portland-based cast. The video is designed to raise awareness of gender discrimination and Title IX protection in K-12 schools.

SSAIS plans to release it direct to YouTube around the end of October and make it available with discussion guides and other materials to educators and community groups.

The video was shot by Jodi Darby, a Cully neighborhood resident and education director for Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival.

“I was attracted to it because it seemed like a necessary thing to help create,” Darby says. “It seemed like an important thing to help midwife into the world.”

Darby knows about how pernicious domestic violence and sexual assault can be. When she moved to Portland in the 1990s, she worked at the Bradley Angle house, a domestic violence shelter on North Albina Avenue.

She says that today there are many more online resources for victims, but until SSAIS there hasn’t been a complete explanation of the rights and resources available to students at public schools.

“I think people think of Title IX as being about sports,” Darby says.

It’s not.

Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972 protects against any form of gender-based discrimination, harassment or violence.

Warkov says the problem remains rampant in America’s schools, but many take the attitude of “kids will be kids” even when the victims suffer educational consequences such as avoiding school or mentally shutting down.

“It’s a community problem. It’s not a problem with someone else’s kid,” she says, noting that victims of harassment can become perpetrators, continuing the cycle of abuse and violence.

Oregon Episcopal School senior Maya Caulfield is one of seven youths in the cast of “Sexual Harassment: Not in Our Schools!” She found out about it through a casting call through the Oregon Children’s Theater.

“For me, it immediately caught my eye,” Caulfield says. “It was definitely something that I really wanted to be a part of.”

Caulfield had already been interested in the topic of sexual violence on college campuses with a research project on Reed College’s policies and responses to reports.

The 16-year-old says the conversation is already happening at her school as to how to change the culture around gender discrimination and sexual assault in K-12.

“If it’s happening in college, it definitely starts early on,” Caulfield says. She believes the SSAIS video will give students the tools they need to start changing their schools themselves.

“It definitely starts with the students being educated themselves and wanting to change it,” she says. “It’s a really big issue because it’s affecting so many kids.”

Caulfield adds that it was fun to work on the set.

“It was very clear that Esther and Joel are going to make a change and everybody in that room wanted to be a part of it,” she says.

The video doesn’t stop at just explaining rights and responsibilities. It also gives actionable ideas and advice for activism.

“Schools are covering this up because they want to protect their reputation,” Warkov says. “We’re very clear about why this problem exists.”

As for the film’s target audience, Warkov is thinking big.

“Basically all of society. Any person who cares about education and equality would be interested in sharing this (film),” she says.


By Miles Vance
Editor
503-546-0735
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow us on Twitter
Visit Us on Facebook

EDIT: Jodi Darby filmed the video. A previous version incorrectly added another role in its production.