I Just Don’t See the Purpose
Updated: May 10, 2022
By: Kayla Butler
TW: mentions of sexual assault and rape
In 2015, my junior year of high school, I learned that a friend of mine, someone I saw everyday, someone I played soccer with–was raped. I was devastated and full of anger. I was angry that it happened to her, angry that it wasn’t discussed in a productive way, and infuriated that my private, Catholic school didn’t talk about rape culture, consent, or sexual violence with its students.
I stumbled upon a nearby public school’s sexual assault awareness club’s Instagram page. One night, when my anger wouldn’t let me sleep, I sent them a message and asked how I could get involved. I really wanted to start a club on my campus because I wanted to provide the much needed space for students and teachers to have conversations and educate their friends and family about consent and healthy relationships. Back then I knew that creating this club on my high school’s campus wasn’t going to solve everything– but I needed to start somewhere.
My high school was conservative and Catholic, so I knew starting a sexual assault awareness club would be a daunting task. But I never thought that I would get the response that I did.
On paper, the process of beginning a club seemed fairly simple. My English teacher agreed to be our sponsor and filled out the necessary paperwork. I scoped out our plan, purpose, and goals. I even had a list of friends, both boys and girls, ready to join the club and take on leadership roles. Once it was time to meet with the two women in charge of club membership and activities, my friend and I came with detailed notes and talking points for why we believed we needed this club. Mind you, I don’t think that meeting with the staff was part of the typical club application process, but I’m sure once they saw the type of club we were starting–I assumed it raised ‘red flags’ for them in a way that a theology or “how to be more like Mary” club would not.
The discussion entailed questions about what the purpose of the club was – despite my detailed and thorough application. I was happy to explain that the point of the club was to have a safe space on campus where students can join together to discuss solutions, concerns, and anything else regarding sexual assault awareness. I didn’t think that two women were capable of making feel so stupid. They said, “I just don’t see the purpose.”
At the time, I was 16 years old and wasn’t as articulate as I am now. Nonetheless, I felt so betrayed and confused how two older women didn’t understand. I remember one point during the discussion I stressed that talking about sexual assault was important because of how rampant the issue was. And I came armed with numbers to back my claims. One statistic I cited was about how many women are annually victims of sexual assault, and it’s a statistic that’s only gotten worse. According to RAINN, 1 out of every 6 American women has been a victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And yet they still didn’t understand the purpose?
During the same conversation, the two women essentially said that they commended us for trying (the equivalent of a head pat) but it’s just not a club they think is needed on campus. They were and still are too concerned about what wealthy conservative parents will think when they hear about our club discussing sexual assault on campus.
I remember feeling distraught and telling my parents about it when I got home from school. My mom actually advised that I still have the club, but to keep it underground and not have it as an approved club on campus. I decided to listen to her and a group of about 15 girls and boys met every Wednesday during lunch in my English teacher’s classroom. We discussed how we as teenagers can help educate our peers about all aspects of consent.
I was always pretty quiet in school and loved to follow the rules, but this changed me. This was the beginning of a lifelong journey to stand up for myself and continuously advocate for things that I care about.
After all these years, the school never found out about our underground gatherings. I often wonder if those two women ever look back and think about what they said to me. I sure do.
As I reflect on this experience during Sexual Assault Awareness month, I think of the important purpose that that club could have served on my high school campus. Teenagers could have learned about respectful relationships and boundaries, consent, about the importance of supporting survivors and that 1 out of 6 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Although this experience may seem very minor, it went on to shape how I respond to my emotions. If you know me well, you know that I am a Pisces and I am in fact very emotional. I’d like to think that my emotions and sensitivity are a beautiful thing. It took me a while to get to this place though. As I began to explore the many injustices that plague our society, I found that this experience helped me find my footing. I’ve learned there is beauty in our emotions and they lead to bold action and change. I hope that I continue to do things in my life that defy the rules and challenge people to see purpose.
Resources for sexual assault survivors and their loved ones can be found here.