MD Students Atttend Sexual Abuse Prevention Training 

Sophie Rukin and Sophie Q. Li

Sixth and eighth graders attended presentations by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) over the past few weeks. “The overall goal is that we are providing foundational definitions for spotting unsafe behavior,” Head of the Middle Division Javaid Khan said. The seventh-grade presentation will take place today. 

In past years, the NYSPCC only presented to the sixth grade and new seventh and eighth-grade students. Last spring, however, several eighth-grade girls spoke to the school about increasing education about sexual harassment, Khan said. As a result, the administration decided to make the NYSPCC presentations division-wide.

The presentations differ from grade to grade. Each covers similar themes, but the curriculum widens the scope with each grade, Khan said. “What starts as being aware of predatory behavior moves into what healthy relationships look like, which moves into definitions of harassment, assault, to get into a much deeper understanding that is age-appropriate,” Khan said.

Through these presentations, the NYSPCC aims to educate and protect children from sexual abuse and its broad impacts. The issue is widely underreported, and education is a good form of prevention, Khan said.

During the presentations, students watched a video that defined key terms, such as “trusted adult,” then transitioned into rooms with NYSPCC members to facilitate discussions. “[Students] get to walk through and talk through their understanding of the thing we’re presenting, and that’s where the learning happens,” Khan said. 

“I found it very interesting, but kind of disturbing,” Daniela Wolkovisky (6) said. She was particularly struck by a woman in the video who spoke about being sexually assaulted by former US Women’s National Gymnastics Team doctor, Larry Nassar, she said. 

The workshops gave students language to better identify their trusted adults and when the boundaries of appropriate behavior are encroached. The presenters raised examples of what a trusted adult would never ask a child to do, such as asking them to keep secrets, trying to meet them in private, and connecting with them on social media, Khan said.

The workshop was entirely interactive and the students were well engaged. In several example scenarios, the eighth graders judged the actions of either party, then discussed their different perspectives. “Kids do not enter these conversations with the same understanding,” Kahn said.

Allison Kim (6) thought it was important for her peers and herself to learn about sexual abuse. She knows that many girls might experience situations of sexual abuse and she is glad to be prepared, she said. Kim has learned a lot about sexual abuse from the internet and social media, but the presentations helped fill in some gaps.

Terrence Lascher’s (8) main takeaway was that there is a drastic difference between flirting and sexual assault, as well as between teasing and bullying. It’s important for the school to educate students on these differences, he said.

 “Their main point was that flirting and teasing are mutual and both parties are enjoying it,” Charlie Weidman (8) said. If both parties do not enjoy the teasing and flirting, then it is no longer okay, he said.

After giving students the tools to critically think about the adults in their lives, the speakers debunked “stranger danger” as a myth, Khan said. While a stranger can always harm someone else, the majority of sexual assaults are from someone who knows or is close to the victim, he said.

Bishop Ibrahim (8) was shocked to learn this information, he said. “I thought of how lucky I was to have a good family relationship, and thought more about how I could be of use to people who don’t,” he said. “I could try and converse with my friends about subjects like these and make myself an amicable and open person so others feel comfortable speaking to me.”

Sydney Kurtz (8) learned that sexual assault was a much larger problem than she had realized. Even though she does not know people who experienced it, it does happen frequently, she said.

This workshop is especially significant to the school because it represents the school’s increasing willingness to take accountability for its past, Khan said. “When [sexual assault] lawsuits happen and people come forward with their stories, it really causes schools to hold a mirror up to themselves and say, ‘in what way are we accountable for this past?’” he said. 

Students’ learning experience relies on teacher-student relationships, which is why the school needs to ensure they are healthy and appropriate, Khan said. The school currently places great emphasis on proactive measures, such as workshops and faculty training, as opposed to merely reacting when students are harmed, he said.

In addition to the new policies, the overall atmosphere surrounding such serious topics has moved towards openness and supportiveness in recent years, Khan said. Students have become less tolerant of ignorant jokes in casual conversation and more sensitive to the harmful effects they may have on an individual, he said. “That can be very damaging for people. For years, I don’t think we understood the long-term effect.” 

Given the school’s history with sexual assault, it is important to further students’ education and participate in activities, Kurtz said. pIn her group, her classmates tried their best to make their discussion count, she said.

Today’s seventh-grade workshop will be centered around bullying and harassment, Khan said.

These assemblies are important, Ibrahim said. “My largest takeaway was that with all the bad things going on, there are ways to stop it and ways to help,” he said.