Instagram provides a forum to expose high school rape culture

Another front in battle for school safety


Scrolling through Instagram, a post detailing another person’s experience with sexual harassment catches your eye. Upon looking at the account further, the realization that the username is @miramonteprotectors shocks you. Reading the most recent post, you find that the victim is your age and from your school. The account, now a social media forum, provides a place for students at Miramonte or in other schools in the Acalanes Union High School District to share their untold stories of sexual harassment and raise awareness around forms of sexual abuse, according to the forum’s creator.

Created last summer,  @miramonteprotectors is a popular platform for district students to safely share instances of sexual harassment and assault. Respondents can direct-message the account with a story they need to share or fill out an anonymous Google Form linked in the account’s bio. 

Because the account is not affiliated with the faculty or administration, the social media page acts more as a virtual public forum rather than an official reporting system. With over 1,000 followers, @miramonteprotectors receives many testimonies from students who claim that they never reported the sexual harassment incident to the school for a variety of reasons, including distrust and fear of backlash from peers. The platform’s goal is to provide clarity regarding the number of sexual harassment cases within the district that are either not reported or unknown.

@miramonteprotectors does not share the names of the alleged perpetrators or other people involved in each story. In the early days of the account, the account administrator received around four to five reports each day from victims of sexual harassment and assault. Over time, that number decreased to around one to three stories per day, following the original influx of untold circumstances. 

The account evolved out of dissatisfaction with the district’s protocol for handling sexual harassment and assault allegations from students. “From what I have heard from students and survivors, it seems like a pattern for the AUHSD (Acalanes Union High School District) to often ignore, not take action, and push the allegations under the rug. AUHSD survivors often do not receive justice. Sadly, most victims don’t speak, and the few that do, often get ignored or blamed,” said the owner of @miramonteprotectors, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The district recently introduced a new bias reporting system, run by a group of staff and faculty members called the Bias Incident Reporting Team. The reporting system is meant for students to submit experiences with racism, sexual harassment, homophobia, and other discriminatory actions. Each month, the district stated, it would release the findings of the team to the school community. 

“It will be disturbing to see a list of incidents happening in our community, but it will help us have a better idea of what is actually happening and hopefully start to create more of a climate where people are reporting, feeling less shame in reporting, and being more aware of what’s happening around them so people can start to disrupt some of that behavior,” Miramonte Principal Julie Parks said. 

The reports for Miramonte are released on the school website. Currently, one report from August and September is published. Of the 13 reported incidents documented by BIRT, 11 were anonymous.

However, many students share concerns regarding  the district’s new system due to issues of anonymity and effectiveness. 

“I think students are more willing to submit their stories to this platform because, first, it is anonymous,” the @miramonteprotectors account owner said. “Sexual abuse and assault is an incredibly difficult topic to share. So, I understand that it is easier to talk about it behind a screen and without names attached.”

Some students cite rape culture as the main contributor to the feeling of an unsafe school environment. Rape culture is defined by the Oxford American College Dictionary as “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” Many witness rape culture in casual conversations, including the use of slurs and phrases that degrade, sometimes unintentionally, victims of assault, interactions between students on social media, such as the solicitation of sexual images, and popular opinions toward those who come forward about having experienced a form of sexual harassment.

The effects of rape culture influenced the account’s creator to form @miramonteprotectors, and some see the school as responsible for not effectively combating this issue. 

“Rape culture is definitely a prominent issue in the district today. Unfortunately, survivors are often ignored, victim-blamed, or called out for ‘exaggerating’ or ‘lying.’ Sending unsolicited pictures or any sexual activity without consent is common at Miramonte,” @miramonteprotectors said. “School officials have a reputation of ignoring and not doing much about allegations, any sexual assault issues, and far from doing enough to prevent it.”

New federal policies make it difficult for administrators to share information with victims who come forward, according to Parks, because of privacy protections for the accused perpetrator. 

“I wasn’t always able to tell the victim what happened with the perpetrator. When I look back and think about that, I feel a lot of regret because I was following the rules, but I am hearing now how harmful that has been to a victim to not get that information in the end,” Parks said. 

To combat rape culture at school, the administration plans to continue utilizing the bias reporting team and provide resources such as the Wellness Center, for victims to seek help and closure. 

But some feel that more direct measures should take place. “There are many ideas and ways that Miramonte could dismantle rape culture and toxic masculinity. For example, educating the staff and students on how to respond to and help survivors or simply talking about the issue more,” @miramonteprotectors said. 

Discussing sexual harassment and rape culture is considered an important step toward creating a safe school environment. The school encourages students to utilize the bias incident reporting form, with Parks stating that administrative responses to reported events, especially those dealing with sexual harassment or abuse, are more effective when the student shares the alleged perpetrator’s name and their own identity. 

“I think that the school could definitely do a better job of handling allegations of sexual harassment or assault because there are many people who probably feel like they won’t be heard, and the administration could do a better job of making them feel comfortable sharing their thoughts,” junior Ava Lagaay said. “ I think that there is some rape culture at Miramonte because I have heard many stories about people who feel like what happened to them was normal because sexual assault had become normalized in their minds.”