Teen Was Sexually Harassed at School — Then Asked to Take a Vow of Silence

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
This teen is speaking out against sexual harassment at high school. (Photo: Courtesy of Alyssa Wilson)

A 16-year-old high school student isn’t pleased about the way her school handled her recently reported incident of on-the-premises sexual harassment — and took to Twitter to make her feelings known.

“So you get sexually harassed at school and all you get is a contract??” Alyssa Wilson, a junior at Las Vegas High School in Nevada, tweeted on Tuesday, along with a photo of the “No Contact Contract” she says she was asked to sign by the school as a solution. Her tweet has sparked comments of empathy and curiosity and more than 800 likes, and has been shared more than 600 times.

“There is no way a contract is going to help me and keep me safe, or the other girls that attend Las Vegas High School,” Wilson told Yahoo Beauty through Twitter messaging about the incident. “There needs to be more actions done than just a piece of paper.”

Wilson alleges that on the morning of May 8, a male student approached her at school, asked her if she was cold, lifted up her dress and inquired, repeatedly, “What do you have on under?” It left her rattled and struggling to focus, and eventually crying in the middle of class.

After her concerned teacher wondered what was wrong, she recounted what had happened, prompting the teacher to note that she’d heard of problems with the alleged harasser before and to then accompany her to the office to fill out an incident report. According to Wilson, the school’s dean of students, Colin Purcell, pulled security-camera footage to confirm the allegations were accurate, but found that “camera footage glitches” right at the moment of the dress lift-up left Purcell to determine there was no evidence.

As a result, the administrator offered to have Wilson and the male student both sign the contract — basically agreeing to stay away from each other and not speak about the incident — and then required that the young man’s parents come in for a conference.

Dave Sheehan, spokesperson for the Clark County School District, tells Yahoo Beauty that he is unable to comment on specific students or incidents in the school, but says, “All [Clark County] schools take sexual harassment and bullying very seriously. We follow all regulations by the state and the school district very seriously. We follow to the letter all regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of our students.”

Sheehan adds that the signing of no-contact contracts are completely voluntary, and that a student may choose to have a parent present for the signing. The purpose of such pacts, he explains, are to have students “say they will keep things to themselves so that it doesn’t become a big, schoolwide issue. You know how things travel, words get twisted, rumors fly — it can create a big issue for the school.”

He adds that, by signing the contract, the involved students are basically saying they will “stay away from each other and keep this to ourselves, not talk about this with our friends. This is a standard thing at the school, and it’s just a form you’re asked to sign with the hope that the student will honor what they’ve signed and agreed to do.”

Sejal Singh is a policy organizer with Know Your IX, an advocacy group that trains and educates student activists on their Title IX rights and protections — including protection for high school students from sexual harassment. She says that although such contracts have become commonplace at schools facing these situations, “for the most part, they should be just one part of a broader package designed to make sure a student who experiences harassment can still continue their education.”

Still, she adds, “Although there’s no question that high schools are covered by this decades-old civil rights law, high schools across the country are still failing to address gender-based harassment and violence. Last year, around 100 were under federal investigation for violating Title IX in their handling of sexual assault alone, and even more schools may be under investigation for complaints related to sexual harassment that does not rise to the level of assault.” Singh stresses that “high school students have rights,” including to have their complaint “promptly and equitably investigated.”

Accommodations provided by a school under Title IX in such instances often include ensuring that a student who experiences harassment is never in the same class as the harasser. “How is a student supposed to focus in math class if someone who harmed them sits two rows behind them?” Singh says.

She adds, “Mutual no-contact orders are actually very common,  both in high school and in college. … They can definitely be extremely unfair to victims, who then have to abide by the terms of the order even though they did nothing wrong.”

“Unfair” is exactly how Wilson’s mother, Sonja Palmer, feels about the school’s handling of the situation.

“The biggest problem is that you’re asking my daughter to sign a contract that requires a parent’s signature, but I was never called to the school; I was never called in for a meeting to go over the contract with my daughter,” Palmer, a special-education teacher’s assistant for the school district, tells Yahoo Beauty. She adds that emails she has sent to various administrators have yet to be answered. She was initially contacted by the school about the incident, she says, with a female administrator telling her, “I have daughters of my own — I understand.” But now, she adds, “they’re not following up with me.”

Palmer says she takes issue with the no-contact contract for the way it positions Wilson “as if she’s the aggressor, when she’s the victim.” Likewise, she says she fears such a contract does nothing to protect her daughter — who has a class with her harasser — from further harassment or potential retaliation for having reported her harasser.

“What have they done to make my daughter feel protected?” she asks. “She doesn’t feel protected.”

Wilson says she understands she violated her contract by going public with the story but that she has no regrets. “I will probably be suspended,” she says, but adds, “Reporting it was the right choice, and I may be able to help other young ladies who have also been harassed to report it.”

The teen believes that the contract is not enough of a solution when it comes to sexual harassment. “There needs to be a talk about sexual behavior just the way they constantly talk about tardies being a problem,” she says. “I’m tired of schools sexualizing students and making it seem like harassment isn’t a real problem.”

Read more on Yahoo Style + Beauty:

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest for nonstop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyle and @YahooBeauty.