Unsilenced: Sexual Assault within ISL community

Caption: This opinion column discusses the issues of sexual assault and harassment within the ISL community and what the school can do in these matters. 


After repeatedly hearing different stories of girls getting sexually assaulted, I began to ask myself: how does this occur at gatherings outside of school involving members of the student body who go to a school that claims to be committed to the well-being of all members of its community? They claim that they are leaders in international education, teaching students to be exemplary models for society through the use of the ISL values which consist of respect and honesty – values that they’re so eager to bring up every other week. But why do I hear these stories and see no action taken? Why am I going to school with perpetrators who can continue to assault more girls as they haven’t faced any consequences? How can I feel safe at a school that, by its silence, appears to normalize a culture of sexual assault?

I met with Ms.Gifford to address the concerns I had and how uncomfortable I felt attending a school that seemed to have no consequences for these actions. Ms. Gifford said “the school is unable to get involved and must treat each student involved fairly. Because these are “allegations”, the school is only legally allowed to provide victims with the details of sexual health organisations, such as PROFA to go to, or information on how to go about reporting the issue to the police.” The most they can do within school is to provide the students involved with access to the school counsellors to touch base with regularly, and to email the parents of the students involved to come into school for a consultation. Most importantly the school will try and separate the students involved from being in the same classes, but what happens when a student is next to their perpetrator in the lunch line? Are these actions enough? Are the students getting enough support? Is it the victim’s job to rearrange their whole life regardless of whether they decide to file a police report? Is it fair that students aren’t held accountable for their actions regardless of them happening outside of school? I understand that Swiss law prevents expelling students for sexual assault, but there are many measures that the school can take to make victims feel safer. 

In contrast, the school is allowed to take action to suspend Year 9s for vaping in the bathroom, send an email home because a student was vaping outside of school or being late to homeroom too many times, and pull students out of classes to discuss reports of them drinking alcohol outside of school. Yet, students who have committed crimes against women outside of school appear to go unsanctioned, and are freely accepted by their peers in the hallways, as if they did nothing wrong. Ms. Gifford said, “these issues are highly confidential, students do not see the sanctions.” Whilst this may be true, it is  disgusting that a boy is able to say how “rape-able” a girl looks in her Halloween costume, and his friends don’t bat an eye. It makes me sick being at a school that seems to allow this kind of behaviour to happen. It has implications and consequences that affect the wellbeing of the victims and other students within the school. This will continue to occur as long as the perpetrators remain part of the student body and until the school takes serious action against them. 

We must then ask: why do students think it’s okay to make jokes out of these circumstances? Is it because they know the school won’t give them any serious consequences, as proven by continuing to allow perpetrators to attend the school?

Is it fair that the girls are forced to take action alone, trying to avoid their perpetrators at all costs, while these abusers walk around without second thought, continuing to do it to more girls? In the absence of visible school sanctions, will it fall to us, the students, to call out this toxic culture? 

I know I don’t have the answers to how the school can deal with a multilayered issue, but one thing I can’t accept is for our voices to be unheard. 

For a firsthand interview with someone within our community who has experienced sexual assault, listen to Sharanya Trivedi’s podcast, Gen Z: Uncensored available on Spotify.