Echoes of Silence

The Brett Kavanaugh hearings and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testimony left unanswered questions about the weight high school behavior should play on people's future, the misconceptions about rape and false accusations and how boys are supposed to learn about relationships.

“It’s frightening as a parent. It’s frightening as a lawyer. That’s what keeps me up at night. That someone was convicted solely on the testimony of someone saying that something happened.” —Debbie Sanchez

Texas law is such that cases involving rape and sexual assault require no evidence beyond the accuser’s testimony for the accused to be convicted. If the jury believes the accuser “beyond a reasonable doubt,” somebody’s word is enough to put a person behind bars. Dallas-based criminal defense attorney Debbie Sanchez, who works in conjunction with her husband Juan, sees this as a common occurrence in the courtroom.

“I have seen criminal cases where someone is convicted and ultimately ends up going to the penitentiary based on someone’s testimony. Period,” Debbie said. “If a jury believes the person who’s making an outcry about an event that happened ten days ago, ten years ago, 20 years ago, if the jury believes beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened, that is enough to convict.”

While someone may not make an accusation until decades down the road, Debbie believes that in and of itself presents no inherent issues. However, situations like those present certain risks lawyers, jury members and onlookers alike must be aware of.

“There are a lot of legitimate, sound reasons why people do make a delayed outcry and something did in fact happen, and that’s why the statute of limitations is such because people do make delayed outcries for various, legitimate reasons,” Debbie said. “The other side, and the danger of that is that someone can claim a delayed outcry, and they have some sort of motive to make up a false allegation or they were under the influence of some sort of a substance or of alcohol and they don’t remember all the facts of what happened.”

Through his experience in the courtroom, Juan has seen many cases with shaky accusations. However, they all involve one key factor: alcohol. He sees abstaining from — and staying away from social situations with — alcohol as the best way to avoid accusations.

“With the Kavanaugh case, alcohol was a big component,” Juan said. “And also in my cases that I’ve handled where I truly thought my client was accused falsely, there’s always drugs and alcohol involved.”

The best way for students to steer clear of future accusations, senior David Vallejo believes, is through using common sense to avoid people and situations that have the potential to tarnish each others’ character further down the road.

“I really don’t think about it at all,” Vallejo said. “Following these allegations, I’ve given it a casual thought, but I haven’t changed the way I go about my business because I’m not going to put myself in a situation that would lend itself to something like that.”

While senior Jack Katz agrees, he also believes Marksmen, for the most part, don’t need to change the way they think or act to avoid accusations because of the high standards they are held to by the school, family members and classmates alike.

“While we make stupid decisions sometimes, there are certain moral and ethical lines we won’t cross,” Katz said. “In that sense, I think a lot of people should be comfortable going through the rest of their lives. There’s a certain moral code that I think everyone here lives up to.”

Director of Counseling Barbara Van Drie believes some of the biggest dangers lie in addressing rape indirectly, which can not only lead to misunderstandings, but also lessen the significance of what is truly a criminal act.

“Our language is so important. when we speak of a ‘bro culture,’” Van Drie said. “It’s how you make it okay to say and do things, because you use other words for it other than ‘I’m going to perpetrate a crime.’ All you have to do it take it to its logical conclusion, use the language that it actually is. Its sexual assault. It’s a crime.”

Those ideas, which History Department Chair David Fisher believes are largely representative of the same 1980s culture that fostered the allegations against Kavanaugh, is something he experienced during his time at the Portsmouth-Abbey School, a prestigious Catholic day school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and also characteristic of his observations of students here.

“Male culture in this school is not a hell of a lot different from male culture that I experienced at similar school in the 1980s that was very much like Georgetown Prep,” Fisher said. “I know those kids, I know what they did, I know the mentality and attitudes that were dominant during that time. And here I am working at St. Mark’s today. Do I still see elements of that behavior here? Yes.”

“Remove the stigma. Remove the shame.” —Barbara Van Drie

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), over 300,000 people—both men and women—are victims of rape or sexual assault every year. Despite taking measures including carrying a sound grenade, never walking in public with two earbuds in or never walking alone in unfamiliar places, Hockaday senior Tosca Langbert is still worried she could be next.

“I’m afraid something will happen even if I take those kinds of measures because,” Langbert said. “So really no matter what you do it’s kind of like Russian roulette. I know I could be one of those unlucky women.”

Hockaday senior Charlsie Doan feels the same way, despite the numerous measures she takes to ensure her own safety. She also sees a large part of the disconnect between men and women as a result of the fact that mens, for the most part, don’t have to take the same measures.

“The reality of the situation is that girls have to be way more careful than guys,” Doan said.

That disconnect, in Van Drie’s eyes, extends far beyond the issue of personal safety. She sees that as the reason many girls and women who are victims of rape hesitate to share their stories with the public.

“Our society participates in maintaining silence,” Van Drie said. “What’s happened in the last year or so, is the ground has shifted around maintaining silence. Because we’ve said there’s shame for people in being the victim of sexual assault. The only reason there’s shame is because there’s been silence. And once you remove silence, then that changes.”

Whether or not someone chooses to speak out about their sexual assault, they still carry the trauma with them for decades after the event itself.

“You don’t relive it just through the memory,” Van Drie said. “It’s just there in your life. Especially if they haven’t talked about it, processed it, told people. I think when people don’t acknowledge it when it happens, I think that brings the most difficulty for people. It changes the course of people’s lives.”

According to the FBI, about two percent of all investigated rape charges are proven to be false. At the same time, according to RAINN, ten percent of all rape victims are male. Although for most men’s, the most prevalent concern may seem to be the thought of being falsely accused, senior Jonah Simon recognizes the emotional toll and likelihood of either scenario render those thoughts mostly invalid.

“Even worse than being falsely accused of being raped is being raped. That is an unimaginably horrible thing to happen to someone,” Simon said. “While it is also terrible and extremely unfortunate that people out there, especially men, get falsely accused of rape and it can destroy their lives, I think that it’s the lesser of two evils.”

For Hockaday junior Kate Woodhouse, there is a simple solution that can better the lives of both men and women.

“Think about what the girls might be thinking in these situations,” Woodhouse said. “Think about what the girls might want or what the girls might be thinking. Think about both sides before you make a decision.”

“In today’s society, it is no longer enough to teach anatomy and general contraception and have that be a sex ed curriculum.” —David Vallejo

The school’s sex education curriculum revolves largely around the biological process of sex in units covered in sixth grade Life Science and ninth grade biology. But, as Marksmen prepare to leave behind the safe, all-male confines of 10600 Preston Rd., many feel unprepared for the other facets of relationships that lie ahead.

“I think there definitely has to be a greater emphasis on not only reinforcing all those concepts, but more what it’s like to be in a healthy relationship, what it’s like exploring intimacy,” Vallejo said. “Dos and don’ts of consent. Those are all things that, if for nothing else, we should be taught so we can be informed of how others expect us to behave.”

Much of that feeling of unpreparedness stems from the fact that students here lack many of the daily, casual interactions with girls that, in most cases, help to prepare students for professional and social lives after their education here, something Fisher experienced attending an all-boys boarding school in Rhode Island.

“It’s not really great training for the real world out there where you are going to have to interact with women as equals and in some cases your betters,” Fisher said. “How do you interact with a woman on a date, at a dance, or in the workplace? And if we don’t have experience doing those things, it becomes difficult.”

The lack of interaction with girls is part of the bargain of single-sex education. According to Van Drie, one of the best ways to offset that is through empathizing with the other sex.

“You’re not sitting next to girls day in and day out,” Van Drie said. “You’re not thinking from someone else’s point of view very often. Do perspective taking. That is a skill you can develop. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. The more you play those mental gymnastics, the better your skill at it. It becomes a lot more difficult to be insensitive when you’re doing those mental gymnastics.”

Director of Leadership and Ethics Martin Stegemoeller sees opportunity for ways to improve how the school teaches boys about the numerous sides of relationships beyond the current curriculum.

“The sex ed could very much be empathizing with situations with you and someone else,” Stegemoller said. “It’s that middle ground that every guy can avoid if he’s got his wits about him, and we’d love for him to avoid that. We can probably do better at St. Mark’s at helping guys understand that.”

Senior Jonah Simon believes the school can do a better job of preparing students with realistic lessons of what they are going to encounter in the future.

“The fact that we don’t learn about consent, ethics and the other societal parts of reproduction and relationships is appalling,” Simon said. “It leaves St. Mark’s young men unequipped, at a deficit going into the world having relationships, having sex and doing things people do.”

As a senior, Vallejo is finished with his sex education here. But as he nears graduation, he wishes he had been provided more of the tools he feels will be necessary in college and beyond.

“There’s no downside to it,” Vallejo said. “We’re going to go to college. We’re going to be adults. Some of us are adults. It’s something that is necessary to know, and I don’t think St. Mark’s provides that right now.”

“It depends on what you did, but if redemption means anything, it's that a person does not have the mark of Cain put on them when they're teenagers.” —Bruce Westrate

One of a few central questions in the Kavanaugh hearings was about teenage maturity: Should something a person does in high school come back to haunt them even decades after they’ve moved on?

Fisher believes the debate isn’t so clear-cut.

“In a holistic sense, everything counts,” Fisher said, “but in another sense, you’re supposed to make mistakes as a teenager, and they shouldn't count for as much as the mistakes you make as an adult when you’re a fully formed person.”

Vallejo believes the answers become more obvious when looking solely at the severity of the committed offense.

“I think definitely if you did something like that, if you were a perpetrator of sexual assault or some crime like that during high school, the time, meaning like if someone comes and calls you out 35 years later, I don’t think that’s an excuse,” Vallejo said. “You should definitely be held accountable for what you did. And, you know, looking at how I do things now, certainly I’m a lot more careful about how I conduct myself: what I say, what I do, how things can be interpreted.”

While there is still much debate on whether high school choices should affect men and women decades later, the reality is that these choices have continued to do so in cases like Kavanaugh’s, and there is, thus far, no end in sight.

“For some, I think it is kind of scary that, 30 years out of high school, someone can come back and say you did something to them,” Juan said. “And at the same time, it also goes to show you that if you did do something bad when you were in high school 30 years ago, it could come back to haunt you.”

Years down the road, as the Upper- and Middle-schoolers of today enter the business world, history instructor Dr. Bruce Westrate believes they will be affected by their past lives to a greater degree than any generation to come before them.

“Young people have to be very, very cautious about putting themselves out there in social media,” Westrate said. “And I know I come from a different generation—people were less prone to do things like that. People were much more private, and privacy is something which young people are not really that well acquainted with just because of the waters they swim in.”

Vallejo sees new technology as the key point students should be aware of as they mature and move beyond their high school careers.

“Now there’s social media, there’s internet, there’s electronic databases where there are records. there are chat logs,” Vallejo said. “I could go on and on. So obviously, yes, we have to be a lot more careful nowadays in what we say or what we do because it’s not, ‘Will they come back?’ It’s, ‘They will, and you’ll be held accountable for it.’”