'We Need To Take Our Bodies Back': Chester Teen Speaks Out About Rape

Jun 23, 2017

Like a lot of recent graduates, Skylar White, of Chester, is thinking about her future: about her upcoming gap year in Brazil and about what it might to be like to come back to her tiny community after living abroad.
White didn't think she'd be talking about sexual assault in these waning days of high school.

But that was before she says she was raped by a Green Mountain Union High School classmate whom she's known since kindergarten. White says it happened this spring at a party off school grounds attended by a number of students.

"It's really hard for people to say they were raped," White says. "We don't want to call it rape because that's a scary word, and I feel like that's so much of why people don't come forward, because they don't think that's what happened to them."

Last week, police arrested 18-year-old Ryan Stocker, a senior at Green Mountain Union High School, and charged him with two counts of sexual assault. Stocker pleaded not guilty to both counts.

White says she wanted to talk publicly about the crime to bring attention to the issue and also to speak up for others who have not been able to tell their own story.

"People have trouble talking about this and they try to convince themselves that it's not rape," she says. "It's not just that you regret having sex with someone, or that it was never talked about, or that you were locked in a room and didn't have any other choice and were egged on. It's all rape, and we need to call it that."

Green Mountain Union High School is the kind of place where people know each other's business. White had heard of someone with a similar experience and reached out.
"Once it had happened to me, and I was going through school and feeling really sick and just not really sure what I should do next, I went to the girl who I had heard something like this had happened," says White. "I had seen the effects and the toll that it had taken on her emotionally, and I didn't want that for myself. I didn't think it was fair to her for me to remain silent."

And so White says she made a decision to tell her own story and not let others come up with their own version of what might or might not have happened.
"I have a strong support system at home, and I knew I was the person who would be able to actually go through with it," says White. "So I just decided to jump off the ledge and go for it. Because if you sit around and wait too long, then it's going to eat you up and you're not going to be able to get help."
White says she went to the police a few days after she was raped, but the situation became even more widely known when her mother talked about it in open session at a high school board meeting.

"It's really hard for people to say they were raped. We don't want to call it rape because that's a scary word, and I feel like that's so much of why people don't come forward, because they don't think that's what happened to them." - Skylar White, Green Mountain Union High School graduate

Skylar White's mother, Venissa White, says everyone was whispering about the rape, but she says there was no appetite from the school administration to really support her daughter and to address a culture where girls were reporting that they thought rape was just a part of being in high school.
"I felt blown off," she says. "And when that happened, I felt like the school year was coming to an end and we were missing the opportunity that was right in front of us to help kids cope and deal with it and be future Skylars, the people who are going to report and not allow this to happen and change that culture."
Venissa White says our schools need to do more to teach kids about mutual consent. She says students learn about the dangers of substance abuse and about using technology and driving safely, but that boys and girls don't hear enough about just how common it is for sexual assault to happen between people who have known each other for years.

Green Mountain Union High School teaches mutual consent, but only during ninth grade as part of the health curriculum.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

The Green Mountain Union High School principal declined to comment, but Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Meg Alison Powden says Green Mountain Union High School has put resources into helping make sure every student is safe.

"The school's health curriculum addresses healthy relationships, substance abuse and mutual consent, body image, self-esteem, personal safety and healthy decision-making," Powden says. "These are just some of the efforts we make to keep our school and students safe."

Teaching mutual consent is part of the health curriculum, but each school develops its own program and decides just how much time to spend on the subject. At Green Mountain Union High School, mutual consent is only taught during the freshman year.

It's the longest unit in the ninth grade health course, and more than a month is spent on healthy relationships, Powden says.

Powden also says students learn about how drugs and alcohol use and abuse impact a person's ability to give or not give consent.

"When we have notice of an alleged sexual assault, we notify the authorities and parents," Powden says. "We develop safety plans to protect our students while they are at school, and when misconduct has been substantiated, we take immediate disciplinary action."

Stocker was in Windsor County Criminal Court last week where he pleaded not guilty to two counts of sexual assault. He's facing three years to life in prison if he's convicted.
The court said Stocker couldn't attend the graduation ceremony at Green Mountain Union High School because he's been ordered to stay away from the victims.

Skylar White says that whatever happens to Stocker through the court system, she still wants her story to be heard. And, she says, maybe that can help another victim somewhere who's suffering, alone.
"When you find people who understand your pain, especially in this situation, there's so much love, and sisterhood," she says. "I hate sounding cheesy, but, there is girl power in talking about this. We need to take this back. We need to take our bodies back. We need to feel as though we don't need to be ashamed of this."
White will attend American University in Washington, D.C., after her gap year.