What OCHS’ Voices Assembly Taught Us About How We Treat Abuse


Julia Boboc (she/her), Editor

Trigger warning: this article talks about physical and verbal abuse, domestic violence, and uses mature language.

On Wednesday, February 2nd, Oregon City High School held a ‘Voices’ assembly. The school defined the assembly as a “virtual event where students and staff submit personal stories to share with the school in order to make our [OCHS] community aware that students are not alone in their struggles and we are all here for each other.”

It was supposed to be an opportunity to share the voices of students at OCHS, a place to hear the things that students care about, to hear their experiences, and to feel more connected as a student body through individual perspectives and story-telling. 

But, boy, did it fall short.

So the Voices assembly was held, and seemingly achieved its goal of creating community and understanding, until a dark silhouetted figure took the virtual stage to share his experience of abuse.

Sorry, his experience of abusing.

His ex-girlfriend, that is.

The shrouded student detailed the physical and verbal abuse he had perpetrated towards his ex, including posting lies on social media about her, assaulting her, and even holding her captive.

“They blurred him out, but it spread like wildfire who it was,” parent Shay Zumwalt told the school’s administration in a follow-up meeting. We know how fast this kind of stuff travels in high school.

So let’s break it down.

I’ll start by saying, as co-president of SAFER Club and an advisor on the Consent Committee, abuse and assault is something I see and hear weekly. It’s something students come to me and talk about. It’s something students–like myself–are concerned about.

This may have happened 20 miles away at Oregon City High School but it could’ve easily happened here. And we’ve seen a lack of consideration for the effects of abuse on students right here under our roof.

We’ve seen misconceived presentations and assemblies. We’ve heard microaggressions and insensitive jokes. We’ve seen how our administration and staff ignore the abuse and assault happening right in front of them. And we know how angry it makes us. How dehumanized and invalidated it makes us feel.

Because we know that when one person is affected by abuse and assault, we all are. We know that when one school walks out in the name of justice, we all do. What affects them, affects us. And if we don’t learn from OCHS’ mistakes, we could very easily repeat them.

And we’ve seen our fair share of broken promises and forgotten mission statements.

So back to the assembly.

The mission statement of the assembly in question, as noted before, was to “make our [OCHS] community aware that students are not alone in their struggles and we are all here for each other.” 

What is the abuser’s struggle here? Was the idea to make abusers like him feel less alone? To feel that they are not overlooked? That their “struggles” are valid? That everyone is here for them?

Surely not. But to include that video along with students who have gotten up the courage to be vulnerable with their experiences and share their stories to the entire student body, is absolutely disgusting.

And why the silhouette? Why the shadow? To protect his identity? Why?

Since you have decided to give this man a voice, a platform; since you found it necessary that his story be shared just the same as others, why let him hide? It’s painfully symbolic. A metaphor for how the school system continues to keep abusers under their wing, safely tucked away from the consequences of their actions.

And sure, the school district will tell you they’re protecting a minor, they’re protecting a student. That they’re keeping this student, this abuser, from possible harm. 

From possible what? Possible abuse.

I can only hope the victim was protected as much as her abuser was by OCHS. But the reality is that abusers and assaulters are consistently not held accountable, continually avoiding repercussions, while victims of abuse and assault are rarely protected at all.

And the interesting part? It’s a recorded confession. He’s confessing to a crime.

The staff never would’ve allowed someone to share their voice as a shoplifter or drug dealer. What’s the difference? We can all agree abuse is much much worse, right?

According to lawsuit.org, “Domestic violence occurs when a person intentionally harms a current or former romantic partner.” Sound familiar?

But the discrepancy is that the term ‘domestic violence’ is sometimes limited to the people involved having shared a child or a home.

Nevertheless, abuse and violence are still federal crimes, punishable with fines or prison.

Add the fact that the victim of said abuse is a minor, it gets worse. But, add the fact that the perpetrator is also a minor, the waters get muddier. That’s where the inequality of protection begins.

In my experience talking to our school’s administration about the protection of abusers, I heard the same thing as so many survivors: “Everyone has the right to education.”

Including rapists, abusers, assaulters, bullies, and overall pieces of shit.

Investigating and incriminating abusers is a long, draining process for everyone involved–especially the survivor–, and it keeps students from receiving the education they legally must have access to.

Now, it’s easy for me to sit here and tell you these people should go to hell forever, but the administration is right. Everyone has the right to education. It’s the law.

So we can’t expel and suspend these kids for the rest of their lives, as much as we may feel that’s the only way to solve the problem.

But there is a way to solve the problem: reform and rehabilitation. We need to take the problem from the root, taking middle and high schoolers and teaching them about asking for consent, respecting the people around you, and just refraining from physical and verbal abuse under any circumstances.

For a multitude of reasons like funding, staff shortages, a need for sensitivity training, and a lack of education around these subjects in adults themselves, we’re just not there yet. So abusers continue to abuse without consequences, only encouraging the behavior. Because if you don’t get in trouble, why stop?

Now, one of the most heartbreaking parts of this situation is how easily it could have been prevented. In fact, people tried to take the video out of the assembly before it had even begun.

The students on the ASB Unity Committee, which sponsors the assembly, had no choice over which stories were included. But they warned the school against using the video because of the disturbing content.

And what do administrations usually say to students’ warnings? It’s fine. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it. It shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve got it all under control. Maybe even a you’re overreacting. Been there.

They’re words we’ve all heard before. Words of dismissal. Brush-offs. 

The reason that video even made it to the assembly was because of staff’s disregard of the VOICES of their students. 

I mean, the irony. Come on.

The administrators of this assembly made about a hundred mistakes in reacting to this video, but they didn’t stop there.

According to Oregon City News, “OCHS administrators made the situation worse [on] Feb. 4 by sending out emails to parents that appeared to blame a student club (the unity committee) for the video.”

Fix one problem and make another one.

The administrators sent a letter later that day, taking it back, saying it wasn’t the club’s fault.

So who was at fault?

The short answer is Carey Wilhelm, the principal of Oregon City High School. As said in the description of a CHNGE petition calling for her termination, “Carey Wilhelm along with the school administration has done enough. They have turned a blind eye to the abuse and rape in our school district.

*This petition is linked at the bottom of the article.

As principal, Wilhelm is in charge of any and all assemblies, as well as her staff. Her blatant disregard of the situation shows how much she really cares. Yeah, I stalked her twitter, and to answer your question…nothing. No addressal. Not even a mention of the assembly or meeting that took place afterwards. Wilhelm, when reached out to for a comment on the assembly by the Headlight, unsurprisingly failed to respond.

The only apology made was by Interim Superintendent Kyle Maier in a Visions Assembly Special Meeting held later on the 4th, meant to address concerns about the assembly and video.

It should be noted that Maier admitted to sending the email pointing fingers at the committee for green lighting the video. In regards to the message he said, “I failed to think”. 

The longer answer of who is at fault for the running of the video is the Oregon City School District, who would rather report on the 100 year old Black Walnut Tree on OCHS’ campus than address the concerns of abuse and assault on its campus.

From the way the petition’s description is phrased, and the comments from parents in the special meeting, this isn’t the first instance of abuse and assault concerning students. And it definitely isn’t the first time the district has turned its back on those that it is supposed to protect.

“A lot of things and a lot of abuse is swept under the rug at OCHS,” a sophomore at OCHS, London, told KGW8.

Sarah Lambert, a parent, said in the special meeting, “Incidents happen, and when they happen and you report it, nothing ever seems to come to fruition. Nothing ever happens. There’s never any accountability, there’s never any follow through.”

Nothing ever happens.

No accountability.

No follow-through.

This isn’t new. This isn’t a Voices assembly issue. It’s not even a Carey Wilhelm or Oregon City School District issue. (It is, but you know what I mean.)

Which brings me to the longest answer. The culture of abuse in the United States is extraordinarily prevalent in the media and our communities. Violence has become destigmatized in today’s society.

There’s a certain type of entertainment that follows the character rubric of macho husband and quiet wife. Spoiler alert, he hits her, usually when she tries to speak up for herself. And that’s desensitizing the general population to domestic violence and abuse. It becomes something common, something we don’t even think twice about. 

Something we expect.

But we’re forgetting to ask one specific question: How do people become abusers? Sure, there are some pretty scary chemical imbalances in the brain that cause the phenomenon, but what we tend to miss is that abusers were usually witnesses or victims of abuse themselves.

To quote J. Cole in his song High for Hours, “The children in abusive households grow up knocking girlfriends out cold, that’s called a cycle, abused becomes the abuser and that’s just how life go.”

A cycle.

According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (ASPCC), “About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.” And that’s still not taking into account domestic violence.

When we fail to empathize, support and protect children who live with abuse, we run the risk of allowing the cycle of abuse to continue. When we fail to educate children who do not know about consent, patience, and respect in their own households, we ensure that they learn violence and abuse as a coping mechanism, possibly passing it down onto their children.

It’s not an easy solution, I know. But there are always steps that can be taken. Steps to bring accountability and consequences to perpetrators of abuse.

However, I have to remind myself that accountability and consequences should always be balanced with support and education. 

It’s so easy to want consequences, to want pain and suffering on those who inflict the same on innocent victims. It’s easy to pray for their downfall, to point the blame. It’s easy to get angry. I know I am.

But it’s harder to reflect on the humanity of the situation. It’s harder to sit down and look towards the cause, look towards a way to prevent and rehabilitate, as well as reform. It’s harder to look away from needing repercussions, and turning towards empathy.

The most important thing–the thing that should be in the forefront of our minds–is prioritizing victims, survivors, and those who experience or have experienced abuse, assault, or violence in any way shape or form.

It’s easy in our anger and disgust towards abusers to forget to be support systems, but nothing else matters until survivors feel supported and cared about.

The real shame about this situation (despite, like, the whole thing) is the fact that this video discounted all the other videos, all the other voices. Like I said, the assembly is a good idea on paper. Its mission statement, although a bit of a run-on sentence, has very good intentions.

It’s still important to want the student body to feel less alone, to want a community within a school. It’s still important to emphasize students’ voices, to share their experiences and perspectives. But most importantly, these things need to be done consciously.

For too long we have kept victims of abuse and assault in the back of our minds. For too long we have forgotten to consider their feelings, or their mental health when we make decisions for them. For too long we have “failed to think” about the repercussions of our ignorance.

It has to end now. And it’s up to us. 



The National Domestic Violence or Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

The 24/7 (mandatory reporter) teen-led crisis line “Youthline”: 877-968-8491

The Multnomah County Mental Health Line: 503-988-4888

The Bradley Angle House domestic violence and abuse shelter hotline: 503-235-5333

The (mandatory reporter, school specific) Title IX hotline for sexual assault: 503-568-2646

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

My number: 503-688-4752

Donate to:

RAINN: https://give.rainn.org/a/donate

Women Against Abuse: https://www.womenagainstabuse.org/donate

Futures Without Violence: https://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://ncadv.org/


The petition calling for the termination of Carey Wilhelm: https://chng.it/WhnYg6rfsH

The petition against child abuse in the U.S.: https://chng.it/tZJ2dsmsYV

The petition to protect survivors of domestic violence: https://chng.it/75c4tJpZgK


The IBWHS SAFER club: Meetings every Wednesday during lunch in room 35

The IBWHS Culture and Consent Committee: DM @ibwhsconsentcommittee