The Purple Project: Fighting to End Rape Culture at State High


Alex Antoniono

Purple Project organizers and volunteers at a fundraising bake sale in front of the Allen Street Gates.

Elena Wright, Opinion Editor

“Rape culture – we can argue over the causes of it, we can argue over the solutions, but the fact that it exists is a fact,” senior and co-founder of the Purple Project, Elisa Edgar, said at State High’s Straight Talk on sexual violence. 

Edgar and fellow State High senior, Maddy Baney, have been working for months to establish the project meant to raise awareness, educate, and provide support for those impacted by sexual violence. Early planning for the project began in the Spring of 2023. Working alongside State High administrators and Dr. Jill Wood, a Teaching Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State, Baney and Edgar began the extensive planning process.

“People don’t know the prevalence of the issue,” Baney said at the Straight Talk aimed at educating parents and students on dating and sexual violence. 

Launched in April 2023, the Purple Project has amassed over 600 followers on its Instagram page. The founders were featured on WSCH throughout the month where they updated students on what the project was doing and shared statistics, and resources for where to find help.

The issue of sexual violence is particularly relevant to teens; According to RAINN, girls aged 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

Rape culture, as Edgar explained, not only consists of rape and sexual violence but rather, made up of small actions that minimize sexual assault or place the blame on the victim.  “All you have to do is pay attention in any sort of social circle to understand that [rape culture] exists,” Edgar said.

Many teens get into their first intimate relationships in high school, all while navigating insecurities and the difficulties of emerging adulthood.

“Children are uniquely vulnerable… in a place and time where if someone has power over them and if someone is influencing how they feel about themselves, how they feel about their body, how a relationship is supposed to look like—that can affect them for the rest of their life,” Edgar said. 

A contributing factor to rape culture in schools, Edgar shared, is the lack of sex education. Schools in PA are not required to teach any form of comprehensive sex-ed but rather, are to teach about STDs, including AIDs, and emphasize abstinence. 

Edgar explained that the avoidance of sex as a topic of discussion in schools only worsens the issue. “If we’re going to stop rape we also have to change our attitudes about sex,” she said.

One way the project aims to tackle the stigma surrounding sex and sexual assault is through Instagram. 

The Purple Project account features informational content on stigmas surrounding sexual violence and other project initiatives, as well as stories from survivors and the occasional Chris Rock meme encouraging the spread of awareness. 

Survivors can submit their stories anonymously via the link in the project’s Instagram bio. “Their stories, even though they are all so different and all so situational, they all hold so many parallels and so many similarities that are really sad. They all feel guilt, they all feel the secretiveness, the shame, the dirtiness. They all double-check themselves: ‘What could I have done differently? What did I do to make him think that this is okay?’” Edgar said. 

Many submissions come from survivors who aren’t able to speak with friends or family but still want the ability to talk about their experience. Edgar revealed that a significant portion of the stories come from children at the very beginning of their high school careers.

“There is a large portion of the stories that come from 14-year-olds,” Edgar said, emphasizing the importance of establishing a healthy relationship with sex at a young age. “We still have to bring up these subjects, and it seems like it’s inappropriate, it seems like it’s too old for them, it’s not. Because life isn’t too old for them and it will happen whether or not you prepare them for it.”

Despite some backlash, the reception of the Purple Project has been largely positive from students, Baney said.

“Some of the teachers have reached out and said that they think it’s important what we’re doing, they like what we’re doing, but at the same time, we’ve gotten some criticism from teachers for what we’re wearing or saying or perpetuating like false rumors in the school – which that’s not our goal and I feel like that’s not what we’re doing,” Baney said.

Being a student-run organization rather than a purely administrative effort, Baney said, has helped the Purple Project effectively reach State High students and students in other neighboring districts. “There is like a negative connotation with like the principals and the teachers. So knowing that [the founders are] someone that you can connect to on like a personal level because [they’re] your age…. I think it just works better,” she said.

The State High community has made its support clear; throughout the month of April, the Purple Project has raised over $2000 from bracelet sales, donations, and a community bake sale. A portion of the funds raised are to be donated to Centre Safe, a non-profit in State College that provides resources to victims of sexual or domestic violence. The remaining funds are to be used for  Purple Project initiatives. 

Moving forward, the plan is to establish the Purple Team – a group of counselors, administrators, teachers, and peer advocates trained to respond to sexual violence. 

Edgar explained that the current system for reporting sexual assault in school often places the responsibility on the victim and is wholly ineffective. “We have to acknowledge the fact that there are gaps that are missing and holes that we need to fill in the system because people aren’t getting the justice they require,” she said. 

As far as tackling rape culture, Edgar said we must start by “checking our own language, re-evaluating how we respond when people talk to us about assault. Then we have to move on from the small, personal, psychological, social things that we can control, to policy.” 

Sarah Ocampo, a freshman at State High, has been working alongside Edgar and Baney in the Purple Project initiatives. As both of the founders are graduating seniors, Ocampo plans to continue the project at State High.

Ocampo hopes to continue Edgar and Baney’s plans for the project during the rest of her years at State High. “Their vision for this is to help people and create a safe, reliable, stable place for students,” Ocampo said. 

Though April has come to an end, the founders say that the Purple Project won’t stop the fight. They urge State High to continue to work towards an end to sexual violence and never end the conversation.