In another echo of the tragic high school rape story from Steubenville, Ohio, the National Women’s Law Center last week filed a complaint in federal district court on behalf of a female high school student in Michigan, who was allegedly sexually assaulted in a soundproof band room by a male student.
Acting with a great deal of courage, the young woman told a teacher at Forest Hills Central High School, near Grand Rapids, what had happened, and the teacher in turn reported the assault to the principal.
And, in an exact analogy with some of the media reaction to the Steubenville case, the principal showed his sympathy for the victim not by opening an investigation, but by discouraging her and her parents from filing charges, telling them that doing so could hurt the boy’s chances of being recruited to play for a Division 1 school to play basketball.
Way to go, Mr. Principal. You put boys ahead of girls, cowardice ahead of bravery, violence ahead of human dignity. How dare you call yourself the leader of a group of young people, when those are your values?
Schools are legally in loco parentis while students are in attendance. Parents entrust their youngsters to schools, expecting schools to provide protection. What went wrong here?
As alleged in the complaint, two weeks later another female student was sexually assaulted by the same attacker. Despite a legal obligation under Title IX to investigate the assault and protect the student, the high school officials never interviewed the girl or her parents again, failed to conduct an investigation, and for two and a half weeks left the attacker in one of her classes.
However, this young woman has very supportive parents, and together they ignored the principal’s request not to file charges, and instead went to the police. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department came through where Forest Hils Central High did not, and they began a criminal investigation.
Still, the story goes from ugly to uglier: while the school administration did absolutely nothing, news of the assault spread throughout the high school, and the victim was harassed by fellow students calling her a whore and a liar, and even by the assailant and his friends. She also became the target of some vicious cyberbullying, but even when her parents reported this, the administration still took no action.
A statement from the National Women’s Law Center reads:
The school’s failure to address the harassment sends a chilling message to students that they should remain silent in the face of sexual assault and cannot count on their school to provide a safe learning environment.
This is an important message. Teachers, administrators, and especially coaches, knew what was going on, but nobody did anything. Once again, just like in Steubenville, we have an example of the victim-blaming rape culture that values sports stars over rape victims.
Both girls and boys need to talk about rape, and schools need to encourage them to speak up. It’s not enough to teach girls about consent, and how not to encourage boys. Boys as well as girls need education. This topic needs to be out in the open, so that the ‘rape culture’ can be exposed and eradicated.
There have been too many stories like this recently, and they won’t stop until all of us: schools, teachers, parents, youth leaders and religious groups, decide to bring the issue of rape out into the open.
Just two weeks ago I wrote about 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons from Canada; then there was 15-year-old Audrie Pott from California; both these young women committed suicide after their classmates bullied them after photos of their rapes emerged online.
We need to educate our young people, boys and girls, to prevent yet another suicide.
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