Last week a jury, after deliberating only an hour, awarded two families $100,000 each in damages in a case of sexual assault. Parents of two middle school students in Wayne County, Tennessee sued the school district for failing to protect their sons from the sexual assault by teammates on the school's basketball team.
There seemed to be a culture of sexual pranks in the team's locker room and the plaintiffs alleged that the school did not respond in an appropriate way to the incidents, which began in October of 2008. The school looked into the allegations but apparently the investigation was stymied or in some way inconclusive because investigators could not certify that a felt pen had actually penetrated one of the victims. I know there are a lot of legal distinctions among crimes based on things like whether penetration has occurred. But intent is obviously a large factor as well. If a boy is being held down by other boys who intend to penetrate him with a foreign object...well that would seem to indicate a fairly egregious act of sexual assault. (More on this in a forthcoming post about bullying and sexual assault and the attempt to differentiate and hierarchize the two.)
School officials did temporarily suspend four identified perpetrators and kicked them off the basketball team. But the four came back to school after 11 days and were allowed to rejoin the team at a later point. Also, the victims were harassed by peers for getting these boys in trouble. Both victims were removed from the school by their parents. Some of the perpetrators argued at the trial that things had been blown out of proportion.
Also of note: apparently the locker room culture was stimulated by the coach who mentioned pranks himself though he allegedly told the boys not to engage in them.
“I shared stories with boys. In hindsight, obviously, I wish I hadn’t done that.”
Probably even more so now that damages have been awarded.
I have not read anything on how the jury decided on the damages figure. The plaintiffs were seeking a combined $3 million in damages initially.
No word on whether the school district will appeal.