Friday, August 29, 2014

Title IX, sexual assault and high schools

While the stories we have heard from college students across the country about sexual assault and sexually hostile climates on their campuses are shocking, these stories are not--unfortunately--limited to college environments.
We have recently heard about a case in Seattle where a rape occurred during an overnight field trip. The girl reported the rape right away and went to the hospital where a rape kit was performed and an advocate confirmed that the victim did exhibit the signs of someone who had been sexually assaulted.
Evidence, however, was not compelling enough to pursue a criminal case against the perpetrator who admitted that the girl had said no to anal penetration and that he had not thought much about her during the act.
But despite the pleas of the parents of the victim--who was never able to return to school and was admitted to a facility for treatment for PTSD--the school did not investigate the incident. When the school did undertake an investigation--6 months later--they found that the girl was not subject to unwanted touching or sexual assault. The assailant was suspended for 10 days right after the assault out of fear for other students' safety. Interestingly, it was not his first suspension for this type of infraction. He had been suspended in middle school for having sex with a girl.
Other problems with the school response to the situation, outside the obvious lack of an immediate investigation and that the parents had to plead with the school to investigate, was that the parents' inquiries to Seattle's Title IX coordinator were never answered. The coordinator always referred the family to the district's lawyers.
The family left the state and went into debt seeking treatment for their daughter. There has been a lot of discussion lately about penalties to schools that fail to create and comply with effective sexual assault policies and procedures. But these discussions have focused on colleges which also face damage to their reputations, something public high schools have less fear of. Colleges do, however, share a similarity with this--and other--cases of assault in high schools: the threat of revoked federal funding just is not effective.
And while that is certainly true of this Seattle case, a lawsuit would seem to go pretty far and the family has been diligent about collecting and presenting a significant amount of evidence already. Sanctions from the government may not be as effective as we would like them to be at this moment, but lawsuits cause considerable distress. K-12 schools have been put on notice for issues of bullying--where there have been significant damage rewards to victims--sexual assault should not be any different.
The parents have started an advocacy group, Stop Sexual Assault in High Schools, in an attempt to garner national awareness of this issue and be a resource for other families and victims.  There is a demonstration Wednesday, September 3 at 4:15 in Seattle. The details can be found at the above linked Facebook page.