An article released by the Huffington Post recently discusses the rising problem of sexual assault in high schools and how many schools are failing to investigate these assault complaints.
The article goes into great detail on the experiences of several young girls who suffered sexual assault by a classmate while at school, and how the schools dealt with each of their complaints. In every one of these girls’ cases, they were made to suffer further trauma at the hands of their high school.
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One special needs girl was allegedly raped outside of a school dance, and while the police searched unsuccessfully to locate her offender, the school never conducted an investigation. Her mother came to pick her up and the girl arrived at the car with scraped knees and dirt on her face. A rape kit was completed and the victim known as “Carly” in the article told investigators that she had told the boy “no.”
She could not identify her offender. The lab results from the rape kit came back positive for semen, yet the police did not have enough evidence to support a charge of sexual assault. The case was closed but police said it could be reopened if new evidence became available.
In 2015, a boy came forward informing school administrators that he had had sex with Carly, but that it was consensual. He also repeated this statement to the police, when the school called them, who decided to keep the case closed. Carly has since transferred to a different school.
Unfortunately, this is just one of many cases where a victim was not supported by her school, and in many cases, victims are made to suffer more when they have to come into contact with their perpetrator on a daily basis because administrators believed the offender who claimed the assault was consensual.
Title IX is a federal legislation passed in 1972 which prohibits discrimination based on gender in any federally-funded school or activity. It covers a wide variety of areas from college and universities to elementary and secondary schools, as well as activities, and programs affiliated with schools that have federal funding.
Under the Title IX legislation, high schools and any facility receiving federal funding must ensure that their facility is not a “hostile environment” based on gender discrimination. That means that if a student reports sexual harassment, assault etc. the school generally has to open their own investigation into the matter because those incidents can constitute a hostile environment.
According to RAINN, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, and 93% of victims know their offender. Perhaps, even more concerning is the fact that research shows that people who have a history of sexual victimization are extremely likely to later be revictimized.
Sexual assault is a highly underreported crime, with 68% of assaults not being reported to police. There are several reasons why this may be the case such as a victim struggling with feelings of guilt or shame, but several U.S. high schools may have added to the list of reasons many victims are hesitant to disclose the violation they had to endure.
While much focus has been on supporting victims, handling complaints of, and preventing sexual assault on college campuses, high schools are considered to be lagging far behind. Colby Bruno of Victim Rights Law Center stated “However bad you think that a college campus’ lack of accountability is on sexual assault … go back 15 years before and that’s what you’re looking at for high schools.”