Perhaps a plan is in order…

I just read a new article out of Chicago about a high school sophomore at Simeon Career Academy who was sexually assaulted a few years ago.   But the subsequent psychological violence and endangerment inflicted upon the young woman by her school officials was the real story here:

Simeon officials threatened to punish her for leaving school grounds, told her it would take several months to arrange an expulsion hearing for the alleged offenders, and took little action when their friends threatened her with violence, according to a federal investigation that found Chicago Public Schools failed to protect her after the attack. 

About halfway down the article this particular line stood out to me…

 When administrators fail to respond, students suffer humiliation, harassment and other harm, according to a state task force investigating the issue. Some victims drop out. Although some schools offer safety plans, transfers and other accommodations, many districts do not.

Now that first point there is key – most districts across the nation do not have a comprehensive plan for addressing sexual assault, stalking, sexual harassment, etc. situations within their schools.  And the second point to me is criminal, many districts further the endangerment of students who have already been traumatized by sexual violence. 

For it seems these situations are handled on a case by case basis with a heavy burden of proof being demanded of victims. In addition the common practice among school officials is to treat the victim as pathologic in one way or another (offering her anything from counseling to suspension) while administrators avoid addressing or accusing the aggressor of anything let alone protecting the victim from further aggression.

This case is a good example of the effects of such educational practices.  According to the news report as well as to investigation records Gabrielle Smart was assaulted once by her classmate and then endangered and demoralized by her school’s administration over a lengthy period of time, until she finally dropped out of school.

Her attacker received no jail time after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor, she said. As the two rode the same bus the first day of sophomore year, Philhower suffered flashbacks of the assault. She shared classes with the assailant’s cousins and friends, and they taunted her to the point of tears, she said.

Her parents asked Princeton officials to provide alternative transportation but were denied, she said. They also refused requests to have her or the offender transferred to a neighboring district, she said.

Frustrated and scared, she dropped out for a year and home-schooled herself.

Now perhaps this sort of skepticism and rare occasion treatment would make sense if sexual violence was in any way a bizzar or rare act against young women.  But of course the crime statistics gathered by any policing organization can attest that this sort of violence isn’t rare at all.

Here are RAIIN’s sexual assault statistics for children”

15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.

  • 29% are age 12-17.
  • 44% are under age 18.
  • 80% are under age 30.
  • 12-34 are the highest risk years.
  • Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.

7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

  • 3% of boys grades 5-8 and 5% of boys in grades 9-12 said they had been sexually abused.

In 1995, local child protection service agencies identified 126,000 children who were victims of either substantiated or indicated sexual abuse.

  • Of these, 75% were girls.
  • Nearly 30% of child victims were between the age of 4 and 7.

These are national facts one would hope school officials were aware of and prepared to address at any moment.  But generally school districts only addresses this after a public or  legal  trouncing for doing such a horrific job of protecting vulnerable populations.  When you look for national recommendations for addressing and preventing sexual violence in schools you find very little in the policy arena. 

However academics and activists have been long pointed to strategies that would begin to address this problem.  That such planful organizations as school fail to develop policies and practices to address sexual violence speaks volumes about the values they hold with regard to their students. 

It makes me look back at how the situation was handled at Simeon Career Academy and think of course students harassed, humiliated, and threatened Gabrielle, they were following the example set by those at the top.

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