This past July, a federal lawsuit was filed against the Republic School District in Greene County, Mo., alleging that officials failed to protect a female student from repeated sexual assaults from a male student and at one point expelled her for reporting the alleged attacks.
According to the lawsuit, a rape examination proved that the girl was telling the truth, and the male student pleaded guilty to charges related to the attack. The school district has denied the allegations and called the lawsuit “frivolous.”
The girl, a special education student at a middle school in the 2008-2009 school year, told officials about harassment, sexual assaults and a rape by a male student, but the lawsuit alleges that school officials told her that her story was not credible and informed her mother that she had recanted the story. The suit also alleges that school officials made the girl write an apology letter and deliver it to the boy – without consulting the girls’ mother. She was then expelled for the rest of the school year and reported to juvenile authorities for allegedly filing a false crime report.
She was allowed to return to school the next year and tried to avoid the boy, but in February 2010, he grabbed her, dragged her to the back of the school library and raped her again. School officials approached the girl’s claims with the same skepticism, but when the girl’s mother took her daughter to a child advocacy center, sexual assault was confirmed and DNA evidence found in the girl matched the male student. The boy was then taken into custody and pleaded guilty to charges brought against him.
Despite the results of the test, the girl was suspended from school for what the administration deemed “disrespectful conduct.”
It’s worth noting that this is the same district that banned Kurt Vonnegut’s literary classic Slaughterhouse Five in July. Let’s just say that if I lived in Republic, I would send my children elsewhere.
I don’t know what I find more disgusting: that the girl wasn’t immediately believed and the incident investigated or that she was suspended even when the boy himself pleaded guilty to the crime. Even more sickening is that the girl’s school file includes a psychological report describing her as adverse to conflict, passive and “would forego her own needs and wishes to satisfy the request of others around so that she can be accepted.”
The district’s response: the girl failed and neglected to use reasonable means to protect herself.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve always assumed that a seventh grade disabled girl could rely on her school administration to help protect her from sexual assault. But maybe that’s asking too much of the certified, paid teaching officials in public schools.
How can an adult in good conscience accuse a disabled child – with a history of passivity – of not doing enough to protect herself from rape? A school is an assumed place of safety, and if that is ever compromised, a student should be able to trust and turn to a school official. Instead, they force her to recant her story and write a letter of apology to her attacker.
This brings to mind the recent case in Texas when a girl was kicked off the cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer for her convicted rapist, a varsity basketball star who, like the boy in Republic, pleaded guilty to the crime. Yet, the school still let him play (couldn’t risk a good season) and said that if she didn’t scream his name like the other girls on the squad, she’d be kicked off. Not only that, but the lawsuit alleged that the school district pushed the cheerleader to keep a low profile by avoiding the cafeteria and not taking part in homecoming activities. After all, victim-shaming is such an effective way to deal with a question of rape.
What else can be done to emphasize this: It is never the victim’s fault.
It doesn’t matter if she wore a short skirt or was “asking for it.” It certainly doesn’t matter if she was disabled and unable to protect herself. Forcing her to think of her poor attacker and the damaging allegations she’s making is never something that would happen to a robbery victim. A rape victim should always be supported and the incident should always be investigated.
This culture of teaching “don’t get raped” instead of “don’t rape” has pervaded society for far too long. Instead of focusing efforts on how women can avoid dressing like “sluts” (as one Toronto police official infamously suggested, sparking “SlutWalks”), women should have better access to support groups. School and police officials should be better informed on how to counsel rape victims and handle sexual assault situations. Rape and sexual assault is a very real, current problem that needs to be addressed – not swept under the rug.
And every rape victim – especially those underage – should be able to approach a trusted adult or official for help without fear of ridicule or backlash. No exceptions. Our educators are expected to be reliable, accountable adults. They’d do well to start acting like it.