Last Thursday, at a middle school near Richmond High School (site of October's brutal gang rape) a 12 year old pupil was allegedly raped in a stairwell during school hours. But school officials are already disputing the account.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Portola Middle School in El Cerrito cornered and raped a 12-year-old seventh-grader in a stairwell during the last class of the day. Two people witnessed the attack: one physically stepped in to stop it, the other reported it to an adult. The suspect was arrested and faces a detention hearing today; the school's principal and vice principal have been suspended pending investigation into how a student could be raped on school property during school hours. Portola students are no longer allowed to take bathroom breaks unaccompanied, but the school has no immediate plans to beef up security, and existing security officers are already questioning whether a rape really occurred.
In addition to a police officer, four paid site supervisors help provide security at Portola. One of them, Marquita Dones, says, "we monitor the hallways, the stairways, we're up and down all day long." Dones adds, "if she was being raped, why didn't she scream? Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody's down there?" And her fellow supervisor Mustapha Cannon informed journalists that "you're calling it a rape when it wasn't really a rape" and that "it was hormones going wild." He continued,
I know the girl and I know the guy. I know... and I know the girl's family. I know for a fact that that girl could've knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back.
So because a 12-year-old girl didn't scream (or at least not loud enough for school officials to hear her), and didn't fight (or least not "hard enough" for the boy to stop), she wasn't really assaulted. If the encounter was in fact consensual, then Portola Middle School still has a discipline problem if students are sneaking off to have sex during class. But if it wasn't — as police and prosecutors still assert — then Dones and Cannon are trivializing a young girl's attack for the sake of covering their own asses. Their statements are the most upsetting, but others involved in the investigation aren't saying all the right things either. El Cerrito police Chief Scott Kirkland opines,
It is interesting, the criminal mind. When a situation like this occurs, to actually do something like this ... you have to be a little sick.
The idea that "the criminal mind" is the sole cause of this assault is a little simplistic, especially given the Richmond rape not two months ago. Yes, the suspect, if guilty, did a terrible thing, and may even be "a little sick." But he also comes from a culture (that would be rape culture, which is everywhere, not just in rough neighborhoods) in which people are quick to deny or explain away a rape as soon as it's reported. He goes to a school where he was allowed to rape someone during class. To treat a fourteen-year-old like some kind of criminal mastermind is to forget that he's also a product of his time and place, and that his time and place desperately need changing.
School safety activist Michelle Jawad says it's encouraging that students reported the rape. She adds,
Maybe one of the good things that came out of (the Richmond High School rape) is that someone was brave enough to speak up. Some of the students are seeing this and thinking, 'Maybe this is not OK, and I need to report that.'
It is a step in the right direction that witnesses did the right thing. But for the twelve-year-old victim, it was probably too little, too late.