In November of 2012, a 15-year-old girl was on a two-day school trip to a national park when she was brutally raped by a classmate. She reported it. She was hospitalized. There was an investigation. Her alleged rapist returned to school. She never did.
Sometimes it seems like half our bandwidth at this site is taken up documenting the seemingly endless parade of administrative fuck-ups and bald-faced cruelty by which American colleges underserve and blame rape victims, protect rapists, and mishandle every possible angle of rape reporting.
But what about high school campuses? Are rape reports handled any better by those administrators? If this case is any indication, they might actually be worse.
The details of this rape and its aftermath—which took place at Seattle's Garfield High School—are absolutely horrific. The victim was raped anally, allegedly by a popular athlete. She initially told investigators that a stranger came into her bunk in the middle of the night, because she "didn't want to get him, a friend, in trouble" (a claim that, of course, was used to discredit her later). The athlete's friend and bunkmate testified that he heard her moaning. "I was never moaning," she responded. "If I was, then it was in pain." When asked if he heard her say "No," her alleged assailant replied, "I did not pay attention to her that much."
"I did not pay attention to her that much."
And the trauma didn't stop with the rape. According to this deep, heartbreaking Al Jazeera report, Garfield essentially sided with the girl's alleged rapist:
In the months that followed, the Millers frantically contacted the school, trying to figure out how the alleged rape could have happened and how to get Emily — soon diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder — back on track in school. But school district officials responded to their questions with confusing or contradictory information, if they responded at all.
As the months rolled by, the alleged perpetrator continued attending Garfield as usual, while claiming on Facebook that he had been framed. With rumors swirling, Emily never returned to Garfield. Instead, the Millers say their daughter's mental health deteriorated, landing her in a residential treatment facility and pushing them more than $50,000 in debt.
And, in what appears to be a widespread problem in America's secondary school systems, Garfield administrators either had no understanding of Title IX or chose to simply ignore the law. Seattle Public Schools is now one of 23 school districts under investigation for Title IX violations, specifically regarding sexual assault.
Under Title IX, a school must conduct a prompt investigation into any report of sexual assault and determine whether it is "more likely than not" that it happened — a completely separate process from a criminal investigation, with a much lower burden of proof. In its policy, Seattle Public Schools says it will respond to reports within 30 days.
But the district didn't begin to investigate the incident with Emily until six months after the alleged incident and only at the parents' insistence, records and emails show. It took 14 months for the district to conclude that there was "insufficient evidence" that she was a "victim of harassment."
Title IX also requires the investigation to be "equitable." But the Millers said it was so deeply skewed that the district was essentially an advocate for the boy.
Meanwhile, at Garfield, the alleged rapist retained full control of the story, as he was the only one there to tell it. He was "framed," he said. He was "proud" of "getting laid." He was popular. The other kids "had his back."
"It turned school into a hostile environment that made it impossible for Emily to return, the Millers said, and triggered their daughter's full-blown PTSD."
And people wonder why victims so seldom report their rapes. And people blame victims for their silence. And when we talk about rape culture, people say we're the "outrage police," we're "professional victims," we're inventing bogeymen out of boredom. "Oh, everyone knows rape is bad." "Last time I checked, rape was illegal." "We put rapists in jail."
No. Most of the time, we don't.
Incidentally, I went to Garfield High School. So did both of my parents. My kids might go there too. I also went to Occidental College, which has recently been investigated for its own persistently mishandled rape problem. It seems that this thing—the two-headed trauma of being raped and then being punished for it—is currently built into our education system, much as it's built into the culture at large. It is inescapable. It follows our kids like a pestilence.
Based on past experience, it's easy to be skeptical that this investigation will enact lasting, visible change on such a historical, entrenched problem. But it's something. It's a start.
Image via Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons.