The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) announced Thursday that it has joined the fight for justice on behalf of a high school girl who was sexually assaulted on campus, then bullied in classrooms, hallways and in online forums. The NWLC filed a Title IX lawsuit in U.S. District Court of the Western District of Michigan along with the law firm Smietanka, Buckleitner, Steffes and Gezon against the Forest Hills School District outside Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Title IX requires schools to ensure that the educational environment is free from sex-based discrimination,” said NWLC President Fatima Goss Graves in a statement. “This school completely ignored its legal responsibility to address student-on-student sexual harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to protect the victim. The school’s failure to address the harassment sends a chilling message to students that they should remain silent in the face of sexual assault and cannot count on their school to provide a safe learning environment.”
According to the complaint, a female student at Forest Hills Central High School was sexually assaulted in a soundproof band rehearsal room by a star player from the school’s basketball team. The school principal urged the girl and her parents not to press charges. Fearing that the rapist would assault other girls, the family filed charges anyway.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department opened a criminal investigation, but the suspect was allowed to continue to attend classes. Two weeks into the investigation, he sexually assaulted another female student.
According to the NWLC statement, “Still, despite an obligation under Title IX to investigate the assault and protect the student, the high school officials never interviewed the girl or her parents again, failed to conduct an investigation, and for two and a half weeks left the attacker in one of her classes.”
When students and the community observed that school authorities declined to take action against the attacker, they began a systematic campaign of cyber-bullying and harassment against the first victim, calling her a liar and a “whore” who was trying to frame an innocent athlete.
“The attacker and his friends verbally and physically harassed the girl as she moved in and out of classrooms, through hallways, and around the school campus,” reads the NWLC statement. “The attacker sometimes pushed her into other students as she walked down the hallway, causing her to slam into lockers. Despite repeated efforts by the victim’s parents and other students to alert the principal and the school’s Title IX Coordinator about the viciousness of the harassment by the attacker and other students, school administrators took no action.”
The victim’s grades plummeted as she isolated herself from family and friends. Eventually she transfered out of the school to avoid contact with her attacker.
The attacker plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery and was sentenced to the Kent County Adolescent Sexual Offender Treatment Program. No action was taken by school administrators other than to temporarily bench the attacker from playing in basketball games.
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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