Sexual Assault Against Kids Is NOT Exclusive To Loudoun County, VA

Student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happens with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses.

In an Ohio high school last year, four boys forced a 14-year-old girl into a school storage closet and sexually assaulted her. In an Indiana middle school, six girls charged a classmate with groping their breasts and buttocks; choking, smacking, and slapping them.

Meanwhile, in a California elementary school, boys created a tradition of slapping and grabbing their female classmates’ buttocks, and called it “Slap Ass Fridays.”

It’s unnerving and uncomfortable to talk about, but student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happen with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses. It’s happening at every level of education from preK to college.

It happened to Esther Warkov’s daughter, a student in Seattle public schools. She was raped by a high school classmate – a boy who had previously been disciplined for sexual misconduct when he was in middle school – on a multi-day school field trip. The rape occurred in the presence of other students.

“Our schools are in crisis,” says Warkov, who founded the Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) organization which advocates for schools to protect students from harassment and assault and to investigate cases as required by law under Title IX.

While occasions of adult-on-child sexual assaults on school property claim headlines – and rightfully so – the problem of student-on-student sexual attacks is much more common. For every adult-on-child sexual assault, there were seven such assaults by students, according to an Associated Press (AP) analysis of federal crime data.

From 2011 to 2015, about 17,000 sexual assaults were committed by U.S. students, AP found,  although the number is likely much higher because assaults are under-reported or mislabeled as bullying, particularly among young victims. About 5 percent of the victims AP reported on were 5- and 6-year-olds.

The younger the victim, the more devastating the impact, and the greater the vulnerability to repeated assault. It’s a disturbing trend and one that some educators and parents are reluctant to acknowledge, especially when it involves kids so young. It’s easier to label the acts as bullying or hazing than to call them sex crimes – and violations of federal Title IX safety protections – but advocates say the only way to eliminate these offenses is to face them head-on.

Otherwise, young lives will be destroyed, says Warkov. “Not only do the survivors’ emotional and psychological scars endure long after the attack, but their social lives, education, and career dreams are also shattered,” she says. “For some, the trauma is insurmountable; gender-based harassment and sexual assault have driven an increasing number of adolescent students to suicide,” Warkov adds.

The #metoo social media campaign revealed a hidden truth: Sexual harassment and assault is a normalized, commonplace offense that occurs regularly in every facet of U.S. society – in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, among journalists, comedians, politicians, and professors. Even the current President of the United States famously bragged about sexual harassment and assault, only to later dismiss his comments as “locker room talk.”

When it happens in schools and isn’t addressed, students learn that sexual misconduct is acceptable, even normal. After all, boys will be boys, right? But beliefs and attitudes about healthy relationships and sexuality take root early on in a student’s life and schools must take the initiative to eliminate sexual harassment and assault, educators say, first by acknowledging that these problems exist and then by tackling the problem in curriculum, policy, and the very fabric of school culture and community.

Sexual Bullying

“You’re weak. You’re measly. You’re just a girl.”

These are the messages conveyed – and received – by some students in Jennifer Ryman Meuljic’s third-grade class in the Vancouver School District in Washington. Over time, these ideas translate to feelings of power and powerlessness, which can facilitate victimization by harassers and abusers. But third graders don’t understand any of this. What they do understand, however, is how to respect themselves and their space and how to speak up for themselves if someone gets in their space without their permission.

“We talk a lot about personal bubbles or body space,” she says. “We talk about it when we’re lining up or sitting on the carpet, and we remind students that nobody is allowed into your bubble unless you invite them.”

Meuljic knows that kids like to touch and hug and that’s perfectly fine, as long as it’s welcome on both ends, so she and the other elementary teachers emphasize that everyone has their own personal space that is theirs to protect or share.

“If someone runs up to hug another student or hold their hand, I don’t discourage that, I just say, ‘Did you ask first if that’s OK?’ I teach them to respect and protect their own bubbles and also to respect others’ bubbles by asking if it’s OK to give a hug or sit close by.”

She also tells her students that if someone breaks into their bubble without their permission, they need to tell the person not to do that and to talk to an adult.

“My hope is that they always remember these lessons of protecting and respecting bubbles as they grow up and remember that they are the only ones in control of their bodies,” Meuljic says. “Maybe if we all could instill these ideas from the earliest ages we wouldn’t have so many people ignoring boundaries and exerting their power. I have to believe it will help.”

Loudoun County Virginia

The superintendent of a Virginia school district appeared to admit on October 15 that the district violated state law in failing to properly report alleged sexual assaults, as a state official confirmed that the matter is under review. Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Scott Ziegler made the admission during a brief appearance before reporters, where he read a prepared statement and took no questions.

Ziegler said the district made “errors in our state reporting regarding disciplinary incidents in schools,” stating that it had “inadvertently omitted some information in the past.”

“That is extremely concerning, and we are taking steps to make sure that process is improved. I will say that I have no reason to believe at this time that any missing reports were due to an intent to hide any information from the Virginia Department of Education,” he said, blaming an alleged “lack of oversight” that was in place before he was appointed in June, even though he had served as interim superintendent starting on Jan. 1.

Ziegler appeared to be responding to a report by The Daily Wire that the district failed to record multiple instances of alleged sexual assault, even though it’s required by state law that they do so.

Ziegler said during a June 22 school board meeting that he was unaware of any record of assaults happening in the district’s restrooms, nearly a month after a girl was allegedly raped by a male in a bathroom at Stone Bridge High School. State law states that reports “shall be made” to school and district authorities regarding all assaults on school buses, on school grounds, or at a school-sponsored activity. State law also directs district superintendents to annually report such incidents to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). But a public database of reports shows at least one assault that wasn’t reported to state authorities.

A Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson declined to comment on Ziegler’s Oct. 15 remarks but didn’t dispute the characterization that Ziegler acknowledged state law wasn’t complied with.

Superintendents who fail to comply or secure compliance with the reporting requirements are subject to sanctions.

A VDOE spokesman stated in an email that the agency has reviewed the submissions made by Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) concerning discipline, crime, and violation “and is in communication with LCPS regarding the accuracy of their reports and whether the division is in compliance with state reporting requirements.” The spokesman confirmed that the submissions are required annually and that superintendents are required to certify their accuracy.

“This is a matter that VDOE takes very seriously and is actively investigating discrepancies in the LCPS reports,” he said.

In his statement, Ziegler said he made misleading comments during the June meeting. He said his remarks came after wrongly interpreting a question about incidents in the bathrooms as only involving transgender or “gender-fluid” students.

“I regret that my comments were misleading, and I apologize for the distress that error caused families. I should have asked Board Member Beth Barts clarifying questions to get to the root of her question, rather than assuming what she meant. I will do better in the future,” he said.

Ziegler also apologized for how the district handled two recent alleged assaults.

“Let me say to the families and students involved: My heart aches for you, and I am sorry that we failed to provide the safe, welcoming, and affirming environment that we aspire to provide,” he said.

A spokeswoman for father Scott Smith said in a statement to news outlets that Ziegler’s statement on behalf of LCPS “is the first acknowledgment that we have had that they are in fact responsible for their bad decision-making and policies that resulted in the two sexual assaults that happened in our high schools.”

“Today, Superintendent Ziegler said what we already knew: that the actions of the Loudoun County School Board and Administration ‘failed to provide the safe environment’ for the Smith’s daughter,” an attorney for the family said, before accusing LCPS of prioritizing “misguided policies of political correctness over student safety.”

Ziegler’s statement came as the district’s education leadership is under heightened scrutiny, in part because the board approved a policy that forces LCPS staffers to address students by any pronoun that each individual student chooses and lets students who claim to be another gender use that gender’s facilities. The policy drew a fiery response at the June meeting, which was disbanded after Smith and another parent were arrested.

Smith recently revealed that his daughter was allegedly raped by a male inside a girl’s bathroom in her high school. He has described the male as utilizing the softness toward transgenderism to get inside the facility.

Smith has accused district leadership of covering up the assault.

The Loudon County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that an incident took place in May at Stone Bridge High School, but declined to provide more details, citing an ongoing investigation. It also declined to confirm reports that the same male was behind a sexual assault that took place at a different LCPS high school in October.

A Freedom of Information Act request seeking more details on the incidents and the arrest of Smith was sent to the district.

LCPS said via email that school board members “are typically not given details of disciplinary matters” and weren’t aware of the alleged rape until it was reported by media outlets.

A member of the school board facing a recall petition resigned from the board on Oct. 15, and attorneys for the Smith family recently filed a lawsuit against the district.

Summary

Isn’t Enough enough in this entire school sexual assault chapter of American History? How many children targeted for sexual assault in our schools is the “right” number for adults in public education to be appeased?

This is long-past “the” number. From its inception, it was and is the evilest policy that any school board could ever allow. And that is exactly what is being allowed across the nation!

Americans: “Wake UP!” There is no excuse to not engage in stopping these actions at every level of education — not just public education. Young children are the targets for these and other atrocities in every setting, in every school setting, and every other institution in which they are active.

Forget about that previous instruction about identifying sexual assault that instructed us: “See Something, Say Something.” That is WAY insufficient.

The “new” mantra is this: “See Something, DO SOMETHING!”

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