A Georgia teen has spoken out about her high school’s decision to suspend her after she reported a sexual assault that occurred on school grounds.
The student — who attended Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee at the time of the assault — detailed her experience to Slate reporters.
As a 16-year-old sophomore, the girl — who is only identified as T.M. to protect her anonymity — was reportedly waiting outside the school for her mother to pick her up last year when a male classmate said he wanted to show her some video equipment.
When she followed him into the school’s newsroom, he allegedly coerced her into performing oral sex.
The following day, the girl reported the incident to a teacher who then took it to the administration and authorities.
The teen was questioned by a campus resource officer as a part of the school’s investigation and was asked obnoxious, victim-blaming questions such as what she was wearing on the day of the attack and why she didn’t bite her attacker’s genitals to fight him off.
Within days, the girl was notified that she and her attacker would be suspended until the school could facilitate a joint disciplinary hearing. The hearing would require the students to face each other and they, or their legal counsel, would cross-examine both parties.
In essence, the school decided that the girl had to prove what happened to her was sexual assault in order to avoid facing more disciplinary action for violating school rules by engaging in a sexual act on campus.
The girl’s parents have since filed a legal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
“I really wish my school would have helped me instead of looking out for itself,” T.M. reportedly wrote in a statement. “The school took advantage of me, and that wasn’t fair… The school should have pulled my attacker out of school and put him somewhere else, far away from me.”
After the girl’s family filed their complaint, the federal office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the district to determine if the school violated Title IX, which is the federal law that obligates educational institutions to investigate sexual assault reports.
“The very basic thing, in my view, is that students should be supported when reporting sexual violence, not punished,” said Adele Kimmel of Public Justice, a public interest law firm that is representing the victim’s family.
The school went forward with the disciplinary hearing, with both students and their families present. They ultimately determined that the students were both in violation of the school’s code of conduct for engaging in “consensual” sexual activity on campus. They were both punished with additional suspensions.
The family’s OCR complaint is reportedly still pending as their investigation continues.
“What has hurt the most is that I have suffered for something I didn’t do,” the girl reportedly said. “My school punished me and made it seem like the attack was somehow my fault. For a long time, I thought maybe it was.”
This way of handling sexual assault sends a very damaging message to teens. The fear of going through this type of experience would undoubtedly discourage other students from coming forward.
Regardless of whether or not the school believed the act was consensual, they should have dealt with the situation much more delicately. This girl was wrongfully disgraced and treated like a castaway for doing the right thing and reporting her assault.
Banner Photo Credit: Flickr user, Gianfranco Blanco