An explosive yearlong report by The Associated Press has exposed an unsettling sexual assault problem in the United States that, in many cases, stays largely hidden from public view. Sexual assaults are pervasive in America’s school system, the report says, noting that over a four-year period beginning 2011 and ending in 2015, some 17,000 reports of sexual assaults were filed at schools across the U.S. What’s more, those reports were occurring at all levels — from kindergarten through grade 12, with a significant number of the assault perpetrators being students — and, the report goes on, that figure likely does not represent the full scope of the problem. It may just be the tip of the iceberg.
According to experts the AP spoke with, the true nature of the sexual assault problem remains hidden due to a number of factors, including the fact that many victims are reluctant to report assaults. In some cases the never do and in others that wait so long that physical evidence is lost and cases hinge solely on competing testimony. Moreover, there are no federal mandates or even uniform guidelines under which schools must track or publicly report such incidents.
Complicating matters further, sexual assaults that are reported are often categorized as bullying by school administrators, the AP discovered, for a variety of reasons. In some cases, administrators are even covering up evidence of crimes in an attempt to protect their schools’ reputations. “No principal wants their school to be the rape school, to be listed in the newspaper as being investigated,” Dr. Bill Howe told the AP. Howe, a former K-12 teacher, oversaw Connecticut’s state compliance with Title IX, the federal law used to help protect victims of sexual assault in schools, for 17 years. “Schools try to bury it,” he added. “It’s the courageous principal that does the right thing.”
Examining the data it obtained, the AP found that all types of students are vulnerable to sexual violence, including rape, sodomy, forced oral sex, unwanted fondling, and, often, bullying precedes the sexual violence. One personal story the AP highlighted was that of Chaz Wing, who sued his school district in Maine. Wing said he was raped in a school bathroom by two boys who had been bullying him. He was 12 years old at the time. They left him on the floor, bleeding, he told authorities, and one of his attackers threatened to burn his house down if he said anything. Wing didn’t tell school officials initially, and was raped two more times, before finally going to authorities — a year after the initial attack occurred. Watch the video below for more on Wing’s ordeal, which has dragged on for years.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.