A Michigan high school faces a lawsuit after administrators allegedly did nothing to help a female student who was sexually assaulted on campus in 2010 by one of the school’s star basketball players. Even more disturbing, after she came forward, the principal is alleged to have discouraged the victim from reporting the attack because he was worried it would hurt the athlete’s chances of getting recruited to play basketball in college.
Despite the principal’s plea, she filed charges out of fear that her attacker would strike again. And those fears were confirmed just two weeks later when the same athlete is said to have sexually assaulted another student.
The story gets even more heartbreaking as it progresses. After word of the sexual assault spread through the school, the young woman became the target of vicious bullying by her fellow students that followed her in school and online. They called her a whore and a liar, among other things, while her attacker and his friends harassed her both physically and verbally. Even after this harassment was reported to school administrators, nothing was done.
The following year, she transferred to another school in an effort to avoid her attacker and the bullying.
“This school completely ignored its legal responsibility to address student-on-student sexual harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to protect the victim,” said Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, which is involved in the lawsuit. “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.”
Eventually, the basketball player was charged with two criminal counts of sexual conduct. He pleaded guilty to a single count of misdemeanor assault and battery and was sentenced to attend an adolescent sexual offender treatment program. When he returned to school, the athlete was “punished” by having to sit out a few basketball games—as if that were some sort of acceptable punishment given the offense.
If it feels like this type of victim blaming and reaction fits in with a more alarming trend that has emerged in recent years, unfortunately it does.
Society’s pervasive victim-blaming rape culture has consistently valued sports stars over rape victims — a dynamic that was particularly evident during the events that unfolded in Steubenville, OH earlier this year. That small town made national news for covering up a sexual assault perpetrated by two of its high school football stars. Even after the teens were convicted, the media took clear sides in the case, focusing on the impact that the guilty verdict might have on the boys’ promising athletic careers rather than the fact that they committed a serious crime. And Steubenville’s football coach just received a contract extension despite the fact that he may have been complicit in the cover-up.
This Michigan high schooler is just one of countless survivors of sexual assault who have faced serious consequences after talking about the crimes perpetrated against them. The Steubenville victim received death threats once her case became national news. And two teenage sexual assault victims — 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons from Canada and 15-year-old Audrie Pott from California — recently committed suicide after their classmates bullied them with information about their alleged gang-rapes.
(h/t RH Reality Check)
—Posted by Tracy Bloom.
Basketball ball in male hands via Shutterstock