Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 7 News List

AP reveals sex assaults by US students

‘HEADS IN THE SAND’:An investigation found 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults by students over a four-year period, with many schools opting to hide the cases

AP, BRUNSWICK, Maine

Chaz Wing records the weather forecast at a radio station in Brunswick, Maine, on March 18.

Photo: AP

Chaz Wing was 12 when they cornered him in the school bathroom. The students who tormented him were children, too, entering the age of pimples and cracking voices.

Eventually, he swore under oath, the boys raped him and left him bleeding, the culmination of a year of harassment.

Though Wing repeatedly told teachers and administrators about the insults and physical attacks, he did not report being sexually assaulted until a year later, launching a long legal fight over whether his school had done enough to protect him.

Wing’s saga is more than a tale of escalating bullying. Across the US, thousands of students have been sexually assaulted by other students, in high schools, junior-highs and even elementary schools — a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore.

Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a year-long investigation by The Associated Press (AP) uncovered about 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015.

That figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assault among the US’ 50 million students in grades K-12.

However, it also does not fully capture the problem: Such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states do not track them, and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.

REPUTATIONS AT STAKE

With school reputations and funding at stake, there is tremendous pressure to hide such violence. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act.

“No principal wants their school to be the rape school,” said Bill Howe, a former teacher who spent 17 years overseeing Connecticut’s compliance with a federal law that helps protect student victims of at-school sexual assault. “It’s the courageous principal that does the right thing.”

The attacks AP tracked ranged from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling.

Assaults occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised: buses and bathrooms, hallways and locker rooms. No type of school was immune, whether it be in a wealthy suburb, inner city or farm town, and all types of children were targeted.

Children remained most vulnerable to peer-on-peer sexual assault in the privacy of a home, the analysis of the federal crime data showed.

However, schools were the No. 2 place where they were sexually violated by other children.

INCIDENTS JUMP AT AGE 10

About 5 percent of reported attacks involved five and six-year-olds. Incidents jumped between ages 10 and 11 — typically the start of middle school — and continued rising until age 14, when they began dropping as students progressed through high school.

Unwanted fondling was the most common form of assault and about one in five of the abused kids were penetrated in some way.

The data also showed sexual assaults by peers were more common than those by teachers, which receive far more attention. For every adult-on-child sexual attack reported at school, there were seven by students.

“Schools are required to keep students safe,” said Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in school sexual misconduct. “It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn’t happening. Why don’t we know more about it and why isn’t it being stopped?”

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