In yet another case of a school valuing athletic prowess over student safety and justice, a Michigan high school has just been sued by the National Women’s Law Center for failing to respond to a sexual attack on school grounds–because the perpetrator happened to be a star player on the basketball team.
The chilling story goes like this: in 2010, a female student (Jane Doe) was sexually assaulted in Forest Hills Central High School’s soundproof band room by a well-known member of the boy’s basketball team. Jane reported the attack to a teacher, who alerted the school principal. The principal held a meeting with Jane and her parents, not to offer the school’s help in bringing Jane’s attacker to justice, but to discourage them from pressing charges. Why? To protect the young man’s chances of getting recruited to a top college team, of course! (Because if Steubenville taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing more important than protecting the promising futures of young rapists.)
Jane and her family filed a police report anyway, but even as the local authorities investigated, Forest Hills did nothing: no interviews were conducted by school officials, and Jane was expected to sit in the same classrooms as her attacker. Two weeks later, another female student was assaulted by the same “promising young athlete” who had attacked Jane. The school continued to look the other way.
The NWLC believes that the school’s inaction also contributed to an intense bullying campaign (both in person and online) that erupted against Jane. Other students interpreted the school’s lack of punishment for the male student as proof that Jane was lying and trying to ruin the athlete’s good name. After constantly bullying in the hallways (including from the attacker himself) and a vicious internet campaign calling her a liar and a whore, Jane was forced to switch schools.
The Kent County Prosecutor eventually charged Jane’s attacker with two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced to an adolescent sexual offender treatment program. In the face of his conviction, the school finally handed down a punishment as well, and benched their star sex offender from a few basketball games. Yep. That’s all.
This whole story is absolutely reprehensible. I hope this lawsuit sends a message to schools that this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable, but more importantly, I hope Jane is getting the support she needs. We’ve seen too many similar stories that ended in tragedy.
[Image of basketball via Shutterstock]