A High School Student’s Punishment For Committing Sexual Assault Was To Bake His Victim Bread Once A Week

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made clear earlier this month that the administration wouldn’t tolerate sexual assault and failure to address it on college campuses. But an investigation by The Boston Globe has since revealed this is a major issue on high school campuses, too: namely New Hampshire boarding school Phillips Exeter Academy, where a student was merely sentenced to do “penance” for committing sexual assault. The boarding school has a long and unfortunate history of sexual misconduct allegations, spanning as far back as the ’70s and ’80s.

After 17-year-old Michaella Henry reported Chukwudi “Chudi” Ikpeazu, a senior class leader, dorm proctor, and track captain, had forced “his hands inside her shirt and squeezed her backside” while she repeatedly told him “no,” both students agreed to meet with campus minister Reverend Robert Thompson. Ikpeazu admitted to his actions and, Thompson, clearly not understanding the severity of Ikpeazu’s actions or their effect on Henry suggested Ikpeazu merely complete an act of penance.

In this case, “penance” would be “baking bread and delivering it to Michaella for the rest of the year” on a weekly basis, forcing Henry to constantly face her attacker and making her feel “increasingly stressed,” according to The Globe. Thompson applauded Henry for accepting the arrangement, anyhow, writing to her, “You did a great service for Chudi, because you gave him an opportunity to express his regret and to take responsibility for what he had done.”

But the minister did not seem to take the situation seriously at all, in an email to a school official, writing “I thought you would be amused to learn that Michaella extracted an act of penance from Chudi.”

Henry rarely left her room out of fear of running into Ikpeazu, while The Globe writes that Ikpeazu’s life after the incident remained largely unchanged. He went on completing all his usual extracurricular activities, and the only reminder and slight inconvenience he had to tackle as a result of attacking Henry was that he had to bake and deliver bread to her on a weekly basis. Ikpeazu was relieved of this act of penance before the end of the year, and this was likely more to Henry’s benefit than his.

Despite a promising letter to students by new principal Lisa MacFarlane that the school was “committed to addressing issues of consent and sexual assault” after the sexual assault conviction of a student at St. Paul’s in Concord, Henry claims she was told by school officials that she didn’t “have to report this to the police because there was no penetration.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BGXVlhREBcr/?taken-by=phillipsexeter&hl=en

When Henry reported her experiences to the Exeter Police Department and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office, Ikpeazu was arrested in early June for a misdemeanor charge of sexual assault and was released on $5,000 “personal recognizance bail.” Only then did Phillips Exeter officials determine Ikpeazu had violated school sexual harassment policies, in yet another face-to-face meeting that forced Henry to confront him. The result was a “no-contact” contract both were required to sign, which could result in both students facing suspension of expulsion if violated.

While this situation might not be a perfect parallel of the case of Stanford rapist Brock Turner, it’s worth noting the use of a male attacker’s achievements — athletic or otherwise — almost as a shield to raise them above adequate punishment just because they don’t fit the stereotypical model of the delinquent, deadbeat predator.

In the same vein, while I don’t doubt it will be pointed out that Henry initially accepted “penance” as appropriate punishment for Ikpeazu, it’s worth noting that victims like her can’t be expected to know how to respond to or take control in the aftermath of such a traumatic, deeply uncomfortable experience, especially pitted in the same room as her attacker with a minister.

In this sense, Phillips Exeter officials arguably took advantage of Henry’s fear and confusion, prioritizing the comfort of her attacker over her own and failing to acknowledge the severity of sexual assault, however it’s committed, and also reflecting an overarching pattern on school campuses of not considering the very real effects of rape on young people, or offering victims the resources they need.

Cases in which victims of sexual abuse are believed and accepted as credible are unfortunately rare, but even then, this doesn’t mean they’ll be respected or will see justice. In a written statement to local news station WMUR 9, the school expressed “concern” that its approach to the situation “left one of our students feeling that she was not well served” and its “desire to improve wherever we can in matters of student safety and well-being.”