After a 16-year-old student reported that a male classmate had sexually assaulted her, she was barred from attending class. She is now 18 and still waiting for justice.
Under pressure from former President Barack Obama's administration, educational institutions were forced to tighten their Title IX provisions. While colleges were quick to catch up with new policies, primary and secondary schools lagged behind. Now, the cracks in their Title IX infrastructures are beginning to show. In Fayetteville, Georgia's Fayette County High School, a 16-year-old, known only as AP to maintain privacy, reported her sexual assault which took place in a school hallway. She was promptly expelled for violating the high school's rules prohibiting "[acts] of sexual misconduct" and "indecent exposure." Two years on, she's still fighting for justice, The Washington Post's The Lily reports.
According to a complaint filed by AP against the Fayette County Board of Education, she was forced to perform oral sex on a male classmate in a school hallway. However, citing "sexual impropriety," the school principal chose to expel her, claiming she had violated rules against sexual misconduct. Even worse still, a thorough investigation of the incident was not conducted. As the victim allegedly "giggled" while describing the assault to a counselor, it was assumed that the act was "consensual." Security videos from the hallway were also reviewed, but the camera did not capture any footage of the incident. After talking to the accused and the victim, AP was expelled for 10 days, following which a hearing was called in order to determine “further disciplinary action."
This is, undoubtedly, an egregious violation of Title IX legislation. Under the policy, a school administration is expected to create an educational environment free from gender-based discrimination. With this in mind, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has filed a complaint on behalf of the victim. Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, director of educational equity at NWLC and one of the lawyers representing AP, revealed that such recourses of action involving "retaliation tactics" are common in high schools across the country, but disproportionately impact young women of color. She explained, "You see [this kind of response] largely in areas where there are high populations of people of color mostly because those schools tend to rely on harsh disciplinary practices and zero-tolerance approaches."
She added regarding the assault, "No one ever investigated this as if it was a sexual assault, even though [the victim] was consistent throughout, saying this happened against her will." The Fayette County School Board refused to comment on the complaint on the basis of privacy laws, but Melinda Berry Dreisbach, a public information officer for the school district, did share some information. "[The Board] fully expects to prevail on the legal and factual merits of the claims," she affirmed. In an email, she added, "The school system follows its student discipline code of conduct in providing due process to all students. We also abide by our policies regarding sexual harassment."
Despite the school administration's assertions, Onyeka-Crawford is not convinced that Fayette County High School followed Title IX guidelines. As per her expertise, AP should have been informed of her rights under Title IX when reporting her assault. In addition to this, the school’s procedures around sexual assault should have been made clear. Finally, she should have been given contact information for a Title IX coordinator, who is "a school-appointed representative who makes sure that the school complies with the law under Title IX." The lawyer declared, "At no point did Title IX gets mentioned."
At the so-called hearing organized by the school's principal in September last year, no evidence that conflicted with AP's story was presented, her assaulter did not testify, and her school principal made false assertions regarding her narrative. In a closing statement, he argued that the then-16-year-old girl had planned to perform oral sex on the perpetrator as a “birthday gift." On his recommendation, the victim was expelled for the rest of the year. It was suggested that she join the Fayette County Alternative School. However, she did not wish to attend as she believed the accused might have been there too—she saw him post about it on social media. Now, AP is 18 years old. And she hasn't been back to school since her assault two years ago. As her lawyers continue to fight for justice, high schools across the United States must do better to protect Title IX in their own institutions lest they leave other victims disenfranchised and demoralized.