A recent report from Slate shows (yet again) why so many survivors of sexual assault and rape don’t come forward.
Slate’s Nora Caplan-Bricker details the story of a 16-year-old who says she was sexually assaulted last year on the grounds of Peachtree Ridge high school, in Suwanee, Georgia.
The teen (who Slate refers to as T.M. in order to protect her identity) says she was waiting for her ride home after school when a male classmate asked her to join him in the school’s newsroom. According to Slate, T.M. said the boy wanted to show her some video equipment.
“[T.M.] says that she followed him into the school’s newsroom, just down the hall, where he allegedly coerced her into performing oral sex,” Caplan-Bricker writes.
The next morning, T.M. went directly to one of her teachers and reported the assault. According to T.M. and a legal complaint her family submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the school failed to treat the 16-year-old’s case with respect and seriousness it deserved. Slate reported that a resource officer at the school allegedly asked T.M. why she didn’t bite her assailant’s penis or squeeze his scrotum in order to stop him from assaulting her.
Read an excerpt from Slate’s piece below (emphasis ours):
The Peachtree Ridge resource officer who first questioned T.M. set the tenor of the school’s investigation when he asked her to describe what she was wearing at the time of the assault, according to the complaint, which the family’s lawyers provided to Slate. The complaint says the officer also requested that she explain why she didn’t fight off her assailant: “Why didn’t you bite his penis and squeeze his balls?” he allegedly asked. (The resource officer did not respond to a request for comment, nor did other school administrators named in the complaint, or the two teachers to whom T.M. originally reported the incident.)
The complaint states that within days, T.M. and her parents were informed that she would be suspended, as would the boy, until the school could conduct a joint disciplinary hearing. There, she and the alleged perpetrator, or their legal representatives, would cross-examine each other. If T.M. couldn’t prove that what she’d experienced was assault, she would be disciplined along with the boy for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds, a violation of Peachtree’s rules.
This kind of victim-blaming commentary feels practically predictable at this point: In 2014 a Canadian judge asked a 19-year-old rape survivor why she couldn’t simply keep her knees together. A female University of Richmond student alleged in a Sept. 2016 blog on The Huffington Post that a campus administrator justified her rape because he thought it “reasonable for [the rapist] to penetrate [her] for a few more minutes if he was going to finish.” And as we’ve seen in the cases of Brock Turner and David Becker, sexual assault is repeatedly characterized as a teen “mistake” or just “20 minutes of action.”
These stories highlight a very real barrier that survivors face when considering whether or not to come forward with their stories.
T.M.’s father told Caplan-Bricker that they “begged and pleaded” with the superintendent to hold separate hearings for T.M. and her assailant.
“We even considered not having her attend at all,” T.M.’s father told Slate. “In the end, we decided, and [T.M.] decided, that she wanted to try to stand up for herself. Of course, that did no good whatsoever.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.