Incidents of sexual assault often go unaddressed by GBHS

Incidents+of+sexual+assault+often+go+unaddressed+by+GBHS

During her sophomore year, Hannah, a 2015 Granite Bay High School graduate who asked that her last name be withheld, was going through a rough breakup. In an effort to revitalize her spirits, Hannah decided to spend a night at Sunsplash with her good friend, a male student at GBHS.

After a few hours of playing arcade games, her friend invited her back to his house, promising a night of Disney movies – Hannah’s favorite – and consolation.

Later that night, he assaulted her.

Pushing himself on her and taking off her clothes, he forced Hannah to perform oral sex on him, despite her repeated attempts to convince him to stop. Afterwards, he told her he “could tell (she) wanted it by the way (she) let him get close.” At 3 a.m., he snuck Hannah out of his house and drove her home. As she left the car, he was still trying to kiss her.

It was not Hannah’s first time encountering sexual violence. Neither would it be her last.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), there are about 293,000 incidents of rape per year. High school girls, aged 16 to 19, are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.

Granite Bay, like all communities, is not devoid of sexual violence. But in past years, assault has been less prominent in police reports or criminal trials than in hushed whispers and campus rumors.

“People see (sexual violence) glamorized a lot, in the media,” said Connie, who works for Stand Up Placer, a local organization which raises awareness about sexual and domestic violence.

“Because of that, the “Fifty Shades of Gray” kind of (mystique), victims sometimes don’t know that they can speak up, (or) where they can go for help.”

The U.S. Education Code’s Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Esther Warkov, who heads the nonprofit organization Stop Sexual Assault in schools, said schools are required to become Title IX-compliant before assaults are even reported.

“Once someone reports sexual assault, schools are required to open an investigation,” Warkov said. “If a student feels uncomfortable, the school needs to contact the Title IX coordinator and make adjustments. That might be an expulsion, but at the minimum the school should separate the victim from the perpetrator and make sure the victim feels comfortable enough so that their ability to perform at their full potential in an educational environment isn’t compromised. If they don’t do anything, they are in violation of federal law.”

Principal Jennifer Leighton said in an email that “the minute information comes to us that a sexual assault may have occurred, we investigate thoroughly,” in a team of administrators and Placer County Sheriff Officer Greg Hopping.

While Leighton noted not much evidence of sexual violence has been brought forward in her nearly two years serving as GBHS principal, she said she “wouldn’t say it isn’t an issue, because even one instance is a problem.”

“A sexual assault is a very serious offense that would be investigated like any other incident where student safety is involved,” said Roseville Joint Union High School District superintendent Ron Severson, who did not recall any recent cases of school-related sexual violence involving two students.

However, in her experience, Warkov said, typically schools throughout the country are “woefully ill-prepared to address Title IX issues.”

“Schools almost never admit that,” Warkov said.

In Hannah’s case, even when her therapist found out about the assault and called the police, to her knowledge no punishments ever followed.

The lack of consequences for sexual violence was painfully apparent to another 2015 GBHS graduate, who was assaulted after attending the annual Senior Ball. After her returning to her friend’s house for post-ball festivities and drinking vodka mixed with Gatorade, her friend’s older brother, who was sober, forced her into his bedroom and raped her.

“I remember wanting the situation to not happen, but I couldn’t stop it,” the graduate said. “My best friend asked his brother the next day what happened. He said I was ‘so incoherent I couldn’t even talk,’ and he thought it was hilari- ous.”

Unlike Hannah, the graduate did not seek redress through legal means. She was unaware of the options available to her, both at school and in the community.

“I think talking about these issues, instead of sweeping them under the rug, would (make victims feel safer seeking support),” the graduate said. “With one rapist in my class, everyone brushed it off and tried to defend him, even though I knew multiple girls that had been taken advantage of by him.”

Both she and Hannah agreed the current state of awareness regarding sexual violence is inadequate, and assemblies or required sexual respect online courses would supplement health and safety instruction about consent.

Warkov said most people do not know that addressing sexual violence on a high school campus is foremost a civil issue, not a criminal issue, and if victims feel their education is compromised, they have every right to ask for proper accommodations for the school.

“(I would want other victims) to find someone to talk to before it’s too late,” Hannah said, “and to know that it’s never their fault. Let guys and girls know that sexual violence is always 100 percent the abuser’s fault, regardless of what the girl was drinking or wearing.”

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