From congressional and White House recommendations on reducing campus sexual assaults earlier this year to the White House’s unveiling this week of a new prevention campaign, the problem of sexual assault on college campuses has been receiving an unprecedented level of attention of late. Shining the spotlight on a problem that affects the educational opportunities of so many young women across the country is important. But we must not forget that sexual harassment and violence is also an all too present reality for many girls in elementary and secondary schools. And Title IX – the civil rights law that is not just about sports but also requires all schools that receive federal funding to address sexual harassment – protects these K-12 students too.
We at NWLC are trying to get justice for one such student who was raped because her school didn’t live up to its Title IX obligations. Along with our co-counsel at Mastando & Artrip, LLC, we recently filed an Eleventh Circuit appeal brief in a lawsuit against the Madison County School Board in Alabama and its middle school officials for their outrageous response to peer sexual harassment that resulted in the rape of a 14-year-old girl. The case stems from a school policy of only punishing sexual harassment if a harasser was “caught in the act” through witnesses, an admission, or physical evidence. Based on this policy, school officials failed to address repeated sexual harassment of multiple female students by a particular male student. Then, when this 14-year-old girl complained about the older male student asking her to meet him in the bathroom for sex, the school officials sent her to meet him in the bathroom as bait in a sting operation to “catch him in the act.” Before any staff arrived to catch him, the male student raped her.
The lower court found in favor of the school district and dismissed the lawsuit, even though the school’s actions were totally unreasonable and the district and its officials violated Title IX, the United States Constitution, and certain Alabama state laws. We are now appealing this incorrect decision by the lower court. The U.S. Department of Justice also weighed in on the appeal by filing a friend-of-the-court brief [PDF] supporting the girl who was raped.
We hope that justice ultimately prevails in this tragic situation.