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May 27, 2017

The kids aren’t all right

Co-produced with PRX Logo

Federal law requires colleges and universities to track and disclose sexual assaults on campus. It’s different for kindergarten through 12th grade, where there are no similar requirements for cases involving assaults between students. In elementary, middle and high schools across the U.S., the Associated Press found a shocking level of sexual violence among students, including on U.S. military bases.

On this episode of Reveal, we delve into the results of AP’s yearlong investigation.

We start off in Maine, where AP reporter Robin McDowell and Reveal’s Michael Montgomery examine what happened to a junior high student after he told school officials how other students bullied and sexually assaulted him starting in seventh grade. Many victims, school officials and parents are reluctant to talk about cases like this, so the larger problem goes unreported.

The AP also found that for every child abused by an adult at school, seven are abused by peers. Reveal host Al Letson speaks with reporters Reese Dunklin and Emily Schmall about the obstacles that these victims and their families face in the search for justice.

Reveal reporter Katharine Mieszkowski takes us to one Oklahoma school district where students pressured school administrators to do more to help victims. And from Oregon, she reports on how some school districts are trying to identify warning signs and intervene before students’ troubling sexual behavior harms other kids.

DIG DEEPER

  • Explore: See more from AP’s “Schoolhouse Sex Assault” investigation
  • Search your state: Student sex assault reports and how they vary by state
  • Read: Schools face vexing test: Which kids will sexually attack?

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

 

  Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 - 00:10:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Al: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al [Letsin 00:00:05]. Charlie Wing's new son Chaz was being bullied. He just didn't know how bad it was.

 

Charlie: I was like, "Well they're bullies. You've got to stand up to them." I've been bullied and I was trying to give him the father-son and it didn't feel like I was getting anywhere with him.

 

Al: After Chaz's grades dropped and he refused to go to school, his mom knew that she had to get to the bottom of it.

 

[00:00:30]

Amy:

 

I said, "If you don't tell me, I can't help you. We can't fix this. I need to know what' going on. You have to tell me." That's when he started telling me everything.

 

Al: He told her that he had been sexually assaulted at school by other kids. It's happened to thousands of children like him. Schools often don't know how to deal with it so they don't. That's coming up on Reveal.

 

[00:01:00]

Speaker 4:

 

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[00:01:30]

Al:

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letsin. The mid coast of Maine is full of pine forests, sleepy harbors, and craggy beaches. For Charlie Wing, this part of the state is a place of easy summers and cold winters.

 

A few weeks ago, he was standing on the beach looking out an old pier and life guard station. In the distance, lobster boats are prowling he mouth of the [Kennabeck 00:02:12] River. Charlie remembers one blustery September afternoon, when he and his son Chaz drove here.

 

[00:02:00]

Charlie:

 

It was storming that day and it was colder than this. It was not exactly a nice day, but this place has always kind of calmed me and it seemed at the time like there was a storm inside Chaz. I just wanted to try to talk to him and find out what was going on.

 

[00:02:30]

Al:

 

It was 5 years ago. Chaz was 13, just starting eighth grade and in crisis. He was barely passing his classes and he was talking about suicide. Charlie knew other kids were bullying his son at school but not a lot more than that.

 

Charlie: We started walking and I just couldn't quite get ... I didn't understand the depth of what had been happening to him. I was like, "Well they're bullies. You've got to stand up to them." I've been bullied and I was trying to give him the father-son. You've just got to be a man and stand up to them and he was like ...

 

[00:03:00]

Al:

 

Charlie and Chaz slowly made their way up the beach.

 

Charlie: I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere with him.

 

Al: After a mile, they turned around. Then Chaz stopped in the sand.

 

Charlie: Just standing there looking out at the water and the waves and the wind coming at him and stuff. He said, "Do you mind if I go in the water?" I wasn't sure what I thought because he had threatened to commit suicide several times.

 

[00:03:30]

Al:

 

Chaz rolled up his pants, took off his shoes and socks, and placed them neatly on the beach. His father stared after him, wondering if he would have to rescue his son.

 

Charlie: He walked out kind of up to his knees and he started yelling at the sky, "Listen to me! Listen to me!" I didn't know what it mean but he said it four or five times. All I understood was I think I'm dealing with a problem that's larger than I really understand.

 

[00:04:00] At the time, I just didn't know ... At the time, I didn't know there'd been a sexual assault.

 

[00:04:30]

Al:

 

Before we go any further, you should know that's what our show is about today. Sexual assault among school kids. It's an issue that isn't appropriate for all listeners. Often when you hear about students being abused at school, it involves adults, teachers, coaches, or other staff but the Associated Press investigated these cases for a year and found something surprising. For every one child abused by an adult, 7 are abused by their peers.

 

[00:05:00] We're teaming up with the AP on today's show. They also found that many of these cases go unreported. People don't like to talk about this stuff. It was like that with Chaz Wing. He hid his abuse and pain for a long time but he talked to Associated Press reporter, Robin McDowell, about it. She brings us his story.

 

Robin McDowell: From his first days at Brunswick Junior High School, Chaz remembers being bullied. He tells me boys would corner him at his locker, taunt him. In the halls they'd bump him. In class, they'd play jokes.

 

[00:05:30]

Chaz:

 

I think they picked on me because of my weight, the type of music I listen to, my interests, the way I acted, anything that wasn't completely cookie cutter a middle school boy attitude.

 

[00:06:00]

Robin McDowell:

 

Chaz is 18 now but he's always been a quirky kid. His dark brown mullet hangs to his shoulders. He collects old records, cassettes, 8-track types. Instead of sports and video games, he started an analog club at school.

 

Amy: He's an interesting kid.

 

Robin McDowell: This is his mother Amy. Blonde, blue eyed. She's a nurse who's passionate about her work and her two sons. She split up with Charlie when Chaz was in the fifth grade. She says when Chaz entered junior high, he was considered gifted and talented. Within a year though, his grades started slipping and he'd come home feeling confused and upset.

 

[00:06:30]

Amy:

 

Why are the kids mean? Why are they mean to me? At first, I was like, "Well they have problems at home. They're just picking on you to make themselves feel better. If you ignore them, they'll stop."

 

Robin McDowell: Chaz tried to ignore the bullying but it got a lot more personal.

 

Speaker 7: There was the thing that they called the gay test. Can you tell me about it?

 

Chaz: The gay test was when they lightly put their hand on your shoulder and if you didn't notice it and bat it away in under 10 seconds, they would declare that you are gay and you must've enjoyed it and that's why you didn't knock their hand away. It was very uncomfortable. I definitely had to watch over my shoulder quite a bit. It would happen inside and out of school. I didn't feel like I had any privacy.

 

[00:07:30]

Robin McDowell:

 

Like a lot of schools around the country, Brunswick Junior High had a policy against bullying. Chaz remembers anti-bullying assemblies and posters. If you see something, say something. So he did. He complained so many times, some teachers labeled him a nuisance. The bullying got so bad his mom Amy said she marched into Principal Wallace's office several times. He told her he'd speak to the boys and their parents.

 

[00:08:00]

Amy:

 

At first he seemed like he was interested. I trusted that he would follow through and look into everything. They kept saying that they were handling it.

 

Robin McDowell: Amy says Wallace didn't live up to his promises.

 

Charlie: It's so beautiful. Just the salt air. Something about the sea.

 

Robin McDowell: Ever since he was a kid, Charlie Wing liked coming hear to [Poppum 00:08:31] Beach. It's a half hour drive from Brunswick.

 

[00:08:30]

Charlie:

 

I don't mind getting a little bit wet.

 

Robin McDowell: Charlie Wing looks like a biker with a gray and shaggy beard. He works at a big retailer and dresses like a drummer in a rock band. That's what he does for fun. On a bluster September day when he brought Chaz here, Charlie says it felt like a movie.

 

Charlie: We were getting blasted in the face with a little bit of rain and him just yelling at the wind. Yelling out at the furies and the powers that be I supposed you know. I'll never forget that. I'll never forget that this was a big deal and I need to really start paying more attention.

 

[00:09:00]

Robin McDowell:

 

Chaz didn't tell his dad anything then but he was about to open up. It started after Amy met with a group of his teachers. Chaz was refusing to go to school. The teachers wanted to get him back into class but they told Amy that Chaz needed to meet with them. So she headed home and told him.

 

[00:09:30]

Amy:

 

He said, "No. I can't go." I said, "Chaz you have to. They want you to be at that meeting." He grabbed the pillow on the bed and started holding it and was rocking back and forth and said, "No. I can't go." I said, "You have to." He said, "Mom no. I can't. They're going to hurt me." Then I said, "Chaz you have to tell me what is going-

 

  Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 - 00:10:04]
  Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 - 00:20:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Amy: You have to tell me what is going on. And he just kept saying, "They're gonna hurt me, they hurt me. I can't go back." And finally I told him, I said, "If you don't tell me I can't help you. We can't fix this. I need to know what's going on. You have to tell me." And that's when he told me- started telling me everything.

 

Speaker 1: Chaz told Amy something had happened to him at school, back in the seventh grade. He said some of the same boys who'd been bullying him, sexually assaulted him. Later, Chaz gave more details under oath. He said some boys grabbed him in a school bathroom and raped him, three different times.

 

[00:10:30] Chaz told me he didn't talk about this with anyone for months, because he was ashamed and afraid.

 

Chaz: They threatened to hurt my family and pets. They threatened to hurt me, they cut my arm, which I still have a scar from. They threatened to burn our house down.

 

[00:11:00]

Amy:

 

On the one hand it all made sense, on the other hand I didn't want to believe it, I couldn't believe it. I had never in a million years thought school was where it was.

 

Speaker 1: Amy Wing reported to the school what Chaz told her about the sexual assaults. Principal Wallace led an investigation, but left the job of interviewing Chaz to his vice principal. The Brunswick police also investigated. The man in charge, he was also the school resource officer at Brunswick Junior High. If Chaz was telling the truth, then the assaults happened on their watch.

 

[00:11:30] The investigations wrapped up in about a month. The Brunswick police department, and the school district, determined there was no credible evidence to support Chaz's allegations, even though a state psychologist showed strong evidence that Chaz was sexually abused.

 

[00:12:00]

Courtney:

 

I don't think people want to believe it happens, that sexual assault happens amongst children.

 

Speaker 1: Courtney Beer is someone Amy Wing turned to for help. She's a staff attorney with Pine Tree, a nonprofit that offers free legal aid.

 

Courtney: I just don't think people want to acknowledge that it exists. And the discouraging part is that there is no way to track the numbers.

 

Speaker 1: Courtney says she believes Chaz was telling the truth. It became more real to her when she walked through Brunswick Junior High with him as she looked into the case.

 

[00:12:30]

Courtney:

 

You could see Chaz's raw sense of emotion when he had to walk into the bathrooms where the assaults had occurred. And memories were coming back to him as we walked through the school, and he was disclosing details that he had not reported previously because he was remembering them as we were there.

 

Speaker 1: In 2015 the Wings filed a lawsuit claiming the district had violated Chaz's civil rights by not doing enough to stop the bullying and abuse. The state's Human Rights Commission joined them. School officials wouldn't talk to us, but they had to talk to Chaz's lawyers. We obtained hours of video depositions that were part of the lawsuit.

 

[00:13:00]

David:

 

Good morning again, Mr. Wallace. Could you spell your full name for the record?

 

Walter Wallace: Walter Wallace. W-A-L-T-E-R.

 

Speaker 1: In one deposition, attorney David Webbert questions Principal Walter Wallace. He says other kids did bully Chaz from time to time, and the school dealt with it. He also says he couldn't verify a lot of what Chaz had to say.

 

[00:13:30]

Walter Wallace:

 

Well, there are a lot of reports about things that we could not substantiate. There was this hypersensitivity to any look, any movement, any brushing in the hallway.

 

Speaker 1: He tells the court that some of Chaz's problems with other students were his own fault.

 

Walter Wallace: Chaz is very opinionated. He likes what he likes. If you don't agree with him on things, he gets irritated with you, and some arrogance.

 

[00:14:00]

Speaker 1:

 

Then they get into the sexual assault allegations. Wallace said he had trouble believing Chaz's story because he didn't think the attacks could have happened in the small bathroom stalls, and he believed what the other boys had to say.

 

Walter Wallace: One student's reaction was- The student didn't have no idea what even we were talking about. He had no frame of reference for sex. He was bewildered, he was confused. The other students immediately were shaking their head, "No that never happened, I wouldn't do that, why would I do that?"

 

[00:14:30]

David:

 

Did you ever interview Chaz Wing about his allegations of sexual assault?

 

Walter Wallace: I did not.

 

David: In hindsight, should you have spoken directly to Chaz Wing?

 

Walter Wallace: I could've. I don't- I was confident in the notes that were taken. This was a sensitive case. We were trying to do this as quickly and as efficiently and complete as possible.

 

[00:15:00]

David:

 

Did you ever go back to Chaz Wing with any of the information you obtained in the interviews to ask him to explain your concerns about plausibility, or credibility of his allegations?

 

[00:15:30]

Walter Wallace:

 

No.

 

David: Did you consider doing that?

 

Walter Wallace: Not that I remember.

 

Speaker 1: There's something else Walter Wallace didn't do. He never made a written report. He just told the school superintendent about his findings.

 

David: Did you write any of this down?

 

Walter Wallace: I don't know. I don't think so.

 

David: Was this an important judgment you were making?

 

Walter Wallace: Sure.

 

David: In hindsight, should you have written your analysis down?

 

[00:16:00]

Walter Wallace:

 

I think it would be helpful right now.

 

Melissa: And could you start by telling us your name?

 

Chaz: Chaz Wing- Charles Wing.

 

Speaker 1: In his deposition, Chaz wears a black dress shirt and gray tie. He looks composed. Attorney Melissa Huey questions him for eight hours over two days. At one point she brings up the times other boys would gently touch his shoulder. The so called "gay test."

 

Melissa: And why were you concerned that people might think you were gay?

 

[00:16:30]

Chaz:

 

Because it was taboo. It was frowned upon by the majority of students at the school there.

 

Speaker 1: Attorney Courtney Beer attended many of the depositions.

 

Courtney: It certainly felt to me that he- that the district was seeking to somehow blame him for his involvement, and for part of what happened. His sexuality was a topic of question, and that was something that the teachers had also asked him when he was in school, as to whether or not he was gay, and if he wasn't then why would it really matter if he was being called gay?

 

[00:17:00]

Melissa:

 

Do you recall complaining to anybody at Brunswick Junior High School that two male students told you, "I love you?"

 

Chaz: Yes.

 

Melissa: Do you remember whether you were offended by that?

 

Chaz: I was.

 

Melissa: Why would you be offended by that?

 

Attorney: Objection. The tone of voice is really out of touch with reality.

 

[00:17:30]

Melissa:

 

You can't object to tone of voice.

 

Attorney: Yes, yes I can.

 

Melissa: Can you answer my question?

 

Attorney: You're not supposed to be- you ask questions you don't comment on answers. And your suggestion is contrary to the way the world works, and so I don't understand how you could have a good faith basis for suggesting that a middle school boy is not gonna be upset by that comment.

 

Judge: Could you please repeat the question?

 

Melissa: Why did it upset you that someone said, "I love you?"

 

[00:18:00]

Chaz:

 

Because I ... I did not think it was appropriate for another male student to love me. I didn't see any reason for them to say they loved me.

 

Speaker 1: Later I asked Chaz if he thought the way the attorney questioned him felt like another kind of gay test.

 

Chaz: Yes. Yes, definitely. I believe they were trying to solicit a more aggressive, angry response from me, trying to make me seem belligerent.

 

[00:18:30]

Speaker 1:

 

The school's attorney spends hours taking Chaz through each alleged assault in graphic detail. He describes how, on one occasion, two boys held him in the bathroom stall, and raped him.

 

Melissa: Okay, then what happened?

 

Chaz: I cleaned myself up, and I went back to class.

 

[00:19:00]

Melissa:

 

You went back to class?

 

Chaz: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Melissa: Did you tell anyone about this?

 

Chaz: No.

 

Melissa: And why not?

 

Chaz: Because I was afraid that I would be in danger if I did.

 

Speaker 1: After the depositions wrapped up, Chaz and his family felt a rush of emotions. It was painful for them to relive all the things Chaz says he went through. They were angry. Chaz says he also felt some relief that it was almost over.

 

[00:19:30] Within a few weeks the two sides moved toward a settlement. The district agreed to pay $125,000. After legal fees, Chaz got $50,000. The district also promised to improve the way it tracks allegations of bullying. But what Chaz wanted most of all was an apology from the school district. There would be none.

 

  Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 - 00:20:04]
  Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 - 00:30:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Julia: [Therwoodbena 00:20:01]

 

Chaz: We're going to follow this road all the way to the end of it.

 

Julia: Recently I took a drive around Brunswick with Chaz. It's an old mill town, population 20,000.

 

Chaz: Down to the right is the back way to get to the Good Will, one of my favorite places to go shopping.

 

Julia: We pass the weekend flea market where he sells some of the old electronics he collects.

 

Back at home, Chaz leads me down into his basement. It's packed with stuff he's collected since he was little, stuff he can't seem to let go of.

 

[00:20:30]

Chaz:

 

Got the SelectaVision RCA VCR here. I have a Betamax VCR there, CED player-

 

This is where everything that's too good for the flea market stays, everything I want to keep in my own collection.

 

So that is a 1924 RCA with photophone audio capabilities. I like preserving the history. I like being able to access any tape, any disk that comes my way. To be able to see what's on it, not just be left wondering could this be footage of my parents or grandparents taking their first steps.

 

Julia: To Chaz, being able to tell a story that was trapped inside him is a bit like bringing these flickering images back to life. Now, he just wants to move on.

 

[00:21:30] He just finished high school. He says he might stay in Brunswick and find a job or go away to college. Sometimes he just wants to hop on a bicycle and ride all the way down to Florida, where his grandparents live.

 

Chaz says he hopes his decision to go public will help others who face bullying and sexual violence in school. He says he would be willing to forgive the boys if they apologize to him. He doesn't feel that way about the Brunswick school officials.

 

[00:22:00]

Chaz:

 

They are all adults. They know full well what their actions mean, and one of their jobs is protecting the students.

 

[00:22:30] They were accepting taxpayer money for something they weren't doing. I don't think that they should still be in charge of a school district.

 

Al: We reached out to Brunswick School District. They wouldn't talk to us, but just before we wrapped up the story, the attorney for the school district, [Melissa Hughie 00:23:01], sent the Associated Press a statement. In it she said, "One reason the district settled was to protect the boys that Chaz accused from a public trial." She called "them" the real victims.

 

Thanks to the Associated Press's [Robyn McDowel 00:23:18] for this story. It was produced by [Michael Montgomery 00:23:17]

 

[00:23:00] When we come back, we'll have more about the scope of AP's reporting on sexual assault among kids.

 

[00:23:30]

Reese:

 

(This is your transcriptionist, please note that I think that the following speech, here, is a portion of the same speech that is said by Reese further down.)

 

[00:29:00] We're getting the language wrong, because we're calling it bullying, we're calling it harassment, we're calling it hazing. We're not really addressing the root cause of the problem here.

 

Al: You're listening to Reveal.

 

Julia: Hey listeners, [Julia B. Chan 00:23:49] here, Reveal's Digital Editor.

 

As you'll hear this hour, unlike colleges and universities, there are no national requirements for U.S. elementary and secondary schools to track student sexual assaults. In fact, student sex assault reports vary state by state.

 

The Associated Press has found that, although inconsistent and sometimes incomplete, thirty-two states and the District of Columbia do maintain information of these assaults. So, go see where your state stands by going to revealnews.org/report.

 

AP has put together an interactive summary for every single state. Again, that's revealnews.org/report.

 

Al: From the Center For Investigative Reporting in [PRX 00:24:37] this is Reveal. I'm Al [Lessen 00:24:40].

 

A reminder that today's show deals with child sexual assault. An important topic, but one that isn't for all listeners.

 

Before the break, we heard the story of Chaz [Wing 00:24:48]. He settled a lawsuit with his school district over allegations that other students bullied and raped him at his junior high. His story is a part of an Associated Press investigation into sexual violence at school. Two of those reporters are with me now, [Reese Dunglan 00:25:08] and [Emily Shmall 00:25:07].

 

So, Reese, this investigation is a really heavy subject and, as a father with two kids in school, it was shocking to me. I mean, I don't think I thought about these type of assaults happening, at least not on the scale that you guys reported on.

 

Reese: Yeah. I'm a father of a first grader myself, and I think you, other parents, me, we all believe when we send our little ones off to school, that there are so many adults around they're going to be kept safe.

 

Over a recent four-year period, we found roughly 17,000 cases. Rape, sodomy, sexual assault with an object, forced fondling, these are severe. We did not track consensual among teens. This is the serious stuff.

 

We also know that academic studies estimate it's significantly higher. Those who are sexually assaulted don't immediately report, if they report at all, and schools across the country don't face a national requirement to track and disclose these cases.

 

Al: Emily, let me ask you, what happens when this kind of thing is discovered, typically how do schools react?

 

Emily: What schools are supposed to do, when this happens, is they are supposed to, first of all, take this really, really seriously. According to Supreme Court rulings and U.S. Department of Education, conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, keep the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator apart, take an honest assessment of whether the alleged victim has been subjected to what they say is a hostile environment.

 

Unfortunately, we found lots of cases in which schools haven't responded this way. They haven't conducted impartial, thorough investigations. Sometimes they'll bring both the alleged victim and the alleged offender into the principal's office and say "okay, what happened here?"

 

Often, unfortunately, kids who report this stuff to administrators are disciplined. So, they're suspended or they're expelled or they're forced to transfer to another school, because the schools won't accommodate them in a way that allows them to go to school without being terrified of an assault happening again.

 

Al: You also reported on how hazing of school athletes can lead to these kind of sexual assaults, and this is where language is really important, because calling it hazing, officials aren't taking it as seriously as they should. Why aren't school districts and law enforcement calling it what it is?

 

Reese: That's a good question.

 

I think part of it is people think if you are part of a group and you're the new member, you're going to undergo some razzing from the veterans. You hear it a lot in sports. So I think that's why people use the term hazing for what we saw in our investigation, and what we saw is upper classmen athletes forcibly holding down the younger boys and doing some pretty rough things.

 

We're talking about forced sodomy. It's not wanted and under many penal codes it's potentially a felony or, at the very least, misdemeanor sexual battery.

 

Experts are telling me, because we're getting the language wrong, because we're calling it bullying, were calling it harassment, we're calling it hazing. We're not really addressing the root cause of the problem here.

 

The school districts, they would tell the public it's inappropriate physical contact, when they knew there was a allegation of sexual assault. So, how does the public understand and know what's going on inside the locker rooms if we don't stop using the word hazing for it.

 

Al: But, as a parent, if your child is a victim of sexual abuse, what recourse do you really have?

 

Reese: First, would be a criminal investigation. The downside there is that in these sorts of cases where the victim doesn't immediately come forward, you know- With the passage of time memories fade and evidence is lost. So, in the cases that we've examined there's not always criminal charges.

 

The next recourse would be filing a complaint with the Department of Education's office for civil rights. That's the office that handles violations of the federal law known as [Title 9 00:29:43]. That's the anti-discrimination law the education department has been using to investigate, and they've used that as the tool to remediate any sexual violence at schools.

 

[00:29:30] Another recourse is the civil courts, but from what legal experts say there are very high legal hurdles- (End of transcription)

 

[00:30:00]  

 

  Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 - 00:30:04]
  Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 - 00:40:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Reese Dunklin: From what legal experts say, there are very high legal hurdles to get the right to sue a public school district.

 

Al: So you reported on the office for civil rights and through them the Obama administration did a lot of outreach to let people know they can file these complaints. But that sort of backfired because they weren't able to handle them all. About half of those complaints had been resolved. How is the Trump administration handling this?

 

Emily Schmall: Going forward, it doesn't seem like the Department of Education's office for civil rights is going to be as aggressive as it was under the Obama administration. The Victims Rights Advocacy groups say they're going to push really hard to make sure that the government continues to enforce Title 9 in sexual assault cases. But there's definitely been a strong and consistent opposition from members of the Republican Party and some conservative activist groups to dismantle this guidance and really to take away the government's ability to step in on student-on student assault cases.

 

[00:31:00]

Al:

 

How do we as the public force these institutions to be accountable for their actions?

 

Reese Dunklin: These are public schools and you're the tax payer and there's a federal law on the books, Title 9, that demands a good investigation by the schools. And it demands other actions on the part of schools. As members of the public we can be at the school board and we can ask for more questions and in fairness to the schools, they do have certain confidentiality laws they have to think about for the students. These are juveniles. But in a number of cases we've looked at, there are basic facts, basic details they could be giving the public so that parents like you, Al, can keep your kids safe so you can make good choices and you can talk to your children about what they might face when they go to school.

 

[00:32:00]

Al:

 

That's Reese Dunklin and Emily Schmall with the Associated Press. Thanks for coming in and helping spread the word about all this.

 

Reese Dunklin: Thanks for having us.

 

Emily Schmall: Thank you.

 

Al: So how can you get the school to pay attention to this kind of violence? We go to one school in Oklahoma where students made that happen. That's next on Reveal from the Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

[00:32:30]

Julia:

 

Hey there. Julia here again. The Associated Press has set up an email to hear from readers and listeners, that's you. About it's investigation of student-on student sexual assault. If you have a tip, comment or story to share about this kind of assault happening in kindergarten through 12th grade, please email schoolhousesexassault@ap.org. Again, that's schoolhousesexassault@ap.org.

 

Al: From the Center For Investigative Reporting in PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al [inaudible 00:33:25]. This hour, we're teaming up with our partners at the Associated Press on a really unsettling topic. Sexual assault among kids. This show is not appropriate for all listeners. Now, when you hear these stories you think,"What can we do?" Reveal's Catherine Makowski visited one school in Oklahoma where students found a way to fight back.

 

[00:33:30]

Catherine Makow:

 

It's Thursday afternoon at Norman High School and students are rushing to class. I'm plastered up against a locker as the crowd surge by. The weekend's coming and students are making plans. By Monday, photos and videos passed around will fuel the week's gossip. That's one way what happens off campus can become the school's problem.

 

[00:34:00]

Joe:

 

I think there was a time, maybe 30 years ago where you'd say, "That happened on Saturday, we're not in school on Saturday, it's not really our concern." Those days are gone.

 

Catherine Makow: That's district superintendent, Joe [inaudible 00:34:23]. About two and a half years ago, something happened off campus after a weekend party that changed the school. This next part is pretty disturbing. A male student didn't just rape a girl, he shot video during the assault and circulated it.

 

[00:34:30]

Daniel Brown:

 

And then she just received a lot of ridicule for that.

 

Catherine Makow: That's Daniel Brown who was a sophomore at the time. The school suspended the attacker for the rest of the academic year. But his friends were still at Norman and the video was still out there. The victim felt bullied. After one student hassled her and she fought back, the school suspended her. She ended up transferring to another school. The assault and its aftermath disgusted Daniel.

 

[00:35:00]

Daniel Brown:

 

She is the same age as me. Knowing that that could have been me or anybody else.

 

Catherine Makow: Daniel is hardly your classic activist.

 

Daniel Brown: I am a very quiet person. A very introverted person.

 

Catherine Makow: But she and her friends wanted to protest to support the victim and demand their school do more for students who were assaulted.

 

[00:35:30]

Daniel Brown:

 

I was the one that knew that we probably needed adults with us because I was 15 at the time. It was a bunch of sophomores and juniors.

 

Catherine Makow: She got in touch with Stacy Wright. Her aunt who lives blocks from Norman High. Stacy's first move was to activate her feminist Knitting Circle.

 

Stacy Wright: A group of women that get together, work on crafts and just talk about our lives and the ills of the world and support each other and-

 

Catherine Makow: Daniel often shows up at those meetings too.

 

[00:36:00]

Stacy Wright:

 

And I told her to invite the young woman and her mother to Knitting Circle and have them just come in if they wanted to, share their story and we would figure out what to do. We got together that night, and I don't think that any of us were really prepared for the horror of what this young woman had been through.

 

Catherine Makow: Plans for the protest started to shape up. The students figured they'd go to school, then a few minutes into first hour, walk out. They came up with the hashtag, 'Yes all daughters' to represent the idea that assault can happen to any of them. That turned out to be true. More girls from Norman High School came forward. Teens who said the same student had attacked them too. His name was Tristen Killman Hardin.

 

[00:36:30]

Daniel Brown:

 

They'd been isolated and bullied out.

 

Catherine Makow: That's Daniel Brown again.

 

Daniel Brown: And they hadn't been going to school. And they hadn't been getting any support.

 

[00:37:00]

Catherine Makow:

 

Until the protest got going.

 

Harper: As soon as I saw the 'Yes all daughters walk out' thing on Facebook, I couldn't hold it in anymore.

 

Catherine Makow: That's Harper, not her real name. She says Tristen assaulted her too. It happened in a restroom on campus, she remembers. They'd been dating, but they broke up after Tristen got violent.

 

Harper: He started spreading rumors about me, sending pictures around of me that I didn't even know were taken of me. Then the bullying started. I   ended up getting ... I don't want to say I jumped, but a girl pretty much beat me up because of all the rumors that were going around. I left the school right after that. I didn't go back. I felt like I couldn't go back.

 

[00:37:30]

Catherine Makow:

 

Harper felt isolated, ostracized, even. Hearing about the protest changed that.

 

Harper: There's gonna be this walk out because this happened. I'm like, "That also happened to me. So maybe I should talk to somebody now. It's been a while. Maybe I should talk to somebody 'cause I feel like I can talk to somebody now."

 

[00:38:00]

Catherine Makow:

 

The day before the walk out the school district was on high alert. In a letter, the superintendent told parents he'd excuse absences during first hour. But he added, "We do not know who will be in charge of tomorrow's event." That day, Daniel told her English teacher that she was.

 

[00:38:30]

Daniel Brown:

 

I told her I'm one of the organizers for this movement and I'm walking out today. Then I just stood up and left. And bunch of students were with me. Like 600.

 

Catherine Makow: Daniel's aunt Stacy stood outside watching students leave the building.

 

Stacy Wright: They walked out and it felt like that stream of students would never end. They just kept coming, and coming and coming out the door. And I was standing there with the victims and ... I'm gonna cry, I'm gonna cry at this point. And one of them said, "I didn't think anybody cared." Sorry.

 

[00:39:00]

Catherine Makow:

 

Harper watched too, as all those students walked toward her.

 

Harper: It was probably the best feeling of my life. That just made me feel like I had an even bigger group of people that were here for me.

 

[00:39:30]

Catherine Makow:

 

Protesters waved signs that said, "Transfer is not the answer." And "Education not revictimization". One woman's sign read, "She's my daughter". The action went on for hours. And quiet, introverted Daniel, there she was yelling slogans into a bullhorn. With her mother and aunt, she delivered a list of demands to the principal of Nor-

 

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  Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 - 00:54:33]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Katherine: With her mother and aunt, she delivered a list of demands to the principal of Norman High.

 

Later that day, Harper and Tristan's other victims bonded. Away from the crowds and the signs and the news cameras.

 

Speaker 2: After the protests I feel like everyone just kind of felt like they could let it go for a minute. We all went to go get our nails done together. All of us girls like to sing and so we're just sitting in the nail salon, we're all singing and the ladies are like, "Come on, let's do it, you're so good."

 

[00:40:30]

Katherine:

 

The walkout even inspired one protester to compose an anthem; Hey Honey Hey.

 

Sophia: It was a time when we really wanted to say something, to step out and say we are making a statement.

 

Katherine: That's Sophia Abb. Her twin sister, Grace, wrote the song and they perform it together in their band, Annie Oakley.

 

[00:41:00]

Annie Oakley:

 

"Hey honey, don't you know that no does not mean no, it came to this. You asked for it."

 

Katherine: Eventually, Tristan Tillman Harden went to prison for the rape that sparked the walkout. Three of his victims sued the school district, claiming it displayed deliberate indifference to plaintiff's rights to a public education. They settled.

 

[00:41:30] This spring, I met school superintendent, Joe Siano, at his office. It was almost the end of his last semester before he'll retire. He say's what happened at Norman High taught the district a lot. Most importantly that when sexual violence happens, schools should always remember this:

 

Joe Siano: A student was traumatized, regardless of all of the issues around it, and you have to deal with the trauma first.

 

[00:42:00]

Katherine:

 

The district created new full-time positions to do just that; the Student Advocacy Coordinators.

 

Joe Siano: At both of our High Schools and now expanded to our Middle Schools.

 

Katherine: The advocates make sure that the students who've been victims of sexual assault, trauma, harassment, or bullying, get the help they need.

 

Male Speaker: The students are using the advocates. The High Schools are probably two of our busiest positions. Every day they're busy.

 

Katherine: Problems still happen.

 

Male Speaker 2: I don't know that any district can be held accountable to make sure nothing ever happens or you have to mitigate and minimize these things.

 

[00:42:30]

Katherine:

 

In 2016 another case shook the school district.

 

Two boys reported that teammates sexually assaulted them on a wrestling team trip. The victims were 16 and 12, at the time. One of their parents sued the district.

 

Joe Siano: I think the things that we learned from the other situation played out exactly the way they should in that the primary focus was the students who came forward and were victimized and then we dealt with all the other pieces after that.

 

[00:43:00]

Katherine:

 

I asked Harper how she felt when she heard about the wrestling team.

 

Harper: Even though the whole situation was terrible, it kind of eased my mind a little bit. To know like, they're gonna be able to talk to someone and they are going to be able to find help and this isn't something that's just under the rug anymore like, [inaudible 00:43:18] made it easier for them to talk about what had happened to them.

 

[00:43:30]

Al:

 

That piece was reported and produced by Katherine Wisgowski and she joins be in the studio now; hey, Katherine.

 

Katherine: Hi Al.

 

Al: So, in Norman, there was a crisis and the school district actually reacted to that. The question I had is, do you think the school district would have done anything if the kids hadn't done the protest?

 

Katherine: Ya know, I think that's really impossible to say but I think we can give the students a lot of credit for putting this issue on the absolute top of the agenda. Because they did this walkout, they show that this is really important to hundreds of students and the administrators responded to that.

 

[00:44:00]

Al:

 

As good as it was, that was actually reactive though right? Like, the violence had to happen and this is the aftermath and response to it. But, you've gone out and talked to some schools that are actually trying to get ahead of it.

 

Katherine: There are some school districts in Oregon that are trying to approach this really in a different way. Instead of being focused so much on the victim, they're actually trying to prevent the violence in the first place, and the way they are attempting to do that is by identifying kids who have some kind of troubling sexual behavior that they're exhibiting at school. I went to Newport, Oregon to try to find out more about these efforts.

 

[00:44:30] I'm at a beachfront Best Western but where I am, there's no view of the waves. In a windowless conference room with people who work with juvenile sex offenders.

 

From around the state, they've come for presentations on topics like: Sexual Consent: A multi-dimensional approach. This talk is about pornography addiction.

 

Wilson Kenny: You know I remember when I was like 13 years old my cousins and I found a Playboy.

 

[00:45:00]

Katherine:

 

Wilson Kenny leads the session.

 

Wilson Kenny: I was like, "Oh my god, this is amazing," ya know and it was like a sacred document, we'd pass it from one, ya know, this was a thing that like I treasured for years and it's so different now, right? Because you can go online and not just find like a Playboy but you can find the most...

 

Katherine: Wilson's a father of four and a psychologist. For an expert in sexual misconduct, he's surprisingly optimistic. He has a disarming ability to talk without getting embarrassed about topics many of us would prefer not to think about.

 

[00:45:30] Here's the title of his book, "Sexual Misconduct in Children".

 

Wilson thinks schools can do more to identify kids early on, who have problems with their sexual behavior. He's helped some school districts in Oregon do that.

 

[00:46:00] At his porn talk, a school psychologist from one of those districts pipes up.

 

Wilson Kenny: Shelly

 

Shelley: I have some [inaudible 00:46:05] information about that.

 

Wilson Kenny: Oh good.

 

Shelley: The problem is we are seeing a lot issues in the high schools of kids sharing information because they think like hey isn't this cool, look at this photo of my girlfriend...

 

Katherine: Performing a sex act.

 

Shelley: And yet it's not necessarily in their mind to do harm because they are like, hey buddy look at what...

 

Wilson Kenny: Right.

 

Shelley: Look what ya know like cool look at me.

 

Katherine: That's Shelly Rutledge with Salem-Seizer School District, about 50 miles south of Portland.

 

Wilson Kenny: Yeah ya know, it's the modern ... I think about like ya know having been an adolescent male, it's the locker room talk of like hey you won't believe what happened last night. Only now, there's a photo.

 

[00:46:30]

Shelley:

 

Or a video.

 

Wilson Kenny: I never did that by the way, either but, I knew guys.

 

Katherine: The sex act selfie is a new wrinkle on an old problem for schools; how to handle concerning sexual behavior. The kind of stuff that makes adults cringe.

 

Can you talk about like how have schools dealt with these kinds of behaviors in the past?

 

[00:47:00]

Wilson Kenny:

 

Generally through freaking out. Most commonly what happens is people just want to sweep things under the rug, right? I use to joke, if I could teach administrators to say penis and vagina comfortably I would be out of work because really, a lot of it is being able to be comfortable having a sexual discussion with a family and a child about something that's going on. It's hard.

 

Katherine: It is. Still, Wilson advises school officials to respond to this behavior frankly and systematically, starting as early as elementary school.

 

[00:47:30]

Wilson Kenny:

 

Most inappropriate sexual behavior that occurs like prior to age 13, most of that is not going to be picked up by the criminal justice system. So, what that means is a lot of concerning sexual behaviors are not being addressed by anyone, anywhere.

 

Katherine: At this point, you're probably thinking, elementary school? Come on! Little kids do inappropriate things because they don't know what's appropriate yet.

 

Wilson Kenny: Let's say you've got a kindergartner who is, ya know, rubbing their genitals against a desk chair. That's a pretty common thing you run in to in kindergarten's.

 

[00:48:00]

Katherine:

 

If a teacher tells a child that's not okay and the kid stops doing it, problem solved.

 

But what if ...

 

Wilson Kenny: ... You've said please knock it off and the behavior continues?

 

Katherine: That's when you really have a problem.

 

Wilson figures a school district with 40,000 kids may face 150 to 200 cases a year like this, that require a more calculated response. That means more than disciplining the child or phoning home. Wilson's approach activates a whole team to try to figure out what's going on.

 

[00:48:30]

Wilson Kenny:

 

The biggest fear that parents have when they come in to those meetings is that someone is going to tell them their child is a pedophile. Right? It's horrifying to think about that right? And that doesn't occur in those meetings and that's not the purpose of those meetings.

 

Katherine: The purpose, he says, is to better understand the behavior and figure out how to keep it from happening again.

 

That might mean more supervision for the student, on the playground, in the hallways, in the bathroom. Ideally this would protect other students from future harassment or abuse, the school district from liability, and the kid in trouble from being labeled an offender.

 

[00:49:00] The Forest Grove School District, outside of Portland started using Wilson's approach in January. Administrators on the districts Sexual Incident Response committee gather in a conference room for a monthly meeting.

 

Speaker 13: Do you have anything from the juvenile justice committee?

 

[00:49:30]

Speaker 14:

 

They didn't confirm but usually I'm assuming Vickie will be here because of ...

 

Katherine: This is what they call a level 2 meeting, where the team deals with more serious cases and includes outside experts.

 

Speaker 13: I'm hoping Vickie shows up because of a case that I want to review today.

 

Speaker 14: Right, right.

 

Katherine: To protect the privacy of the students involved the committee wouldn't let us sit in on most of this meeting but in an interview one member told us how it's going.

 

Committee Memb: I think it's changed the way that we, as administrators, view sexualized behavior.

 

[00:50:00]

Katherine:

 

Tammy Aryan is an assistant principal at Forest Grove High School.

 

Tammy: I feel like it's taken the burden of investigating and thoroughly processing those situations off of just one individual.

 

Katherine: Administrators say they are happy to share that burden. There is no denying it can be tough to talk with parents about this stuff, especially if their child has done something to another child.

 

Tammy: I think you can have that conversation in a very caring way with parents to say you know this is really an opportunity for us to provide support for your son or daughter, that's not just about protecting the victim, it's really about providing supports for the student; the offender.

 

[00:50:30]

Katherine:

 

Tammy says figuring out what the right supports are means asking a lot of uncomfortable questions.

 

Tammy: We ask parents if the students have ever been exposed to highly sexual behavior in their past, have they ever witnessed or been, you know, sexually abused, domestic violence in the home. We'll ask about if they've ever seen their child use coercion to get what they want.

 

[00:51:00]

Katherine:

 

Then the team tailors a plan to fit the offense. That may be as simple as making sure a teacher keeps an eye on a student's screen.

 

Tammy: This is a pretty common one, students who are inappropriately accessing pornography. We have to have teachers always in view of what a student is viewing.

 

[00:51:30]

Katherine:

 

Or, the plan can be more elaborate. Like making sure a victim and offender are not in the same classes.

 

In Forest Grove, it's too early to know if the new approach is working. Honestly, the public may never know. People of every age under report sexual harassment and assault, plus school districts closely guard information about sexual misbehavior because minors, and the districts' reputation, are involved. Nobody wants to be the Sandy Hook of sexual misconduct.

 

[00:52:00] How would you judge the effectiveness of the approach? Here's Wilson Kenny again.

 

Wilson Kenny: That's really hard to do, right, because you can't evaluate the disaster that you've thwarted. There's no way to get at that, right? It's like, I think maybe the best you can do is you know by figuring out ya know how many lives you're able to touch.

 

Katherine: That's more than many school districts have been willing to do.

 

Wilson Kenny: I have tried to remind people that this is nothing new.

 

[00:52:30]

Katherine:

 

Most adults can probably remember incidents from their own childhoods that everyone just tried to pretend weren't happening.

 

Wilson Kenny: Think back to your elementary school and middle school days. We can remember the weird thing that happened at school, the person who seemed to have problems with their sexual behavior that no one did anything about so, this isn't a problem with which we are unfamiliar, it's one we've tried to forget about because it's unpleasant.

 

[00:53:00]

Al:

 

We know it's hard to hear these kinds of stories so if you're left wondering what you can do, we've got the AP's list of suggestions on our website: revealing

 

Michael Montgomery was our lead producer this week with producers Amy Walters and Katherine Stokowski. Indusia Ron Gagarin assisted with data reporting. Our show was edited by Cheryl Duvall.

 

A special thanks to Associated Press editor, Mont Bewlman and reporters, Gillian Flackis and Justin Pritchard.

 

[00:53:30] One podcast we recommend you check out is Ground Truth. Their latest series investigates the countries epidemic of heroin and prescription opiod abuse and the real reasons why the death toll continues to rise. It's a five part series, available now.

 

Our sound design team is The Wonder Twins. My man, J Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Clair C. Nomullen. With help from Katherine Raymono. Our head of studios, Chris Schafenberg. Amy Pile's our editor in chief, Suzanne Reiber is our executive editor and our executive producer's Kevin Sullivan.

 

[00:54:00] Our theme music is by Comoradom, Lightning.

 

Support for Reveal's provided by the Riva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Hisine Simon's Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Reveal is a co-production of the center for investigative reporting and PRX.

 

I'm Al Ledson and remember, there is always more to the story.

 

  Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 - 00:54:33]