When a former student says “I was raped at school,” it’s the kind of statements that causes everything to stop and freeze for those who hear it. Being raped in school is not what our modern society expects to hear. It signals such a degradation of society that one has to wonder what exactly is going in today’s schools that such an event can even occur. However, the fact is school rape has occurred and in some shocking ways.
The Richmond Case Became Emblematic
Richmond, California, is a tough down that has had decades of being left behind while the rest of the Bay Area has enjoyed the booms of technology and the income brought with it. It’s been only in recent years as the demand for land for real estate has brought attention to the areas economically. The city was most famous for ship-building during World War II, and as a result the area has had a high proportion of minority families and residents compared to other areas like nearby Pinole, Hercules and Berkeley. In the late 2000s, California was in the depth of the real estate recession, and the Richmond school district was buried in bankruptcy and state administration of the district. As a result, Richmond’s tough life image was well intact, while the rest of the state was scrambling to adjust to the economy.
In 2009 a heinous case occurred in Richmond at a school dance. A 15-year-old female victim was not just attacked at school during the event, she was gang-raped by multiple male teens and adults who worked as a group to keep her restrained while the attack kept going. The entire attack occurred outside in a courtyard hidden behind the gymnasium while the homecoming dance was occurring inside the school. What was more shocking about the incident was not just the six attackers involved but the 20 witnesses who saw what was occurring but never reported it. The rape attack lasted for approximately two hours. The attack was only reported when a witness’ boyfriend mentioned it to her and she called the police. The victim was found unconscious under a bench and flight-lifted to the hospital from the school.
The gravity of the Richmond situation was clearly an extreme, and even for hardened Richmond residents the school rape incident was a new low in the crime history of the city. Not only did it represent a clear problem going on in the minds of teens that would participate in the event, but it also showed that witnesses were none too concerned to stop it or report it while the attack was occurring.
Schools Rapes Still Occur
The fact is school rapes still occur and have occurred after the Richmond case. The difference in many have only been the location. In 2012 the Steubenville, Ohio party rape occurred at a private party among students from the same high school. In mid-2014 another 15-year-old female student was raped at a party after being allegedly slipped a drugged drink, with her attack being posted online by the perpetrators or friends of the attackers.
In all the cases the attackers are eventually identified and, increasingly, many are being brought to trial and convicted. However, this increasing crack down on attacks has not prevented them from continuing to occur. According to USA Today, 4 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being sexually assaulted in 2011. Yet before anyone goes shutting down schools and barring the doors, sending male teens off to bootcamp for 10 years, and putting female students in secured convents, the facts also point out that the number of school sexual assaults have been dropping since a high of 2009. While attacks do occur every year, school sexual assaults seem to follow a cyclical presence with high years in 2001, 2006 and 2009, to then be followed by two to three years of lower levels of incidents. This is data that comes from the U.S. Department of Justice 2012 reports versus just the media.
So what are students and parents to do? Schools and school attendance are not likely to disappear tomorrow. So unfortunately, and as unfair as it is, female students have to be trained far more to anticipate problems and avoid them proactively. That means following a number of steps that most male students don’t have to worry about. These include:
- Stay in Groups – Female students, just like female adults, are at a higher risk of being attacked when they are alone, in a hidden or obscured location, and the risk of an attack being discovered in process is low. Instead, female students staying groups gain protection in numbers as attackers frequently won’t attempt anything beyond harassment when too many witnesses are around.
- Report Any Incident – Attacks like the Richmond case don’t frequently happen out of the blue. There is usually a pattern of contact that leads up to an attack, whether it be a series of confrontations, discussions, attempts at close contact or similar. The pattern often follows an escalating path and, if interrupted early, it can be shut down before getting worse. That means a student needs to be willing to tell a teacher, administrator or parents of a problem with another student early on instead of trying to hide the matter.
- Attackers are Often Known – In most cases of school rape, the attacker is a known individual and, in many cases, the attacker is involved in a pre-existing relationship with the victim before the attack takes place. Random attacks or stalking situations are rare. In many cases, the attack happens after a period of pursuit or pressure, as a revenge for being rejected, or when the victim is intoxicated or debilitated somehow. Both students and parents need to be good judges of the character of friends and relationship partners on an ongoing basis, not just at the introduction.
- Personal Protection Devices Can Offer Momentary Escape, Sometimes – If it means the difference between a rape and getting away to safety, a female student and parent should consider the use of a prevention tool. In most cases, this would be some kind of mace or tear gas. However, teens do stupid things, and a minor can get into serious legal trouble for misusing a chemical deterrent. It should only be considered at last resort, the student should be trained in how and when to use it, and over-reliance on the tool can be a mistake. If the mace can’t be reached, it does no good during an attack.
- Parents Need to Push Schools to Provide Anti-Rape Education – The fact of the matter is male teenagers are predominantly amped up on testosterone hormones, which means they don’t listen well to their peers and are more interested in physical attraction than mental bonding with a relationship partner. This fact has to be acknowledged by schools and teachers with ongoing training and education geared to male students to maintain self-control. Joking about “boys will be boys” is unacceptable. Instead, the ramifications of rape, including the harm caused and the legal penalties involved, need to be hammered home by authority figures regularly. Male students do respond to messaging when it is delivered in a serious fashion, and it affects them personally.
- Avoiding Compromising Situations – Female students have to be taught that entering compromising situations raises the risk of being attacked. This includes going to parties where everyone is drunk and out of control, going into areas that are not very visible and alone, and going on car rides with a partner who isn’t that well known yet. Being attacked at school doesn’t always have to be in the school building; it can happen going to and from school as well or at school events on the weekends and evenings.
That school rape occurs is a tragedy and crime in one, but it clearly hasn’t stopped just because of the harsh sentencing applied to the Richmond attackers. Despite the legal system’s attempts to create deterrence, school rape still occurs and will occur. Female students and their parents have to anticipate this remote possibility and act to avoid it. Prevention can seem a bit like paranoia at times, but for the victims who suffer an attack, they will always wonder if there was something they did which could have been done differently to avoid a school rape altogether.