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The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines sexual abuse as, “Involves direct physical contact, touching, kissing, fondling, rubbing, oral sex, or penetration of the vagina or anus.” Unfortunately, sexual violence in K-12 schools is currently on the rise in schools. This includes adults abusing children and also peer-on-peer sexual abuse. In a disturbing new report from Know Your IX that was released in March 2021, out of 100 survivors who reported their sexual violence to their schools, 39% experienced an extreme disruption in their education. The study showed, 27% took a leave of absence, 20% transferred schools, and 10% dropped out of school entirely. Know Your IX disturbingly points that survivors explained that it was not usually due to the sexual violence alone but rather because these educational institutes failed to take the appropriate action. Survivors accounted for often being chastized, tormented, retailed, and punished for being victims of sexual violence. 

In addition, in a New York Times article published in 2019, senior attorney of non-profit Public Justice, Adele Kimmel described K-12 sexual violence to be like the “wild west”. She explains, “K-12 schools are light years behind colleges.” In 2019, the Department of Education had 652 complaints of Title IX including sexual violence and 279 included K-12 schools. Similar to sexual harassment, often sexual violence which occurs in K-12 schools is massively underreported and many children remain voiceless without recourse. In the article as Kimmel points out, “if you don’t recognize sexual violence, you’re going to perpetuate it.” This is exactly what we are seeing occurring at End K-12 Violence. Schools are failing to act and prevent sexual violence from occurring, which is only creating an increase in sexual violence. In 2018 alone, NBC reports, there had been 330 federal lawsuits against school systems for failure to protect students from sexual assault or mishandled abuse occurring. 

The mishandling of sexual abuse is absolutely catastrophic for survivors. Not only is it a violation to be sexually assaulted or abused, however, when a school or institution turns their back by mishandling, covering up, retaliating for reporting, or does not remedy the hostile environment. In many unfortunate instances, schools often think the solution of fixing sexual violence is to ostracize or retaliate against survivors. In a Washington Post article, that explains the uptick of sexual violence in K-12 schools gives the example of Shiwali Patel, who is an attorney at the National Women’s Law Center who represents girls that were suspended from school for being accused of “lying” for reporting their sexual assaults to the school. Instead of investigating these assaults, the school found it easier to victimize the survivor by inappropriately punishing them for their abuse instead of the perpetrator. It only continues to retraumatize the survivor which has long-term implications on one’s life including PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Schools have a responsibility to keep all children safe while at school but also if something does happen to act responsibly and not be complicit by turning a blind eye. 

In addition, reporting sexual violence at school should not be an unsafe process. Students who are victimized should not fear reprisal or the potential to be further harassed for coming forward.

Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. We do not send our children to go to school to be abused or harassed. The fact that sexual violence in K-12 schools is barely talked about exemplifies a culture that is complicit in silencing and helping children. 

According to RAINN, sexual assault is defined as unwanted and non-consensual sexual contact, including: 

  • Groping, fondling, molestation 

  • Forcing sexual acts like oral sex 

  • Attempted rape 

  • Rape 

    • RAINN defines rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” 

In addition, since our organization addresses K-12 sexual abuse, each state has different laws regarding definitions of rape sexual assault, laws of consent, and required mandated reporters. In many states, schools, educators, and administrators have the fiduciary responsibility to report crimes to law enforcement even in instances where they suspect abuse as being a remote possibility of what is occurring to a child. Despite this, we unfortunately often see the schools shirk these duties. 

School’s Responsibility for Handling Sexual Violence: 

Under Title IX, sexual violence is another aspect students are protected with. The Department of Education says, “discrimination in the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.”  Sexual violence can cause a hostile environment for a student to learn and it is important the educators and administrators ensure the survivor is receiving adaquete protection and support. It is important that the survivor of sexual violence is not retaliated against for reporting their abuse and it is the job of the school they handle the reporting of sexual violence seriously. 

It is important that the school is notified of any degree of sexual violence. If you suspect or know it has happened to your child at school by either an adult or another peer, it is important that the school is put on notice. The Department of Education explains that the school has the fiduciary duty to respond quickly and effectively. If the school knows or suspects sexual violence or harassment, the school must respond by intervening to stop the sexual violence/ harassment, prevention of further escalation, and deal with the impact of it on the survivor. 

In addition, even if there is a criminal investigation and there is external involvement through law enforcement, the school still has the responsibility under Title IX to act quickly and effectively to ensure that the survivor is not remaining in a hostile environment and that their education is negatively impacted.

Every school also must have a policy against Sex Discrimination for all programs and activities. This must be accessible and given out on a recurrent basis. Schools must also have a Title IX coordinator. There always has to be at least one employee who functions as the Title IX coordinator. All students and faculty members must be made aware of who the coordinator is should there be an instance of sexual violence or harassment. The Department of Education explains that the Title IX coordinator must “oversee” all complaints and “address” systemic while the complaint is being investigated. Lastly, all schools are mandated to have procedures put in place for students to file complaints of sex discrimination and students must be made aware of how this process works. Please see the Website attached for a more thorough insight into the grievance procedure.,in%20education%20programs%20and%20activities.&text=Under%20Title%20IX%2C%20discrimination%20on,sexual%20battery%2C%20and%20sexual%20coercion.

Source: Department of Education 

Effects of Sexual Abuse: 

Physical Effects: 

  • Sleep disturbances 

  • Pregnancy 

  • Sexual Transmitted infections 

  • Soreness 

  • Injures (such as bruising, bleeding, and broken bones) 

  • Chronic fatigue 

  • Changes in eating and sleeping 

  • Shortness of breath 

  • Muscle Tension 

Emotional Effects: 

  • Anxiety 

  • Depression 

  • Nightmares and difficulty sleeping 

  • Hypervigilance

  • Anger 

  • PTSD 

  • Withdrawn 

  • Disassociation 

  • Tearful 

  • Suicidal Ideation 

  • Eating Disorders

  • Substance Abuse

  • Self-harm

  • Sexual behaviors including language or action that might not be age-appropriate 

  • Distrustful of others 

Potential Impacts on Education: 

  • Absence from school 

  • Withdrawn from schoolwork or class 

  • Fearful to attend school if abuse is occurring there 

  • Difficulty Concentrating  

  • Ostracization by the school community 

Sources: Joyful Heart Foundation, RAINN, and The National Child Traumatic Stress Network 

Reasons Why Children Are Scared Or Take Time To Disclose Sexual Abuse: 

  • Fear of not being believed or blamed 

  • Shame 

  • Guilt 

  • Threat of them or their family being harmed if they report 

  • Not knowing how to talk about the abuse 

Often it takes children who have been assaulted or abused time to process what has happened. It is important that you do not question why it took an amount of time. 

What To Do If Your Child Was Raped?: 

First, it is extremely important that you stay calm when your child discloses their abuse. It is completely understandable that it would be distressing as a parent to hear that your child has been harmed. However, it is extremely difficult for children to disclose and they need your support. Reassure your child, listen, and thank them for telling you. Remind them it is not their fault, you believe them and support them. Do NOT blame, dismiss, or shut your child down when they begin to disclose. It is also important that as a parent or caregiver, you take care of yourself and find resources to help cope with the disclosure of the abuse. It is normal to feel helpless, sad, angry, and guilty. It is important that you seek help and support, in order to be present and to provide comfort for your child. 

If the rape or assault occurred within 72 hours, please seek help as soon as possible. Take yourself or your child to local law enforcement, the emergency room,  call the national sexual assault hotline at (800-656-Hope), or local rape crisis centers can help direct you. If possible, please try to not shower, douche, change clothes, or clean your child if the abuse recently occurred. This will preserve any potential evidence for your child. At the hospital, your child will be examined for injuries and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In addition, medical professionals who are trauma-informed and trained professionals like sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) will conduct rape kit examinations on your child.

If your child was raped more than 72 hours ago (3 days), call the police, rape crisis hotline, or a local community rape crisis center for the next steps. There is still the potential for forensic evidence to be found, in addition, it is still important that your child be evaluated for any injuries, STIs, pregnancy, and emotionally evaluated. 

In addition, it is important to look for resources for your child to help them cope with the assault or abuse. Please see our page with some more resources to find help for your child. 

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