Friday, January 24, 2020
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Title IX suit says high school didn’t treat girl fairly

A high school junior in Michigan claims she was sexually assaulted and statutorily raped by a high school “star athlete” two years ago and then expelled from school, The Detroit Free Press reports.

An attorney based in Northville, Michigan, filed a lawsuit in federal court on February 6 on behalf of the girl, who is identified only as “Jane Doe” in the suit. Her complaint alleges that when she was a freshman at Cousino High School in Warren, on May 13, 2015, a senior and member of the school’s football, basketball, and track teams asked her “if she wanted to go with him to his car to chill.”

She agreed, but when she got into his back seat, she says he locked the doors and asked her for oral sex. “Jane Doe started to comply with [his] demand, but then told him it was ‘gross’ and that she wanted to stop,” the lawsuit says. He “said ‘oh well,’ and then he forcibly pushed Jane Doe’s head down toward his lap and forced her mouth onto his penis.”

The lawsuit was filed against Warren Consolidated School District, Assistant Principal Theresa Callahan, Superintendent Robert D Livernois, and Elianore L Evans, who was the district’s executive director and the student and family liaison at the time of the incident.

What happened shortly after the encounter in the car, when the girl was called into the assistant principal’s office, is the subject of the lawsuit:

Defendant Callahan responded by criticizing Jane Doe’s clothing, intimating that Jane Doe invited unwanted sexual attention because of the way she dressed. Defendant Callahan did not ask how Jane Doe was doing, or whether she needed medical or psychological attention. She did not mention Title IX or refer Jane Doe to the School’s Title IX Coordinator.

The lawsuit therefore says the school district violated Jane Doe’s rights, sexually discriminated against her (because she was expelled based on “video proof” that she had left the building during school hours, even though she maintains the athlete forced himself on her, while he received a much lighter punishment for leaving the campus during school hours), and failed to properly train its staff to deal with sexual assault allegations.

She’s no longer a student in the district but enrolled her sophomore year in an online school and is attending an alternative school in another school district this year as a junior.

What was the district required to do?

Schools that receive federal funding are required to launch a Title IX investigation in cases like this, although the quality of those investigations has been called into question, especially at the college level, where these incidents are much more common.

Law enforcement was brought in, but the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office found insufficient evidence to prosecute, according to the girl’s attorney. School officials did question the boy, four days later and with his parents present, but he claimed the sex was planned and consensual.

Unlike many states, Michigan has no age-gap provision in its statutory rape laws. That means the 15-year-old girl was legally unable to consent to sex with the 18-year-old boy.

I find it difficult to believe there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute here, as the boy admitted that he’d had sex with the girl and Michigan law says she could not legally consent to sex. The age of consent in Michigan is 16, so it’s close, but a better investigation was required. Besides, the girl says she asked him to stop. With a stated “no,” even an adult isn’t consenting anymore.

The girl was expelled and the boy allowed to graduate. Maybe she had a long history of disciplinary infractions, but one time leaving the building during school hours to chill with a star athlete in his car doesn’t merit expulsion, it seems—especially since he did the same thing.

She required mental health counseling to cope with the sex assault and the isolation that came from her being expelled, the lawsuit says. She’s asking for compensation and punitive damages, and she wants the school district to work harder to prevent sexual assault.

The Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education opened an investigation in this case, but that investigation is still pending.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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