A small Colorado town’s response to a 13-year-old’s violent hazing and sexual assault has driven the victim out of his school and his father out of his job, according to a startling Bloomberg News profile of what happened in Norwood, Colorado.
Three high school students held down the 13-year-old boy with duct tape on a school bus and sodomized him with a pencil. When the superintendent and school board did not report the incident for a month, the victim’s father, who was the school principal, reported it to the police himself. Yet another aspect complicated the situation: The attack happened outside a wrestling match, and two of the perpetrators are the wrestling coach’s sons.
The boys eventually received a one-day, in-school suspension and varying sentences of probation and community service. However, the victim’s peers would continue to bully him online, asking him “What’s been stuck up your butt today?” and wearing T-shirts that supported the attackers. And parents in the community were on board with the harassment, as well:
A dozen students wore the T-shirts to school one Friday, and someone posted a sign with the same wording on the locker of the victim’s brother, according to the police report, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. Students who wore the t-shirts told police they wanted to support their friends. The victim told investigators he didn’t understand why his friends would support people who attacked him.
When police visited parents of students involved in the T-shirt incident to warn them against intimidating the 13-year-old, who would be testifying against his schoolmates in a criminal case, they found the parents instead focused on attacking the principal.
Eventually, the father was put on paid leave from his position. Today, the family lives 200 miles away from Norwood in a new school district, while the wrestling coach (who was the school board president, too) stayed with the Norwood team after a reprimand for leaving the students alone.
States are responsible for establishing their own anti-bullying policies in public schools, but enforcement across the states is uneven. Colorado has one of the nation’s most comprehensive anti-bullying laws, with protections against anti-LGBT bullying, but only 37 percent of school districts actually follow it. Hazing and harassment has also been a particular problem in the world of sports. At the college level, Alfred University found 80 percent of college athletes experience some form of hazing.
Unfortunately, the victim-blaming situation that unfolded in Norwood is not as rare as it should be. Bloomberg found at least four recent cases of sodomy-related hazing where an adult was aware of or involved in the situation and did nothing, or even laughed it off. Public schools deal with about 4,000 sexual assaults each year; several that gained national attention this year have highlighted situations in which the community ostracized the rape survivor.