Hundreds of Boston-area high school students staged a walkout Monday to protest their school’s handling of an alleged sexual assault case against a former student in 2013, following a report by The Boston Globe last week that the victim filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against school officials.
Students at Lincoln-Sudbury High School walked out of their classrooms Monday morning and observed moments of silence for the victim. Some students also delivered speeches on the importance of raising awareness about sexual assault and consent.
“We worry about ourselves and we worry about the other students at LS,” one student organizer told reporters during the walkout, according to the MetroWest Daily News.
“It just really shows that the student body is here to support any victims, any survivors, and even if the administration doesn’t, the student body does, and I think that’s really important to show in our school,” Katie Kohler, one of the organizers of the walkout, told the Globe.
Following the walkout, organizers set up a booth during lunchtime, where they provided information about sexual assault to fellow students.
In the lawsuit filed last week, the former student claimed that the school failed “to discipline the perpetrators,” adding that officials ostracized her “by separating her from her classmates, forcing her to sit by herself in an area where students typically served suspensions and detention,” the Globe’s Emily Sweeney reported.
The incident occurred during a school football game in November 2013, when two male classmates allegedly sexually assaulted the student, who was 15 years old at the time. Later, the students sent her text messages in which they admitted to “having acted improperly and beg[ged] for forgiveness and silence,” according to the complaint.
“I resisted … I tried to run away,” she wrote. “You both raped me.”
The lawsuit states that the teenager told a school counselor about the incident days later, providing screenshots of the text messages between her and the accused classmates. Officials, however, did not take action against the male students, instead insisting that the victim “attend a lower-quality therapeutic school in another town while the perpetrators were allowed to remain at Lincoln-Sudbury.” The victim eventually transferred to a private school; she says she suffered from “severe depression” following the incident.
The Lincoln-Sudbury case is just the latest of its kind to garner national attention. In 2014, hundreds of students at Norman High School in Oklahoma protested against the school’s failure to discipline classmates who bullied multiple teenage girls who claimed they were raped by the same classmate. Similar incidents at Steubenville High School in Ohio and in Maryville, Missouri are just the tip of the vast glacier of sexual assault cases that affect the country every year.
According to a 2008 study, rates of peer-on-peer sexual assault are “alarmingly high,” affecting 51 percent of high school girls and 26 percent of boys. Many of these incidents occur in school and the majority are perpetrated by an acquaintance of the victim.
The frequency of such cases is especially troubling given the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prevents sex and gender discrimination in education. Under the law, “an institution that receives federal funds must ensure that no student suffers a deprivation of her or his access to educational opportunities on the basis of sex” and that sexual harassment must be addressed when it occurs.
But last September, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidance that clarified the protections sexual assault survivors are granted under Title IX, including requiring schools to ensure the victim and the accused are not in the same class, suggesting a 60-day timeframe for a prompt investigation, and providing standards for investigations of complaints.
The Trump administration issued new guidance later that month that severely curtails those protections — leaving it to schools’ discretion to provide accommodations to separate victims from the accused, replacing the 60-day time frame with “no fixed time frame,” and allowing schools to pursue an informal resolution, such as mediation, which forces victims to “work things out” with the accused.
The Obama-era guidance “empowered campus sexual assault survivors like us to walk into meetings with school officials knowing that colleges couldn’t push us to withdraw from school until our perpetrators graduated,” Dana Bolger and Alexandra Brodsky, former co-directors of Know Your IX, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed following the Education Department’s rescission of the guidance.
“If schools are failing to live up to their legal obligations to accused students, the solution is for the Education Department to enforce those obligations, not undermine them,” they added.