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Revealed: Hidden horror of US school student sex assaults

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-02 07:19

BRUNSWICK, Maine - Chaz Wing was 12 when they cornered him in the school bathroom. The students who tormented him were children, too, entering the age of pimples and cracking voices.

Eventually, he swore under oath, the boys raped him and left him bleeding, the culmination of a year of harassment. Though Chaz repeatedly told teachers and administrators about the insults and attacks, he didn't report being sexually assaulted until a year later, launching a long legal fight over whether his school had done enough to protect him.

Chaz's saga is more than a tale of escalating bullying. Across the United States, thousands of school students have been sexually assaulted by other students - a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore.

Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015.

That figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assault among the nation's 50 million students in grades K-12 (children aged 5 to 17). But it also does not fully capture the problem: Such attacks are greatly underreported, some states don't track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.

Revealed: Hidden horror of US school student sex assaults

And with school reputations and funding at stake, there is tremendous pressure to hide such violence.

"No principal wants their school to be the rape school," said Doctor Bill Howe, a former teacher who spent 17 years overseeing Connecticut's compliance with a federal law that helps protect student victims of at-school sexual assault. "It's the courageous principal that does the right thing."

The attacks AP tracked ranged from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling. Assaults occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised: buses and bathrooms, hallways and locker rooms.

States varied widely in whether they required any training to stop or address student-on-student sexual assault; only 18 told AP they did.

"Everyone feels like we don't have a problem, and the reason they feel that way is they have their heads in the sand," said Oregon psychologist Wilson Kenney, who has developed student intervention programs.

In Chaz's case, the legal wrangling took four years, with the case finally settled last year. His school in Brunswick, Maine, would make safety improvements, and Chaz would get $50,000, though not the apology he wanted.

The AP does not usually name alleged victims of sexual assault. But Chaz, who turns 18 in a few weeks, and his parents decided to speak publicly in hopes of helping others.

"I don't want this to happen to other kids," said his mother, Amy Wing.

Associated Press

(China Daily 05/02/2017 page10)

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