- AP investigation found 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students in grades K-12 over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015
- Attacks included incidents of rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling
- Five per cent of cases involved 5-6 year-olds, and numbers jumped between ages 10 and 11 and continued rising until age 14, when they began dropping
- Fondling was most common but one in five abused kids were penetrated
- AP found schools and districts often bungled investigations, mis-characterizing sex attacks as simple bullying and neglecting to tell parents or authorities
Thousands of children are suffering sexual abuse at the hands of their school classmates every year, a horrifying new investigation has revealed.
The year-long probe by Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students in grades K-12 over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015. Around five per cent of those, 850 attacks, were on children aged between five and six years old.
Chaz Wing was just 12 when he says he was raped by his classmate bullies.
Now 17, he swore under oath he was cornered in the school bathroom and raped, leaving him bleeding, in the culmination of a year of harassment. Though Chaz repeatedly told teachers and administrators about the insults and physical 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 U.S., thousands of students have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools – a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore.
That figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assault among the nation’s 50 million students in grades K-12. But it also does not fully capture the problem: Such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don’t track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.And with school reputations and funding at stake, there is tremendous pressure to hide such violence. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act.
‘No principal wants their school to be the rape school,’ said Dr. 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. No type of school was immune, whether it be in a wealthy suburb, inner city or farm town. And all types of children were targeted.
Unwanted fondling was the most common form of assault, and about one in five of the abused kids were penetrated in some way.
The data also showed sexual assaults by peers were more common than those by teachers, which receive far more attention. For every adult-on-child sexual attack reported at school, there were seven by students.
‘Schools are required to keep students safe,’ said Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in school sexual misconduct. ‘It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn’t happening. Why don’t we know more about it, and why isn’t it being stopped?’
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia tracked student sexual assaults, AP found, though some only when incidents led to student discipline. Some of the nation’s largest school districts claimed zero sexual assaults over several years, even though AP found cases in court records or local media reports.
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.
The AP found that schools often mis-characterized sexual attacks as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior, and broadly interpreted privacy laws to withhold basic information from their communities.