White House Conference Adresses Discipline, Sexual Assault

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

In an effort to bring a stronger focus to equality within the school system, the White House will be hosting a conference called Trauma-Informed Approaches in School: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking Discipline.

The conference is a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Crittenton Foundation, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality. The conference and fact sheets that the White House has already issued are a call to focus on the policies that are already in place.

As Valerie Jarett and Catherine Lhamon point out in the Huffington Post, the likelihood of girls who are suspended dropping out of school or having an unplanned pregnancy increase significantly. What makes this figure a serious issue is the fact that African American girls are more likely to get suspended than Caucasian boys.

The White House conference also addressed the serious issue of sexual assault and harassment within the school system. They warned that the trauma from such an event can have lasting and severe consequences for a child's life. They urge a strong and sensitive response to the victims of such events.

The statement from the Office of the Press Secretary notes that K-12 schools are required to comply with the regulations set forth under Title IX, which is in place to provide a method to both catch the criminal in sexual assault cases as well as provide a means to support the victim in such crimes.

Even with appropriate support avenues available, often times the response is to criminalize actions taken by a victim who has gone through serious trauma. Experts believe that only between 100 and 200 schools around the U.S. use a trauma-informed approach when dealing with the victims of assault cases.

An important aspect of the situation as a whole is not to marginalize the importance of the environment in which these problems are arising. It is important not to separate the unfair policies regarding minorities from the sexual assault and uninformed response issues, advocates suggest. To address these problems, the issues must be taken as a whole which is the route that President Obama has taken in releasing documents regarding Title IX reporting.

"My experience is that schools often respond to harassment in ways that further traumatize the victims. So training and education in trauma sensitivity would greatly improve the educational environment for students," Said Adele Kimmel, a senior attorney at the firm Public Justice.

Tyler Kingkade writes for BuzzFeed that there are 106 investigations in K-12 schools that are dealing with allegations that administrators mishandled sexual violence issues in their schools. There are also over 300 investigations into whether school administrators are exhibiting racial bias.

To help with the issues plaguing Title IX reports and the mistreatment of sexual assault cases, an online toolkit has been released. The toolkit called Safe Place to Learn: Prevent, Intercede, and Respond to Sexual Harassment of K-12 Students, is designed to educate teachers, administrators and others how to properly handle and use trauma-informed approaches to sexual assault cases.

"In my cases, I have seen how a child's education is disrupted by sexual violence, implicit biases, and trauma. With the free online training modules accompanying the guide, there is no excuse — utterly no excuse — for a school to ever punish the victim for in-school sexual violence, as happened in six of my firm's cases," Said Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn attorney who represents teen sexual assault victims.

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