A new civil lawsuit claims a 14-year-old girl in an Alabama middle school was used as bait in a rape sting coordinated by school administrators.
According to the lawsuit, a student at Sparkman Middle School in Madison County, Alabama was raped after being used as bait by school officials to catch the male student "in the act" after alleging that he sexually harassed her.
"Sexual violence shows up as early as elementary school â¦ and people need to understand that â¦ violent [adult] predators who sexually abuse â¦ grow up in a culture that is pretty indifferent to the way we treat violence against women," says Lisa Maatz, a vice president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Washington.
A 2011 report from AAUW found that 48% of the 2,000 students surveyed across the nation in grades 7-12 are sexually harassed at some point during the school year. Only 9% of those students report the harassment to an adult at school.
The lawsuit argued that the school's policy concerning sexual harassment was to not get involved unless the student admitted to the act, or it had been witnessed.
When the girl reported the harassment to a teacher's aide, it was suggested to her to agree to meet the boy in the bathroom for sex so that school officials could catch him in the act. However, officials were not quick enough to respond, and by the time the aide found someone willing to go into the bathroom, the boy had allegedly raped the girl.
The boy has a record of sexual harassment and other problematic behaviors at Sparkman as well as at another school.
The plaintiff has since transferred to another school where her grades have gone down, she has become depressed and feels unsafe, according to her lawyer.
The school board faces a lawsuit by the girl's guardian, who is suing for damages under Title IX, the federal law that bans sexual discrimination in school settings. The lawsuit argues that the board knew the risks posed by the boy and did not react in an appropriate way. Also included in the lawsuit are constitutional and state law claims against the school board as well as school officials.
The federal claims have been blocked by Judge T. Michael Putnam of the US District Court in Alabama, ruling that the officials did not "meet the legal standard for knowing of serious or pervasive harassment and acting with deliberate indifference."
The National Women's Law Center has appealed that ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"The school's policy that perpetrators of sexual harassment be âcaught in the act' allowed the school to turn a blind eye to ongoing sexual harassment and violence," said Fatima Goss Graves, NWLC vice president for education and employment, in a statement Thursday. "This lack of accountability sends a troubling message to would-be perpetrators: As long as you're not caught, you'll escape all consequences."
A spokeswoman for Madison County Schools emailed this statement to The Monitor in response to the appeal:
"The attorneys for the Board of Education and school officials are confident that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule in favor of the Board and the administrators. Our attorneys recommend that we not discuss ongoing litigation."
Nina Chaudhry, NWLC Senior Council, stated that many schools across the nation do not do enough to ensure students know their rights under Title IX and inadequate policies that do not offer enough training of staff members.