Chaz walks down Maine Street in Brunswick, Maine, on Feb. Chaz has testified that he was raped by other kids three times in his first year in junior high, even after repeatedly complaining of harassment to teachers and administrators.
"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 helped develop student intervention programs. Chaz's legal fight with Brunswick Junior High offers a rare insight into a school investigation of student sexual assault allegations.
Student-on-student sexual assaults live in the shadows compared to the attention paid to gun violence in schools, most notably the Newtown shooting, Kenney noted. The AP reviewed about 1,500 pages of sworn testimony, emails, court documents, and investigative reports, as well as videotaped depositions of 15 school administrators, teachers and police, and interviews with a dozen people tied to the case.
Ranging from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling, the sexual violence that AP tracked often was mischaracterized as bullying, hazing, or consensual behavior.
It occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised: buses and bathrooms, hallways and locker rooms.
"Schools are required to keep students safe," said Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in school sexual misconduct. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act.
And when schools don't act—or when their efforts to root out abuse are ineffectual—justice is not served.
For every adult-on-child sexual attack reported on school property, there were seven assaults by students, AP's analysis of the federal crime data showed.
Schools frequently were unwilling or ill-equipped to address the problem, AP found, despite having long been warned by the U. Supreme Court that they could be liable for monetary damages.
From almost his first day at Brunswick Junior High, Chaz said kids harassed him, taunted him about his weight, and subjected him to ordeals like a "gay test." Complaining to teachers and administrators didn't help, he said. Because many accusers initially keep quiet, physical evidence can be long gone once investigators step in.
He slid into depression and refused to go to school. Often, there are no eyewitnesses, leaving only the conflicting accounts of the accuser and the accused.
The AP counted only the most severe forms of sexual assault, excluding categories that were more broadly termed, such as sexual harassment, or behavior like kissing on the playground.