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Emily never went back to Garfield, but the alleged perpetrator returned after a 10-day "emergency exclusion" on the basis of a possible security threat he posed to other students. It wasn’t his first. Two years before, when he was in middle school, he was emergency excluded for having sex with a girl behind bushes on school property during lunch, according to school records.
At school the boy spread the story that he was framed, posting on Facebook that he had been “greezed.” It turned school into a hostile environment that made it impossible for Emily to return, the Millers said, and triggered their daughter’s full-blown PTSD.
In this conversation, below, that Emily had with a friend over Facebook, she explains how she found out about the story circulating at Garfield. Her friend mentions that he heard the alleged rapist, a popular student-athlete, talking about the incident at school. (The ellipsis marks an edit where the chat was condensed for brevity.)
In its policy, the district states that retaliation against someone who makes a sexual harassment complaint “will result in appropriate discipline” and that it will “take reasonable actions” to prevent it from happening. The Millers said the district did nothing to respond to the insults and painful gossip. It offered Emily a transfer to another school, but as her PTSD grew increasingly disabling, they said they were never given any clear options about how to make her re-entry work.
“We were not only trying to care for our shell-shocked daughter — we also had to pick up the pieces of her education and figure out what happens next,” Emily’s father said.
Seattle schools’ Title IX coordinator should have been the parents’ point of contact, overseeing the whole process. But the Millers didn’t know the district had such an employee until months after the incident, and even then, he wouldn't communicate, defering instead to the district’s legal department, where most of the Millers' messages ended up anyway. That's a potential conflict of interest, since the district’s lawyers could end up defending the institution if the family sued.
The Millers eventually sent their daughter to a residential treatment facility in Utah, where she lived for five months until the family ran out of money. Emily’s mother believes her daughter could have gone back to school right away with her head held high before the rumors started if they had known that the alleged perpetrator wasn’t there.
In a July 2013 email, the district’s general counsel said the 10-day suspension “permitted your daughter to immediately return to school if she chose.” But it didn’t permit her, the Millers said, because they were never told about it. In fact, the principal refused to tell them if the boy had been sanctioned.
“The whole situation was a disaster,” Ms. Miller said. “The whole [plan for her education] went down the tubes.”
For Title IX violations, the only penalty the Office of Civil Rights has in its arsenal is revoking federal funding — something it has never done to any educational institution in the history of the law. But at the college level, damaging publicity has worked as a powerful weapon. That sword isn’t so sharp at public high schools, where there isn’t the same competition for students.
Steven Kelly, a victims’ rights lawyer who’s bringing a private Title IX lawsuit against Prince George’s County, Maryland, on behalf of a girl with developmental disabilities who was allegedly sexually assaulted, called the Office of Civil Rights “a toothless tiger.”
“[The school district] couldn’t care less,” he said. “They’re not really going to revoke their funding. They’re not going to get anyone fired.”
But high schools can be painted with a big red target of liability: an accusation of negligence that may have allowed the rape. At college, little supervision is expected beyond the casual monitoring of a residential adviser or dean. But many parents assume elementary, middle and high schools serve in loco parentis for their children while at school.
Through their research and records requests, the Millers discovered that the students on the field trip had been freely playing outside and in one another’s cabins for hours after lights out on both nights while their chaperones slept. The chaperones admitted later to a district investigator that they hadn’t even read the district’s field trip guidelines, which recommend checking on students until they’re asleep.
The Millers believe the school was negligent in the way it planned and chaperoned the field trip, especially since their daughter’s alleged rapist had a history of sexual misconduct. Via email, the district’s general counsel was insistent that “there is no evidence the chaperones did not perform their duties.”
“I think they were sort of caught with their pants down and were struggling with how to respond,” Emily’s father said. “Their immediate response was, ‘We’re not going to admit that anything went wrong, because if we do, we open ourselves up to some sort of lawsuit.’”
By the time the district gave its decision on the case, the family had already figured their daughter shouldn’t return to Seattle Public Schools and moved to Tucson, Arizona. Emily, a former honors student, still suffers mental health issues, her parents said.
“Our lives were devastated,” said her mother. “The whole thing is ridiculous, and it’s ridiculous the boy is walking around like this.”
He did not respond to a request for an interview.
The Millers hope their complaint and awareness campaign will educate other high schools, families and students about sexual violence and their Title IX rights, which they believe could lead to fewer assaults at colleges too. Most rapists, after all, are repeat offenders. And one of the greatest predictors that a young woman will be sexual assaulted at college is whether she was sexually assaulted as a girl.
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