Some Texas school districts may have to change their policies after the federal Office for Civil Rights found that officials at one East Texas high school were wrong to punish a student who reported she was raped by another student on campus.
According to a complaint filed by the female victim, officials of the Henderson Independent School District reportedly placed her in a disciplinary program and told her to “work it out” with her attacker.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas filed a complaint with the OCR, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, on behalf of the student, Rachel Bradshaw, claiming the actions of Henderson Independent School District violated her civil rights under Title IX by creating a hostile environment that deprived her of equal educational opportunity.
The OCR’s decision requires the Henderson ISD to revise its policies, train staff in responding to sexual violence and harassment, provide a sexual harassment counselor at each of its schools and clear Bradshaw’s disciplinary record.
Bradshaw said she was “excited and overwhelmed” with the decision.
“It’s great to know that because I spoke out, the school district will completely change the way it responds to sexual abuse,” Bradshaw said. “I can’t erase what happened in the past but what’s important now is making sure that other students don’t get hurt in the same way in the future. I got back my rights after they were taken away from me.”
Bradshaw was raped by a fellow student in December 2010. After reporting the attack to a teacher, she was told to confront her attacker to discuss what happened.
The school also charged Bradshaw with sexual misconduct for what they incorrectly determined, without investigating properly, was consensual sex and sent both students to a disciplinary school where Bradshaw had to not only face her attacker every day, but endure the bullying of others after he bragged about the assault.
“Rape is a violent and invasive act,” said Stephanie Bauman, staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas. “Rachel needed support and protection from trusted teachers and received exactly the opposite. They punished her. No child should be victimized a second time after such a horrible attack.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is best known for providing equal access to student athletics for both boys and girls, but also demands that schools maintain a learning environment free from sexual harassment or discrimination. This includes protection against and proper response to gender-based violence like Bradshaw’s attack.
“Federal laws like Title IX go far beyond the playing field when it comes to protecting students,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Students cannot learn unless they feel safe when they come to school, and they should be able to trust that the faculty is looking out for them. Rachel was brutally robbed of that trust. We’re grateful that this conclusion will provide her with closure and reform the school district’s practices.”
OCR ordered the school district to undertake thirteen separate action items to ensure compliance with Title IX, including:
- Revising its policies regarding discrimination and sexual harassment and submitting them for OCR review.
- Providing mandatory annual training for staff for at least two years.
- Designating one counselor at each school as “on call” for sexual harassment victims.
- Reviewing campus police records to determine if there were any other violations.
- Clearing Bradshaw’s record.
- Creating a committee of staff, parents, sexual violence prevention organizations and students to educate the school community about sexual violence and harassment.