Lawyers for a former Gwinnett County Public Schools student say the school district has been circulating nude photos of her in order to “discredit, shame and embarrass” her.
The student, now an adult, reported being sexually assaulted by a classmate at Peachtree Ridge High School in 2015. She later sued the school district for its handling of the assault. Her identity is shielded in the lawsuit.
The student’s lawyers asked U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones in a Monday hearing to compel an independent investigation to determine who had seen or sent the photos of her, which were attached by school attorneys to the lawsuit. School district lawyers said only law enforcement and one attorney had seen the images as part of the investigations related to the assault and the student’s lawsuit against the district.
Following the report of the sexual assault in 2015, both the student and her alleged assailant were suspended; school administrators claimed both had violated a rule against sexual conduct on campus. The student eventually moved out of Gwinnett County to attend another school, saying she was bullied and forced to attend classes with the alleged assailant.
The student first sued Gwinnett County Public Schools over its handling of the assault in 2018, claiming her civil rights were violated under Title IX. Title IX protects against discrimination on the basis of sex in schools. Because the photos were taken when the student was 15, they are also child pornography, her attorneys said.
“She had no intent of any adult man or woman or school counselor or the school ever seeing these photos,” said Monica Beck, a lawyer for the student, in a Monday hearing. “I cannot understand how the school can contend they’re possibly relevant to a claim that a different boy sexually assaulted her.”
The photos were sent from the student to her boyfriend at the time, not the alleged assailant. The mother of the alleged assailant somehow learned of the photos’ existence and alerted the school, Beck said. A school resource officer got the photos on his personal cell phone as part of the investigation.
Lawyers for Gwinnett County Public Schools said in a hearing Monday that only the officer, another officer, a district lawyer and possibly an investigator from the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office had seen the photos. Lawyers and law enforcement officials cannot be prosecuted for viewing or possessing child pornography as part of a criminal investigation or as part of a lawsuit.
District lawyers said the photos may be relevant to the case, but didn’t specify how. Attorney Rick Menendez said it was still too early in the case to know for sure.
“We think that there’s a possibility it may be relevant and we don’t want to exclude it from evidence at this point,” Menendez said.
Judge Jones suggested limiting the number of people allowed to handle the photos. Jones’ full ruling is expected to be filed Monday night or Tuesday morning.
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