Gwinnett school bungled sex assault claim, alleged victim says

The family of a former Gwinnett County high school student has filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department, saying the school district violated her civil rights in its handling of her claim a male classmate forced her into oral sex at school and then by suspending her from school.

The male classmate said the sex was consensual, and Gwinnett wound up suspending both students for 10 days for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds, according to an attorney representing the girl’s family.

The incident, which took place at Peachtree Ridge High School in February 2015, was first reported Tuesday on Slate.com. The girl’s representatives say Gwinnett bungled the investigation from the start.

“The student and her family filed their complaint in the hope that Gwinnett County will be forced to do a better of job of addressing sexual assault in their schools,” Adele Kimmel, an attorney representing the girl’s family, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Tuesday. “No student should be punished for reporting sexual assault.”

The student alleged that:

  • an assistant principal said he wasn’t properly trained in identifying sexual assault.
  • a school resource officer asked her what was she wearing when the alleged assault took place and why she didn’t do more to stop it.
  • she and the male student were asked to appear together at a hearing.

The girl’s family has asked the federal Education Department to determine whether racial discrimination played a role in how Gwinnett conducted its investigation, Slate reported. The girl is biracial and the boy is white.

Gwinnett officials said they strongly deny the allegations in the federal complaint, which was filed in August 2015. School district communications director Sloan Roach said Gwinnett could not discuss specific details about the case because of the ongoing federal investigation.

The allegations were forwarded to the county’s district attorney’s office, according to Gwinnett and Kimmel. Efforts to contact Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter were unsuccessful late Tuesday.

The two students were not dating, Kimmel said. Slate reported they knew each other.

The girl, who was 16 at the time, is not being identified by the AJC because she is the alleged victim of a sexual assault. She and her family told Slate she left Peachtree Ridge and moved to another school district after classmates who heard about the incident taunted her when she returned from her suspension. Her family said she has become more introverted and considered suicide.

“The punishment imposed on the victim in this case is a textbook example of how schools often treat girls of color who report sexual assault,” Kimmel said. “This is a significant problem in our nation’s schools, and our hope is that the federal investigation into the family’s complaint will help to break this cycle.”

The AJC has reported frequently in recent years about the rise in sexual assaults at Georgia’s colleges, how some cases have been handled and the difficulty in prosecuting them. Critics say there’s not been enough work done on the issue in the nation’s k-12 public schools.

On Monday, the White House unveiled guidelines aimed at helping public schools better handle sexual misconduct allegations that include how officials should be notified, counseling and support for victims and defining sexual consent.

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