District that tried to ban SPEAK accused of covering up rapes

I was planning on writing an update about the book banning efforts of Wesley Scroggins in Republic, MO next month. The school board finally made its decision about which books it would remove, and since we are so close to the one-year anniversary of the mess, I had decided to write about it then.

But then I found out that the mother of a special needs girl has filed suit against same school district in which she claims her daughter suffered “multiple sexual assaults” and was raped by a classmate in school in seventh grade. The suit claims that the daughter told school personnel, who did not report the accusations to authorities, that her daughter was shamed into recanting and forced to write a letter of apology to the rapist, then was RAPED AGAIN by the same boy in same school the following year.

So I am writing about the Republic School District a little earlier than I had planned to.

(I have linked to the original complaint, the district’s responses and other news coverage at the end of this post.)

The outrages pile up one atop the other. According to the complaint filed by the mother, this girl (then in seventh grade) suffered from repeated sexual harassment from the boy in question. When he finally raped her, she went to school officials. They told her mother that they did not think the girl’s accusations were credible. After that, they met with the girl a number of times, without the mother being present, to discuss her claims.

Apparently no one at the school contacted the police.

If I had written this storyline in a novel, my editor would have dismissed it as ridiculous. She’d say something like, “That would never happen in America today. School officials know that they are mandated reporters. They would have called the police the first time the girl spoke up.”

They didn’t. Instead, they made the girl write an apology letter to the boy she accused of raping her. Then they made her deliver it to him.

And then? They referred her to juvenile authorities for making up the whole story and suspended her for the rest of the school year.

(There is a big unanswered question here: did the police, acting on that referral from the school for false accusation, investigate? What did they find?)

When the girl started eighth grade the following September (2009), the lawsuit claims she was the victim of “repeated sexual assaults” for the entire school year. In February of 2010, the suit alleges that the boy took her to a secluded corner of the library and raped her.

The girl immediately spoke up again. School officials were skeptical and did not take any action. The girl was taken (by her mother, I believe) to the Child Advocacy Center for a SAFE exam (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam). The exam showed a “positive finding for sexual assault.” Semen collected in the the exam was found to be a DNA match for the boy in question.

The boy was arrested and pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him. (The lawsuit does not the specify the exact charges or his sentence.)

What did the school do? The lawsuit says it suspended THE GIRL again for “Disrespectful Conduct” and “Public Display of Affection.”

According to the local county prosecutor, Missouri state law lets the school officials off the hook for not reporting the incidents because the boy was not an adult. (The age of consent in Missouri is 17, but if the perpetrator is under 21, it appears that there is rarely prosecution. If any of you are trained in the nuances of Missouri sexual assault law, I’d love some more information about this.) But he also said the school should have erred on the side of caution and allowed a trained forensic professional to interview the girl and decide about her credibility.

I have no information about the kind of “special needs” the girl has. I believe that her disabilities, in there are any, would even further enhance the need of the school officials to bring in law enforcement the first time she spoke up.

What do you think?

1. Initial coverage of the lawsuit in the local newspaper

2. Excellent coverage of the story at Boing Boing.

3. PDF of the lawsuit against the Republic, MO school district, and the principal, counselor, and school resources officer of the middle school filed with the US district court.

4. PDF of the school district’s response to the mother’s lawsuit.

5. PDF of the Republic School District’s public statement, issued Wednesday, on the matter.

6. CBS News weighed in on the matter, too.

7. Local television coverage.

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29 Comments

  1. Figgy
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Oh my goodness, that’s DISGUSTING!

    I would like to say I don’t believe it, I wish I had that much faith in the world; but there are just too many messed up people out there to think this didn’t happen.

    But that’s the sad truth, isn’t it? Life is more ridiculous than fiction. We need to suspend our disbelief when reading, but in reality there are so many outrageous horrors around us every day…

    And people say YA books are the problem… Yeah, sure…

    • amber dawn
      Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      People really think YA books are the problem!?? I am an adult and read YA literature on purpose.. there is some crap, but there is a lot of thoughtful, well written work some of which deals with big, painful topics like this one.

      rapists and rape apologists are the problem. always have been, always will be.

      • Figgy
        Posted August 20, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        Yep, exactly.

        Yet the woman who wrote that article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of months back would have us believe that books like SPEAK are bad… Books where the main character cuts apparently ENCOURAGE a child to cut (uhm, no), books where drugs or rape are involved are “too dark” for our children, and why not shelter them from such themes?

        I read a lot of YA now, and WRITE a lot of YA, and back in high school I probably WOULD have cut myself because of my high stress relationship with my mother, if it hadn’t been for my love of books, and the knowledge that these characters can go through worse things than me and still come out on top, so surely I can…

  2. Figgy
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Any chance of a companion to SPEAK, perhaps called something like LOUDER, for those who find themselves being ridiculed by those who are meant to help them?

    Then again, being on that side of it, speaking up is such a hard thing to do… Those without special needs still think it is their fault, without authority figures encouraging them to think that… Let alone a girl who may have a higher level of self-confidence issues to begin with, and who already feels cut off in some way.

  3. Patrick O'Leary
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    I wish I could be surprised. Outraged? yes. Horrified? Yes. Surprised? Sadly, no. Last year, at our son’s school, a girl he’s friends with had repeated problems from the same boy grabbing her in school. She told him to stop. She tried to avoid him. She talk to the deans. When the guy dragged into his lap and fondled her breasts in the bleachers during a pep rally, she again went to the dean. Nothing happened. Our son went to the dean. Nothing. My wife called the principal and raised hell. Finally, they took the claims seriously. But the principal said there had been no record of the complaint.

    But at least this story has a better (if not happier) ending, that the boy was kicked out of the school and slapped with a restraining order barring him from being anywhere near the girl. Also, after he ignored his first 3 trial dates in family court, and refused the deal the prosecution offered, the courts took him seriously.

    But it should have never gotten to that point. If someone had taken it seriously the first time it happened (she wasn’t anywhere near his first victim), maybe it could have had a happier ending. As it was, this kind of behavior from school officials teaches these guys that sexual assault is acceptable behavior. And it teaches the girls to just shut up and take it. How is either of those a lesson we want for our kids?

  4. william white
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    More and more adults are abdicating our responsibility to protect children. Thank God for groups like RAINN, books like Speak, and public figures like Laurie Halse Anderson.

  5. rosie
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    that’s horrible. the bottom line is, if he had sex with her against her will and without permission, it’s rape.

  6. Juliet
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    There is something very wrong with this Missouri school district. First, Mr. Scroggins found rape sexually exciting and thus not appropriate content for a book. Then a rape victim is treated in this manner. I can’t believe this incident was described as a public display of affection. This is beyond disgusting. All of the adults in this situation do not deserve to be in positions of power. In my opinion, they belong in jail.

  7. Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I am rendered speechless. However, I am wondering where the parents were when the girl was being sexually harassed/assaulted the days prior to the actual rapes? Were they speaking up for their daughter? Who was acting as her advocate early on?

    While I do not believe these educators were acting on the best behalf of the girl I do believe that there are many many cases where educators are but haven’t actually thought through their actions to realize that they are actually “punishing” the person being harassed. In this case, however, I think the educators in question simply weren’t thinking at all and as such do not deserve to be in a position of authority/trust over anyone’s child.

    But where were the parents in all of this? Two years of harassment, one rape, suspension — before the final rape and action being taken, wouldn’t you (as a parent) have been raising some h…?

  8. Karissa
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    “The girl failed and neglected to use reasonable means to protect her self, the response says. Any damages the girl may have sustained, ‘were as a result of the negligence, carelessness, or conduct of third parties over whom the District Defendants had neither control nor the right to control,’ according to the school district response.”

    Seriously? It’s HER fault she was raped? This is insane. And heartbreaking. Please keep us posted on this Laurie! And thanks for posting about it.

  9. Cari
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Sharron,

    You raise an interesting question, but please remember that the demands on parents of special needs children are so, so high. Many times these are single parents with lower incomes (especially in Missouri) who are just trying to make it day by day.

    We are all taught to believe school officials and people of authority. It would be a difficult situation to be in if your child said one thing and all the school administrators (who would presumably know about the situation since they are at the school all day) said another. We also don’t know what the girl told her mother initially. Since she felt she had to recant her story to the school administrators, perhaps she did the same with her mother?

    You didn’t mention this aspect, but I’ll address it anyway: sending her child to another school may not have been an option. Republic is a small school system with one middle and one high school. In order to get her child to go to a different school, this mother would have had to transfer districts which may have been too difficult (if not made impossible–we don’t know that she didn’t try) or cost prohibitive.

    The important thing is that this girl’s mother did come forward and she did raise a stink. She has filed a lawsuit against the school district! Doesn’t that count for something?

    What an awful, heartbreaking situation for any parent to be in. I can’t imagine what this girl and her mother have gone through these past few years.

  10. Posted August 19, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Holy hell in a handbasket. I blogged about that girl who suffered multiple assaults, yesterday I think — but I was COMPLETELY unaware of the fact that the same district tried to ban SPEAK. I am beyond appalled at all of this. It’s so grossly negligent and almost willfully harmful.

    Things like this shouldn’t happen, period. The fact that they do? That there are people in positions of power/authority who do nothing? Who continually blame the victim? It makes me angry and sad. *shakes head*

  11. Jasmine P
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This goes along with other aspects of our society that preach ‘don’t get raped’ not ‘don’t rape’. When these idiotic school officials did nothing the first time that was disgusting enough, but why would she lie? Well, people have lied about being raped, but they should have treated it like it was real.

    So many things wrong, but it is getting attention and hopefully things will be completely righted soon. I’m glad this girls’ mother is so on top of things, it is sad that she did nothing at the first road block but is working to get things improved from here. Banning books that address these types of things deserves my ire more than a school system banning A Study in Pink because some Mormons don’t like the poor representation of them in that novel.

    Honestly, I came here after seeing the tweets fly between John Green and Maureen Johnson this morning and this is a horrible situation. Hopefully people will find your book (if I understand how you started this correctly, something you’ve written is/has/was/will be banned) despite the banning.

  12. Kaylee
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I think I’m going to vomit.

    As teachers, we are told to believe anything a student comes to us about. In fact, in our state, you’re supposed to call family services (or notify the on-campus deputy, if your school has one) FIRST, then tell admin you made a report.

    “Not a credible witness”? That’s for the legal system to determine. You’re an educator, not a detective. Leave the cop work to the cops. You have a MORAL obligation to keep your students safe. You betrayed this young woman in the most heinous way possible: you let her be victimized by her rapist, then you did it to her again when you didn’t believe her. And then she was assaulted AGAIN. I am disgusted and ashamed to be part of a system that allows this.

    All teenagers should read SPEAK. Too many of them will also be victims, and perhaps they, like Melinda, will realize they are not alone, and find their voices too.

  13. Posted August 19, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    IT MAKES ME SICK TO MY STOMACH!

    Things like this is why I decided to start homeschooling my chilren!

    As a parent of a special needs child, I am thankful that the girl was able to SPEAK for herself because my child doesn’t have the expressive language capability to do so.
    But I am worried why the gaurdian(s) of the child did not do something sooner–like pull the girl out of the school when it was shown they were blaming her (suspended) for the events. I mean, I could NEVER send my child back to a school where something so terrible had happened. The school doesn’t seem to care about the special needs children. So often they are swept into a corner…

  14. Kim McCollum-Clark
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if words in the human lexicon allow me to express “what I think” about all this. But it does reinforce the ancient and all too true axiom about those who would burn books having callous disregard of other human beings, if not going so far as to “burn” them. I just can’t express my disgust and fury and rage.

  15. Exillior
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    It angers me that the words of young people are dismissed so easily (reading the stories in the comments, too). Maybe it has happened to adults, too (and sadly it wouldn’t shock me) but I’ve never heard of an adult being made to write a letter of apology and having to hand it to the person she accuses of rape. How, in the name of heavens, is that a reasonable thing to demand of somebody anyway? Even if they made up the charges, that’s still not appropriate. What would it have cost the school authorities to have at least thought “What if she’s right?” How can there be an excuse for them failing to at least consider this??

    Also, reading the statements from the school that make it look like she brought it down on herself – EVEN if she did, it is still rape.

  16. Posted August 19, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    This is the first time that this situation has really rendered me speechless. The way it all comes crashing together, with all the power abuse and censorship and truly unbelievable…

    Well, you can’t say it’s an impossibility, but you’d really, really hope. I’m really impressed though, that this girl kept going back to the teachers to tell them what had happened, special needs or no. She is proof enough of the necessity for YA books like Speak being in circulation at schools.

  17. Posted August 19, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I have been ranting about this for days. This is a much better presentation of the story. It is still horrific. The fact that it was the same school district associated with calling SPEAK pornography a year ago is even worse.
    On a brighter note, I was discussing this yesterday with one of our teens (a high school senior) who read SPEAK as part of her Interpersonal Relations class in her freshman year, and she was perplexed as to why anyone would challenge it. She thought it was a great book. : )

  18. Jackie
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I am a survivor of sexual abuse by a relative, and I was scolded for being rude to my abuser. That holds more pain for me than the abuse itself. I have since worked with survivors of sexual abuse. Now, as a parent of a special needs child, I have no words for the feelings this story evokes in me.

    Thank you for speaking for me.

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Jackie, I am sending you virtual hugs and tea and chocolate chip cookies! Your strength is overcoming the abuse is inspiring. Thank you for being a beacon of hope.

  19. Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    All I can say is I’m ashamed to be from Missouri, and an educator in this state about this. This is horrible.

    • Posted August 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Please Lisa, don’t be ashamed. This is not about Missouri. Your state is lovely and is filled with delightful people. I’ve really enjoyed my visits there.

      The authorities in Republic who appear to have violated laws of the state and laws of moral conscious bring shame only upon their own heads.

      My prayer is that all of the facts of this case will be made public, and if laws were indeed broken, then justice will be swift and sure. And I sincerely hope that the voters in the Republic school district will make their feelings known to the school board.

  20. Daniel
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Considering this is the same state that, up until the 70’s, had a law in place that allowed for the murder of a Mormon, i find this really not all that surprising. Although we should be appalled by this incident, we should be doing our best to see changes, not just witch hunt.

  21. Resa
    Posted August 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    When I was in high school, my favorite teacher pulled some of the girls in my class aside and gave us all a copy of a book, Speak. She then told us that she never wanted any of us to ever go through anything like what Melinda had experiences, or like she herself experienced in high school.

    Years later, I was raped my freshman year. I reported the incident to my school’s police department, but no one even came. The hospital reported it was well, with the same result.

    Even thought the physical scars mostly healed, The assault is still fresh in my mind- Even with years of therapy, I still see him whenever I close my eyes.

    It was only recently, after speaking with my past teacher, that I found the courage to speak up again. Even now, nearly 10 years after the fact, I am still terrified to see him. The knowledge that I will have to testify in court as to what happens keeps me awake at night.

    My only comfort is knowing that, with my voice, another girl may be spared.

    As someone who is going through the same situation, my heart definitely goes out to this little girl.

    • Posted August 20, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      I think you’re brave, for speaking up and out — and I’m glad that your former teacher was there for you. I know that testifying won’t be easy, but you are doing the right thing. *hugs*

  22. Nanni Clover
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    Well, it is understandable that with people like that in charge of schools they wouldn’t want SPEAK on their shelves, right?

    Typical: “It was all the girl’s fault,” they say. Don’t they always? How convenient.

    It was most definitely not the fault of the adults in charge of the place! The adults supposedly responsible for taking care of the children! I mean, that would be such an ourtrageous thought, right?

    I feel like vomiting after reading this. I feel like crying and raging.

    The kind of damage this type of action has caused this girl (if not other girls as well) can never be undone. And it was indeed action. Because they very actively did nothing to help her, on the contrary, they put a lot of effort into making sure she was silenced.

    Truth is, if it wasn’t for her dedicated mom, she might as well have been. Is that what it takes, then? To be heard? Well, that and having it happen TWICE!

    I admire them both immensely. The girl and her mom. I stand up and applaud them. I wish them strength to carry on to make sure it doesn’t happen to other girls in that school. I wish them love and comfort and strength to move forward and recover and come out even sronger.

    I hope they keep speaking. Speaking loudly. I hope shout.

  23. Posted August 20, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Laurie,
    I almost emailed this news to you when it broke in the beginning of the week. My daughter goes to one of the elementary schools in Republic. I was so upset when I heard this, it was all I could do not to cry at work.

    The only other thing I know that you didn’t mention is that her special needs description in her record is that she will make all efforts to please everyone even if it means harming herself. Which explains why she was forced into recanting her statement. I believe her mother was in on the meeting in which she said it didn’t happen so I’m sure the mom believed it, like you said, since the administrators all said she lied as well.

    My sister in law told me the statement the superintendent made on the school’s website made her feel better. I told her that it was a bunch of bs and they were STILL trying to deny all of it and calling the girl a liar. It actually made it worse for me. I’m really hoping the facts become public so we can see exactly what happened and why the teachers felt she was lying. Especially knowing her special needs status.

    I don’t care if that girl was walking around naked at school. She does NOT deserved to be raped. No one does. No matter what her actions were, she did not deserve this. What makes me even more mad is the boy confessed and the school still says she lied!

    I can’t believe this news has gone nationwide yet again. The only reason I will stay in this district is to vote all the board members out when their time comes. I only hope something can be figured out how to get rid of the superintendent.

    I will try to keep an eye out, but they are so sneaky with how they post and handle information. With the book banning, none of us knew it because they don’t put on the website what is coming up to be discussed. They only record what has been discussed in previous meetings. It was done in July when half the board members were gone on vacation. I guarantee something like that will happen with this case.

  24. Diane
    Posted August 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Most school officials and teachers will believe a child is lying if they claim something that is even slightly unexpected. Then they’ll abuse the kid until the kid’s story matches up with their assumptions.

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