Many victims of sexual misconduct and/or harassment in the US have been overlooked by the corporate media. Although sexual misconduct on college campuses sometimes makes headlines, corporate media have not adequately reported issues involving sexual harassment and assault in K-12 schools. Mark Keierleber’s August 2017 reports in The 74 and the Atlantic discussed public debates involving Title IX—the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination, including gender-based violence, in schools—and how it primarily benefits college students rather than K-12 students, despite the fact that cases affecting the latter group are “abundant and often poorly handled.”
Keierleber’s reports highlight the cases of Seth Walsh and Rachel Bradshaw-Bean. After coming out as gay, thirteen year-old Seth Walsh endured two years of relentless harassment at school. Although school officials and academic advisors were aware of the ongoing harassment, they failed to confront such issues. As a result, Walsh took his own life in 2010. Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, a Texas high school student, was punished after telling school officials that she had been raped in her high school’s band room. Rather than protect Bradshaw-Bean from her alleged rapist, her school sent both her and the accused to an alternative school to continue their educations.
As Keierleber reported, in both cases—and many comparable others—school district officials failed to report significant, serious issues regarding their students, as mandated under Title IX. As of August 2017, Keierleber reported, the Office for Civil Rights was investigating 154 Title IX sexual-violence complaints from 137 K-12 school districts in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
The Obama administration was known for its strengthening of Title IX protections on college campuses, but adequate enforcement in K-12 schools is still lacking. As Keierleber writes, “in recent years the Office for Civil Rights has seen a surge in Title IX complaints against these schools similar to those targeted at colleges and universities.” Students of middle- and high school-age do not receive the same protections as their collegiate counterparts. “What you see most commonly is that colleges are far ahead of K-12 schools in the development of their sexual-misconduct policies and procedures, their training, and their education of staff and students,” according to Adele Kimmel, a senior attorney at Public Justice, who has represented sexual-violence victims for several years.
During the past year, high profile sexual assault and Title IX cases have received an abundance of establishment media coverage. Under President Trump, however, “advocates for sexual-assault victims are on the defensive,” Keierleber writes. Since Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in February 2017, news outlets have featured stories about changes DeVos is proposing to Title IX enforcement. Although the potential changes to the federal law have thrown some media light on the topic, news coverage typically focuses on how changes to Title IX would impact the collegiate level, ignoring K-12 cases.
Mark Keierleber, “Overshadowed by the College Sexual Assault Debate, 154 Open Title IX Investigations at K-12 Schools,” The74.org, August 6, 2017, https://www.the74million.org/article/forgotten-in-the-devos-debate-over-campus-sex-assaults-the-154-pending-k-12-investigations/.
Mark Keierleber, “The Younger Victims of Sexual Violence in School,” The Atlantic, August 10, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/08/the-younger-victims-of-sexual-violence-in-school/536418/.
Student Researchers: Caroline Akerson, Renee Francolini, Jackie Lyons, and Mary Yates (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)