13-year-old Colorado Wrestler Sodomized with a Pencil, Blamed, Teased and His Family Run Out of Town
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In tiny Norwood, Colorado, a state high-school wrestling tournament turned into a nightmare for one of the team's youngest members, when the 13-year-old was cornered, bound with duct tape and sodomized with a pencil, in what was called a "hazing" incident.
More outrageous still, is that this was only the beginning of the trauma he endured, after reporting the attack. He was bullied, ostracized, and humiliated on Facebook. Supporters of his attackers wore T-shirts supporting them, two of whom just happened to be sons of the wrestling coach, Robert Harris, according to the Denver Post. Just to add another strange wrinkle to this sad tale, the victim was the son of the school's principal, begging the question: If he's not safe, who is?
Sexual assault as part of brutal hazing rituals for sports teams is on the rise, with more than 40 high school boys reporting being sodomized by foreign objects by teammates in the last year. According to the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 10 percent of high school boys report being victims of rape of sex assault by peers. Experts also say that the rise in high school hazing has fueled college hazing rituals, and that upping the ante of pain and humiliation is intrinsic to the practice.
Back in Norwood, the victim's dad heard some boys laughing about assaulting his son and was, understandably horrified, but he did not immediately report the incident to the police. Rather he notified superintendent and the school board. The perps were given a one-day in-school suspension. The father complained, and things got worse for his son, who fortunately had needed no medical attention.
But he was repeatedly harassed and teased.
According to an extensive account in The Denver Post his teasers would say: 'What's been stuck up your butt today?"' according to his mother. "Things were posted on Facebook, like 'Rot in hell, liar!"'
The rest of the story reads like a whole town turning into the island in Lord of the Flies. Here's how the Post tells it:
As word spread about the incident, townspeople turned against the principal and his family.
Frustrated by the response of town and school officials, the principal finally reported the incident to the Denver police. The police sent investigators to Norwood and on April 23 they arrested the three boys, charging them as juveniles with kidnapping, sexual assault and false imprisonment, according to the district attorney's office.
On news of the arrests, anger exploded in Norwood, and it was aimed squarely at the principal and his 13-year-old son. The school board held a series of private meetings with parents who clamored for the principal's dismissal.
"It should have been left alone," said Sheldon Cline, a 54-year-old electrician. "It should have been handled through the system here. If you publicize it, it gets blown out of proportion."
Marie Fouche, a substitute teacher at the school at the time, went to the school board to speak in support of the principal.
"It seemed the whole town was against the victim and his father," Fouche said. "It was all about punishment and not helping."
After the arrests, Jessica Bicknase, identified in a police report as the mother of one of the accused, paid to print T-shirts that bore a slogan using the initials of the suspects. Bicknase declined to comment.
A dozen students wore the T-shirts to school one Friday, and someone posted a sign with the same wording on the locker of the victim's brother, according to the police report, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. Students who wore the t-shirts told police they wanted to support their friends. The victim told investigators he didn't understand why his friends would support people who attacked him.
When police visited parents of students involved in the T-shirt incident to warn them against intimidating the 13-year- old, who would be testifying against his schoolmates in a criminal case, they found the parents instead focused on attacking the principal.
Denver investigators said they were surprised by the response in the town.
"They blamed our victim," said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney's office, which brought the charges against the three students. "There was a huge backlash, and everybody turned against this boy and his family for bringing trouble to their town."
After the T-shirt incident, the principal decided to stop sending his son to school, and instead brought his assignments home.
"My son was the outcast," the principal said. "He was made to feel like he was the one who caused the whole thing."
Later that year, one of the accused students pleaded guilty to sexual contact without consent; the other two pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. They received varied sentences that included probation, community service and restitution of about $2,500 apiece.
The upshot: the principal and his family moved away. The coach received a letter of reprimand, and had his contract renewed.