High School Principal Ignores Sexually Assaulted Victims to Protect Basketball Player's 'Prospects at Being Recruited'

Another school chooses to protect an athlete instead of sexual assault victims.

Photo Credit: Carpenter

The National Women’s Law Center is joining forces with a Michigan-area law firm to file a complaint on behalf of a young woman who was sexually assaulted by one of her high school’s star basketball players. As RH Reality Check reports, the complaint alleges that high school administrators did nothing to help advocate for the rape victim after she came forward with her story. In fact, the principal discouraged her from filing charges because he was worried that would hurt her rapist’s chances at getting recruited to play college basketball:

According to the complaint, in 2010 the victim was sexually assaulted by a star player on the school’s basketball team. The assault took place on campus in a sound proof band room at Forest Hills Central High School. The victim notified a teacher who in turn reported the assault to the principal. But rather than open an investigation into the allegations, the principal discouraged the student and her parents from filing charges, telling them that doing so could ruin the assailant’s prospects at being recruited to play basketball for a Division 1 school. [...]

As alleged in the complaint, two weeks later another female student was sexually assaulted by the same attacker. Despite a legal obligation under Title IX to investigate the assault and protect the student, the high school officials never interviewed the girl or her parents again, failed to conduct an investigation, and for two and a half weeks left the attacker in one of her classes.

After the news of the assault spread throughout the Michigan high school, the victim faced backlash from her fellow students, who called her a whore and a liar. She was the subject of intense cyberbullying, and she was also harassed by her assailant and his friends in the school’s hallways. Her parents reported the harassment to the school, but administrators took no action. “The school’s failure to address the harassment sends a chilling message to students that they should remain silent in the face of sexual assault and cannot count on their school to provide a safe learning environment,” a statement from the National Women Law Center pointed out.

Unfortunately, that’s a message that students across the country are receiving from their school administrators. Society’s pervasive victim-blaming rape culture has consistently valued sports stars over rape victims — a dynamic that was particularly evident during the events that unfolded in Steubenville, OH earlier this year. That small town made national news for covering up a sexual assault perpetrated by two of its high school football stars. Even after the teens were convicted, the media took clear sides in the case, focusing on the impact that the guilty verdict might have on the boys’ promising athletic careers rather than the fact that they committed a serious crime. And Steubenville’s football coach just received a contract extension despite the fact that he may have been complicit in the cover-up.

This Michigan high schooler is just one of countless survivors of sexual assault who have faced serious consequences after talking about the crimes perpetrated against them. The Steubenville victim received death threats once her case became national news. And two teenage sexual assault victims — 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons from Canada and 15-year-old Audrie Pott from California — recently committed suicide after their classmates bullied them with information about their alleged gang-rapes.

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Tara Culp-Ressler is the Health Editor for ThinkProgress. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, Tara deepened her interest in progressive politics from a faith-based perspective at several religious nonprofits, including Faith in Public Life, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and Interfaith Voices.