The Jezebel site on Friday published the disturbing and chilling rape allegations of three Norman High School students against a fellow student and how they were then subsequently bullied at school for reporting their assaults.
The post, without using the students’ real names, details how the girls “were hounded out of Norman High by merciless taunting from their classmates about the rapes, and, in one case, a physical assault.”
In response to the events, some Norman High School students plan a walkout at 9:20 a.m. this morning to protest the bullying. The public is encouraged to attend outside the school starting at 9 a.m. I hope the Norman community and the larger Oklahoma City area, in general, rallies around these students and others protesting against this type of bullying under the name #YesALLDaughters. Nearly 7,000 people follow the group on Facebook as I write this, and that number is sure to grow after today. This is a story with national implications and consequences.
The Jezebel post, written by Anna Merlan, is an extensive and remarkable piece of reporting, writing and documentation. It makes Norman school officials and law enforcement officials there seem callous and insensitive and obviously sexist. I would add, and this is my opinion, it shows how leaders in Norman, whether intentionally or not, are actually promoting a culture in that college city in which violence against girls and women is at least dismissed if not tacitly condoned. These are just the latest incidents outlined in Jezebel.
I urge you to read the Jezebel piece because any summary of it will just by definition leave out crucial and heartbreaking details. The simple overview is that two 16-year-old girls and a 14-year-old girl allege an 18-year-old male student raped them. The 18-year-old student has apparently been expelled or suspended from school, but so far hasn’t faced any legal charges. School authorities, in general, are reticent to talk about the case, according to the post, because of privacy rules under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA.
Here’s one of the post’s key paragraphs:
A local feminist knitting circle in Norman has banded together to publicize what has happened to the girls. (They contacted Jezebel with their story and facilitated our contacting the girls and their families for interviews.) Together with the girls and their families, they accuse Norman High administrators of badly mishandling the aftermath of the rapes, allowing all three girls to be bullied mercilessly by their schoolmates until they saw no other choice but to leave. This is despite a detailed anti-bullying policy at Norman, one spelled out in the school’s 2013-2014 handbook, which clearly bans both in-person and online bullying, which all the girls say they experienced in spades.
Besides bringing attention to the Jezebel piece and supporting the student walkout and #YesALLDaughters, I urge the following actions:
(1) Norman Schools Superintendent Joe Siano and Norman High School Principal Scott Beck should step aside from their jobs until a thorough, independent investigation of the alleged rapes and bullying is completed. I’m not arguing at this point they should be fired or suspended without pay, but it seems highly unlikely to me just on the common sense level that these two officials can set aside their own career aspirations or vested employment interests in this case. At this point, the actions of Siano and Beck in all these cases should be investigated. Siano and Beck shouldn’t actually be OPERATING an investigation. What needs to happen is justice, not a cover-up that protects school administrators at the expense of vulnerable children those administrators are duty-bound to protect.
(2) The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) should conduct the criminal investigation into the rape allegations. Authorities need to make sure there is no collusion or appearance of collusion between local criminal investigators and the Norman School District to arrive at a preconceived outcome in the cases. Meanwhile, other federal investigators should determine whether there has been a federal Title IX violation in this case. Under the Title IX law, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Were these girls discriminated against because of their gender? Was there a double standard applied between the male student and the female students?
(3) Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Norman School District, the Norman Police Department and the Cleveland County District Attorney’s office should also be required to release to the alleged victims, the media and any concerned citizens all emails, documents and paperwork about the cases. The names of the minor children can be redacted from the documents. There needs to be full transparency in the cases so the community knows what’s going on. (To Superintendent Joe Siano: Consider this a formal federal Freedom of Information request to release copies of the documents I want to review to me by noon, Friday, November 28, 2014. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. As you know, I have sent you a personal email requesting the documents as well.)
I follow #YesALLDaughters on Facebook. On Sunday night they sent out a message that attached a list of demands of NHS Principal Beck and posted them on the organization’s page. I support every single one of these thorough and intelligent demands, but I still strongly believe Beck and Siano should recuse themselves from the ongoing investigations. Here’s what #YesALLDaughters wants from Norman High School:
- School must fully accommodate the educational needs of the victims and take all necessary steps to ensure the victims feel welcome and safe at all times on school grounds.
- School administration shall request a full investigation by law enforcement into the child pornography passed around school and into any teacher or administrator who failed to make mandatory reporting of child abuse as required by Oklahoma Statutes, Title 10, section 7103.
- School shall create a new, full time position of Victims Advocate for students who report sexual assault, sexual harassment, or bullying who is responsible for overseeing all such reports and following up with the student, the student’s parents and law enforcement.
- School shall create a notice of victims’ rights to be provided to any student who reports sexual assault, sexual harassment, physical assault, or bullying.
- School shall prioritize the immediate implementation of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and bullying prevention education for students and faculty.
- School shall promptly train all faculty on victim sensitivity and the appropriate response to reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and bullying.
- School shall establish a committee comprised of 3 students, 3 parents, and 3 faculty to oversee the implementation of these demands and to review the programs and policies implemented every 90 days.
I suggested through a Facebook message that the group add this to its list of demands:
School administration shall issue public internal and external letters stating that it will not tolerate non-compliance by its faculty, staff and students of the federal Title IX law, which prohibits gender discrimination at schools receiving federal funding.
Unfortunately, the legendary good ol’ boy system in Oklahoma sometimes requires outside independent investigations that deal with facts without any regard to local politics and power structures. I believe this is one of those times. We can hope local authorities in Norman will embrace social justice and gender equality, but, as cynical as this might sound, I don’t believe it’s possible in this case at this point in our state’s history.
The alleged sexual assaults and the later bullying as outlined in the Jezebel piece are as shocking as it gets. Parents of Norman school students, no matter what their grade level, should follow this growing controversy very closely and demand justice. The alleged assailant and those students who participated in the alleged bullying need to face their possible consequences based on the truthful facts of the case as determined by independent, outside investigators. That’s the very least of what should be done here.