Student Raped After School Uses Her as “Bait” in Sting Operation
A 14-year-old was raped when an Alabama public school used her as bait in a botched plan to catch a boy “in the act” after she reported his sexual harassment. She believes the school bears responsibility for her suffering, and is seeking to hold it accountable in a federal lawsuit.
Public Justice and women’s rights groups across the country agree, filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that explains why the Alabama district court should not have dismissed the girl’s lawsuit against Madison County School Board.
The case stems from a policy at Sparkman Middle School of only punishing sexual harassment if a student was “caught in the act” by witnesses or admitted the harassment, explained Adele Kimmel, Public Justice managing attorney. Based on this policy, school officials ignored repeated sexual harassment of multiple female students by a 16-year-old male student with a long history of sexual harassment and violence at school. When the 14-year-old girl complained about the older male student asking her to meet him in the bathroom for sex, school officials sent her to meet him in a bathroom as bait in sting operation to “catch him in the act.”
Before any staff arrived, the male student raped the girl.
Before the rape, the girl played basketball and got good grades. After the rape, she no longer trusted anyone or felt safe, transferred to another school, stopped playing basketball, began failing courses, and suffered debilitating depression, Kimmel said.
The federal district court dismissed the claims against the school board, even though the school’s actions put the girl in harm’s way and therefore violated Title IX—a federal statute that requires schools to investigate complaints of sexual harassment promptly and thoroughly, take appropriate corrective action, and protect the victim, Kimmel said. In addition to a damages claim against the school board under Title IX, the suit includes claims against the school board and officials under the U.S. Constitution and Alabama state law.
“Both the school system and the federal district court have failed this middle school girl,” Kimmel said. “The school’s ‘caught in the act’ policy caused her rape, and makes others more vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. Adding insult to injury, the district court failed to recognize how a school’s enforcement of dangerous policies like this one violates Title IX.”
Public Justice and over thirty women’s rights organizations joined an amici brief filed by the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia, with assistance from Bondurant, Mixon & Elmore, LLP, in Atlanta. The brief argues that the policies and practices for addressing sexual harassment at Sparkman Middle School run afoul of Title IX because they substantially increase the risk that students will be sexually harassed and assaulted.
In addition to Kimmel, Public Justice Cartwright-Baron Attorney Sarah Belton assisted on the amici brief. The U.S. Department of Justice also filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the middle school girl, who is represented by the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., and Mastando & Artrip, LLC, in Huntsville, Ala.