Chicago Public Schools Fails to Protect Students from Sexual Attacks by Classmates

(Tribune) The two 15-year-old boys, both with autism and developmental disabilities, were in the Bogan high school bathroom alone. One, a burly sophomore, had a history of violent outbursts and sexual aggression. The other was unable to sense danger.

Each had a special-education plan that required constant supervision by a school aide, their school records show. Even on bathroom trips.

But no one was supervising in 2016 when the towering aggressor allegedly told the other student to bend over and pull down his pants before penetrating the boy, who was slim and shorter by nearly a foot, records show. And no one was watching when the larger boy allegedly attacked the same student two more times that same year, first in a school bathroom and then during an off-campus Special Olympics field trip, also in a bathroom.

“The bottom line is I blame the school because no one was watching them,” said the alleged victim’s mother. “It shouldn’t have happened.”

The aggressive student was allowed to be alone with the other boy even though he had been found two years earlier in a bathroom stall with a different boy whose pants were pulled down, according to a pending lawsuit. And after the latest incidents, he allegedly went on to sexually attack another student in a bathroom while unsupervised, according to school and police records.

The Chicago Tribune’s reporting on predatory adults in its “Betrayed” series already has resulted in an overhaul of the Chicago Public Schools’ child-safety programs as well as bipartisan state legislative support for new laws to protect students.

Now, in an examination of student-on-student sexual attacks, the Tribune found that Chicago students also were violated by classmates as employees failed to keep them safe.

Though police records on juvenile suspects are sealed, as are most of the records from juvenile court proceedings, the Tribune was able to detail nearly 40 cases in which students reported being sexually attacked in Chicago schools since 2008. Reporters obtained school files, police reports and court documents; interviewed family members and officials; and successfully petitioned the Cook County juvenile court for permission to view records in more than a dozen delinquency cases. Relatives of both victims and perpetrators provided confidential information, saying they wanted to help spotlight safety breaches and spur change.

The documents and interviews describe students coming under attack by their peers in stairwells, lunchrooms, hallways and other common areas of schools.

The cases

The privacy accorded to juvenile suspects makes it difficult to know how often students report being sexually attacked by other students at school. But Tribune reporters were able to detail nearly 40 cases in Chicago Public Schools since 2008, drawing on school files, police reports, civil lawsuits and records from adult and juvenile court.

At Curie high school in 2014, a 17-year-old student lurked in a hallway, then grabbed a girl and tried to force his hands down her pants in two separate incidents, according to juvenile court records. At Orr high school, one special-needs boy allegedly forced another disabled boy to perform oral sex in the stairwell in 2008, juvenile court records and a district investigative report show.

And at Gage Park high school in 2013, two male students lured a 15-year-old girl with developmental disabilities into a music room, where one unbuttoned her blouse and fondled her breasts even though she said no, according to a police report. The same student then ordered the girl to her knees and placed his penis in her mouth as the other boy acted as a lookout. The boys fled when an adult approached.

In more than half of the cases the Tribune compiled, either the sexual-assault victim or the perpetrator was a student with disabilities, highlighting failures by CPS to protect and supervise these vulnerable children.

The main attacker in the Gage Park case, Kory Lindsey, was 18 at the time and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse. He is now a registered sex offender. When the Tribune found him — living across the street from an elementary school in suburban Plainfield — he disputed court accounts of the incident but declined further comment.

In the aftermath of attacks, the Tribune found, principals sometimes cast doubt upon victims’ stories and subjected them to callous interrogations. Family members described in interviews and court documents how young victims withdrew emotionally, became perpetually frightened and, in some cases, lashed out in anger when they could not express their devastation.

One 13-year-old girl was taking high school classes at Kenwood Academy as part of a program for gifted eighth-graders when a star athlete shoved the girl against a wall, exposed himself and ejaculated, according to juvenile court records.

The victim had been successful in the honors program but “did not want to go to school after this incident out of fear. … She had difficulty eating and sleeping,” her mother told a juvenile judge in a typewritten statement.

“(She) has had to explain and re-explain the details of this case countless times, at school, to the police officers, at home and in court. She was humiliated by having to verbalize the graphic details of this crime. Before this incident, (she) had never seen a male’s genitals or had someone try to engage her in a sexual act,” the mother added.

Charged in juvenile court in 2011, the male student was sentenced to probation and 25 hours of community service for public indecency.

To get a clearer picture of how often students report being sexually attacked by their peers, the Tribune asked CPS for data showing how many investigations into these allegations it has conducted since 2011. The district said it had no such data, and it declined to search for cases and count them. The Illinois State Board of Education does not collect data on these cases either.
The Tribune also sought details from CPS about some specific incidents — information that would not identify students. The district declined to provide it.

CPS did release data showing it had disciplined, suspended or expelled a student for forcible sexual abuse or assault 33 times since the fall of 2011.

Of the 36 victims involved in those cases, the district identified 13, or about a third, as receiving special-education services. The true number could be higher, as the status of eight victims was not available. Districtwide, less than 14 percent of students have special needs, suggesting that sexual violence disproportionately affected students with disabilities.

“They are more vulnerable,” said Matt Cohen, a Chicago lawyer and expert in special education. “They may have less awareness of when there is danger. They have less ability to speak out when they are at risk. They have less knowledge of whom to go to when they need help.”

As part of its response to the Tribune’s reporting for the “Betrayed” series, the district announced in late June that it would create an Office of Student Protections and Title IX to deal specifically with student-on-student sexual violence and assault. That office would act as a clearinghouse for reports of sexual assault, and help connect victims and families to support and counseling.

“Unfortunately, adults are not the only perpetrators of harassment and abuse in our system, and we have to create a stronger system of support for our principals to ensure that student-on-student cases are handled appropriately,” district CEO Janice Jackson said this month at a City Club of Chicago forum. “We also know that students accused of misconduct, they require support as well. Many themselves are victims of sexual abuse and unfortunately carry those behaviors on into adulthood. … CPS, like nearly all school systems throughout this country, has not had a dedicated support system for students in these cases.”

The district’s announcement made no mention of how the new Title IX office would handle the disproportionate number of assault cases involving special-education students.
Because of CPS’s failures in providing the appropriate, required services to students with special needs — problems highlighted in a WBEZ investigation last year — the district is being assigned a state monitor to ensure adherence to special-education students’ learning plans, which can include safety requirements. Continue Reading
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