Berkeley High School Students Protested Their Administration on Behalf Of Sexually Assaulted Peer

Supermajority Education Fund

February 13, 2020

Earlier this month, a Berkeley High School student who said she was sexually assaulted by another student last year filed a lawsuit against Berkeley Unified School District. For two days this week, Berkeley students protested what they believed to be their school’s poor response to the incident. 

The victim, referred to as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit, said the alleged assailant forced her into an empty classroom, threw her down on a desk, sexually assaulted her, and attempted to rape her as she told him to stop. She was able to push him off of her and then run out of the room. Doe said she told a counselor, who is mandated to report the assault about the incident. That counselor, she said, told her that her alleged assailant had assaulted six to 10 other female students. 

According to the lawsuit, the counselor told the assistant principal about the report, but that administrator did not implement a safety plan for Jane Doe or notify her parents or the police about the report. Doe continued to see the alleged assailant at school, who she said continued to sexually harass her, claiming he had a video of her on his phone. The lawsuit asks that the defendants change their enforcement of sexual harassment policies and for mental and emotional stress damages.

On Monday, hundreds of Berkeley High School students walked out of school in protest. On Tuesday, students crowded into the superintendent’s office to demand changes, including consent education beginning in sixth grade and hiring a full-time Title IX compliance officer.

Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Brent Stephens told NBC that demands like additional education about affirmative consent are “things that we’d be willing to support here at the high school.”

“From my experience working with high school survivors, high schools rarely respond appropriately to reports of sexual assault and violence,” Sage Carson, manager of Know Your IX, a sexual assault survivor-led organization focused on ending sexual violence and dating violence in schools, told Supermajority News. “Often, schools are unaware of their responsibilities under Title IX or refuse to uphold their responsibilities. Further, students rarely know what their rights are, or what their schools should be doing to remedy the violence. I have seen schools completely ignore reports, refuse to take action, or even punish survivors for reporting violence.”

Carson said the Education Department’s pending rules for campus sexual misconduct would make it even harder for middle school and high school sexual violence survivors to get resources and support under Title IX. If implemented, Carson explained, the Trump Administration would strip survivors survivors who are assaulted off school grounds of their Title IX right, even if the assault directly harmed their education. “The proposed rule would require schools to act only when the sexual violence or harassment completely denies a student access to education,” Carson said. That means students would be forced to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse without being able to ask their schools for help.”