A Question of Rape

It couldn't happen inside a nice suburban school like Jersey Village High ... could it?

That incident notwithstanding, "reported rape" is an oxymoron in Cy-Fair schools. But that doesn't mean sexual assaults don't happen.

These days, it's not very hard to find high school or even junior high students who will say their friends have been sexually harassed or raped. At least one of those assaults occurred at Jersey Village High, according to a sophomore contacted by the Press, who says her friend was raped last year in the school parking lot. "She didn't say anything," the student says. "I told her to say something, but she wouldn't listen to me."

"I have several friends that have been raped," she continues quietly. "But they just don't say anything. I didn't even think rape was that common, till I got to high school."

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Another sophomore, the girl who says she was harassed by Deirdre's alleged assailant while they were at Cook Junior High, counts off the number of her friends she says have been raped, stopping at six. Others, she says, have been hit or harassed by boys. She has her own stories to tell: Toward the end of her eighth grade year at Cook, a boy began touching and grabbing her "in different places" in the cafeteria at lunchtime. She would yell for help, she says, but nobody would intervene.

She, too, never reported the attacks, though she now wishes she had.
"I know it was a mistake," she says. "I have nightmares about it."

Like everyone else, Deirdre and her family followed the investigation of the incident on television. They saw principal Meek during his press conference subtly begin to shift the focus away from assault toward the consent angle. They watched the boy's mother accuse Deirdre of lying. And when Meek and Mike Connor announced after a week that the evidence showed the two students had been having consensual sex, Deirdre's parents also learned that the girl had been suspended for her role in the illicit activity.

That's not the way it's supposed to be. According to Cy-Fair district policy, schools are required to notify a parent or guardian of any suspension with both a letter and phone call. Deirdre's parents received neither.

Meek explains that both students were kept home under the policy of "emergency removal" pending the outcome of the investigation, and that once the facts were in "we ruled that [the interim] was sufficient enough punishment for any involvement in the situation, and [that she] was welcome back at that time."

But the rule regarding "emergency removal from campus" is no longer found in the Texas Education Code, the state rules that govern public schools. It's been replaced by two rules, "emergency expulsion" and "alternative placement," neither of which would apply to Deirdre.

Cassandra Thomas of the Houston Area Women's Center says that the punitive attitude and actions of school officials are one of the most common problems she encounters in rapes reported to the center by adolescent girls.

"We wonder why kids don't disclose [to authorities]," she says. "More often than not, they're penalized by school officials for putting themselves in the position of being victimized."

Not only did the school violate district and state procedures in addressing Deirdre's allegation, but in the six weeks following the incident, her family heard almost nothing from Jersey Village High. Shortly after the charges against the boy were rejected, two assistant principals called the parents to find out what their plans were, and if they were going to try to place Deirdre on homebound status, a temporary plan that provides a teacher in the home setting for students who are physically or emotionally incapable of attending classes. At one point, Hannah Shirley picked up a few of Deirdre's assignments at the school, but they were never turned in, and no one from the school inquired about them.

Not because they didn't try, says Meek.
"We have sent letters encouraging contact with the family to find out what their wants or wishes are, how we can provide services," the principal says, though he doesn't know if they were received. Meanwhile, he says, the school has been keeping track of her assignments and is ready to help get the girl's education back in gear. "Work has been assembled and gathered here," Meek says impatiently.

The day after the Press spoke with Meek, Deirdre's family received two calls from the school, one from Meek himself, and a day later a truant officer paid a visit to their house and spoke with Jackie, the girl's mother. The overtures were not well received.

"I point-blank said, 'You have done enough, we don't need you to do nothin' else for us,' " Deirdre's mother says, still seething.

The hallway buzz over the incident has faded at Jersey Village High, though kids still talk about it occasionally. The general impression, according to a number of students, is that the official version of events is essentially correct.

"The students have all told me the guy was actually supposedly her boyfriend," says sophomore Matt Borchers, one of only two students who agreed to let their names be used. "Pretty much everyone says they had decided to go into the bathroom that day to have sex."

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