During her sophomore year, Gabrielle Smart sneaked out of Simeon Career Academy with her on-and-off boyfriend, believing they were going to a restaurant. Instead, they went to a nearby South Side apartment, where he held her down while a classmate sexually assaulted her, she said.
The school's response, Smart said, was almost as painful as the attack.
Simeon officials threatened to punish her for leaving school grounds, told her it would take several months to arrange an expulsion hearing for the alleged offenders, and took little action when their friends threatened her with violence, according to a federal investigation that found Chicago Public Schools failed to protect her after the attack.
"They made it worse," said Smart, 19, whose family then fled to the suburbs out of fear for her safety.
Simeon is one of many high schools in Illinois to come under fire for their handling of student sexual assaults and dating-related violence. There are no state laws or policies governing how school districts should respond to these sensitive issues. Administrators often face he-said, she-said cases in which no criminal charges have been filed, and so they must balance protecting alleged victims versus the rights of the accused.
Although some schools offer safety plans, transfers and other accommodations, many districts do not.
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This Chicago Tribune cover story, published on Jan. 10, 2010, tells of sexual assault and dating violence in Illinois schools and mentions the work of the Ensuring Success in Schools task force. Task force member Wendy Pollack of Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law is quoted. The task force has uncovered schools' failures in keeping survivors safe, protecting their confidentiality and "disciplining victims rather than perpetrators," the Tribune says.
The Chicago Tribune