A panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a unanimous decision in favor of the female plaintiff who was raped as an eighth grader by a male student in an Alabama middle school in the case Hill v. Madison County School Board.
The young woman can now proceed to trial with her claim that Sparkman Middle School’s response to her reports of sexual harassment led to her being violently raped in a bathroom by a male student with a known history of violence and sexual misconduct.
The case has been referred to as a “rape-bait” case in the press because of the outrageous scenario that led to the attack. A young woman who has asked to be called “Jaden” was a 14-year-old special education student when she reported that a 16-year-old male student who had been aggressively propositioning her once again asked her to meet him in a school bathroom to engage in sex.
Instead of protecting the student, the aide and administrator hatched a sting plan in which the student would be used as “bait” based on the school’s sexual harassment policy. According to the policy, the “three exclusive types of evidence sufficient for the school to discipline a student for sexual harassment” were for the harasser to be “caught in the act,” physical evidence, and admission of guilt.
In other words, victimized students were disbelieved as a matter of school policy.
In order to try to catch the harasser in the act, Jaden was told to agree to meet her harasser in the bathroom. Teachers planned to intervene before she was harmed.
The boy made a last-minute change and brought Jaden to another bathroom. He sodomized her, Jaden said.
In the ruling, the court wrote that the school showed “deliberate indifference” to the girl’s allegations of sexual harassment.
The plaintiff was represented by the National Women’s Law Center and Mastando & Artrip. The Women’s Law Project and Bondurant, Mixson, & Elmore filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the plaintiff in this case on behalf of thirty-three organizations dedicated to gender equality.
“This decision is an important victory for students whose safety and educational opportunities are at risk when schools develop and implement biased policies like the one in this case,” says Women’s Law Project Staff Attorney Amal Bass who co-authored theamicus brief.
WomenVotePA is the action arm of the Women’s Law Project. Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania.
Text: Tara Murtha, WLP Staff
Photo: Federal Courthouse in Atlanta, via AJC.com