Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem
Sexual assault has become a dominant topic on the nation's college campuses in recent years, as student activists have spoken out and the Obama administration has pushed for institutional change. But it has largely remained a hidden issue in elementary, middle and high schools, where parents assume their children are supervised and safe.
Now there are signs that the problem is receiving more attention, including a sharp rise in the number of federal civil rights complaints alleging that K-12 schools have mishandled reports of sexual violence.
Young people have alleged rape by their classmates not only in school bathrooms, as in the Alabama case, but also in hallways and stairwells and cars parked on school property. Children have reported being assaulted during overnight field trips and at school dances and athletic events.
"We should not have blinders on about how early sexual violence can take place," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Education Department. The problem in K-12 schools is similar in many ways to the problem on college campuses, she said, but there are also important differences, including the inexperience of young children and the power dynamics between adults and students.
"It has its own tinge of ugliness that is its own beast that we need to address," she said.
Twenty-one percent of middle school students reported that they experienced unwanted physical touching on school grounds, according to a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Among high school students, 4 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls say they have been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will, according to a 2013 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.