IHS Lacks Action towards Sexual Harassment and Assault

Rebecca Caulton, Staff Writer

Every year, IHS receives reports of sexual harassment and assault. Historically, IHS has shown a lack of transparency to students about the procedures around reported cases. It is IHS’ responsibility to help victims and not rely on the police and legal system to handle these cases as students.

While all sides agree that sexual assault is an important issue at schools, many believe that high schools and especially colleges take these cases too far and convict innocent parties. Instead, assault and harassment cases should be entirely handled by police. According to AP News, “Advocates for the accused say that school disciplinary panels are unequipped to handle such serious allegations.” While schools do not have the authority to accuse alleged assaulters, the supreme court has ruled that it is under a school’s responsibilities to do internal investigations and interventions due to Title IX of federal law which prevents discrimination based on sex. Additionally, on a high school level every student has a right to education and sexual assault and/or harassment hinders the ability for a student to safely learn. Because it is important to also protect the rights of those accused, the school’s power to punish is also minimized.  According to Principal Connolly, “If the only evidence I have is you saying ‘this happened to me’ and it happened in a place where nobody else saw it and there is no video of it and you did not report it to the police, I cannot necessarily act on anything other than putting a no-contact in place.”

Because of these concerns of false accusations, the school has systems put in place to prevent either side from being punished. An example of this system is supportive measures, action the school can take that helps the victim without punishing the accused’s right to education.  Some supporting measures, according to the Issaquah School District, include “developing a safety plan; Modifications of work or class schedules; Mutual restrictions on contact between the parties.” Because supportive measures are not extreme, the school only needs to be surer than not to act in favor of the victim. According to Business Insider, “University disciplinary procedures only require ‘a preponderance of evidence’ to determine guilt, while courts are held to a much higher standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’” This is also a rebuttal to the opinion that schools should not handle sexual assault and harassment as schools allow victims to reach a certain level of safety and distance between them and the accused without going through court which is unaccusable to many students.

While Issaquah High School seems to have clear protocols in place for these reports, it is clear many students feel failed by the school’s execution of its rules. One student alleged that they reported a sexual assault case only to be turned away because the assault did not happen on school grounds, which is not a valid reason to turn away an investigation according to district rules. Another student alleged that when they tried to report their assault and subsequent ongoing harassment to the school, they were told to wait several months before they could meet with a counselor. These cases of negligence set a precedent where victims do not report incidents to the school as they hear how previous cases have been poorly handled.

Additionally, a lack of transparency to students about how legally limited the school is in its actions misguides victims about what the school can do for them. By clearly advertising what the school can and cannot do, students will be more aware of what to expect from the school and if legal action is a better route. Issaquah School District requires that, “Information about the district’s sexual harassment regulation and complaint procedure [should] be easily understandable and conspicuously posted throughout each school building.” While it could be argued that going over what to do in the aftermath of sexual harassment or assault incidents with students is excessive, sexual assault and harassment’s frequency at high schools justifies it. According to NBC News, “56 percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys [grades 7-12] said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.” While making the procedures more widely known does not acknowledge the negligence present in the anecdotes discussed above, it would be a step in the right direction.