The New York City Education Department has a pattern of discrediting and punishing victims of sexual assault, particularly if they are black and poor, according to two complaints filed in recent days with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
The complaints were filed by Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer in Brooklyn, on behalf of two girls and their mothers. A previous complaint filed by Ms. Goldberg in November on behalf of a third girl and her mother is currently being investigated by the Office for Civil Rights.
One of the complaints, filed on June 1, states that on Feb. 5, a 15-year-old girl with developmental delays and an I.Q. of 71 was walking through a hallway at Teachers Preparatory High School in Brooklyn when seven boys confronted her and directed her into a stairwell. There, the complaint says, two of the boys forced her to perform oral sex on them while the others watched.
Six days later, the girl reported the encounter to a guidance counselor and was interviewed by administrators and police officers, the complaint states. According to a report made by an assistant principal in the city department’s Online Occurrence Reporting System that day, included in the complaint, the girl said that one of the boys “grabbed her face” and made her perform oral sex on him.
The next day, however, the assistant principal interviewed the girl again, this time in the presence of one of the boys who had watched the encounter. Based on that interview, the assistant principal concluded that the sex had been consensual and updated the online occurrence report to say that “upon further investigation” the student “admitted it was a consensual act not forced.” As a result, the girl was given a suspension for six days for engaging in sexual acts on campus.
After a hearing a month later, the suspension was withdrawn and the city Education Department said it would be expunged from her record. But the complaint says that the student’s mental health and academic performance have suffered, and that she lives in fear both of retaliation by her assailants and of the prospect that school “administrators will again seek to punish her for another imaginary crime.”
The second complaint, filed on June 4, states that on Nov. 5, a 13-year-old student at Middle School 584 in Brooklyn was between classes when a male student punched her in the genital region, causing her to fall. The male student then simulated sex on top of her, with her arms pinned to the ground and her school uniform riding up.
The male student was suspended for a month and then returned, at which point the girl became afraid to go to school, the complaint states. Despite the school’s claim that it would separate the students, it did not, and they had three classes, as well as lunch, gym and music, together. The girl’s mother sought a safety transfer, but rather than expedite the request, the department took nearly seven weeks to find a new school for her, the complaint asserts. One school to which the girl wanted to transfer, which her sister attended, required an audition, and she was rejected. Two other schools that department officials at first suggested might take her subsequently said they could not enroll her. The complaint said the girl might be forced to repeat her grade because of the number of days of school she missed while waiting to be transferred.
The complaint filed in November states that on April 2, 2015, a 13-year-old girl who was in eighth grade at Spring Creek Community School was waiting for the bus after school when a male student dragged her into an alleyway and sexually assaulted her, forcing her into anal and oral sex. The male student made a video of the encounter and subsequently disseminated it among other students, and the girl, who was already traumatized by the assault, became the subject of taunts and harassment, the complaint says. In response, the school principal told the girl to stay home from school because her presence would only “make things worse,” the complaint says. She missed nearly a month of school before a safety transfer was approved.
Ms. Goldberg said in an interview that when she filed the first case, she thought it was an aberration, but after learning about the two other cases, she now believes there is a pattern within the city’s Education Department of indifference to the needs of black victims of sexual assault.
The department has one coordinator responsible for ensuring the district’s compliance with Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in federally financed schools. Ms. Goldberg called that inadequate.
In the two recent complaints, Ms. Goldberg asked the federal Education Department to conduct a joint investigation with the Department of Justice into whether the city’s Education Department violated Title IX by depriving the students of the benefits of an education and retaliating against them for making complaints of sexual assault. She also asked the federal Education Department to review the adequacy of the city’s Title IX resources and mandate that the city department publicly release statistics regarding the number of sexual assaults that are reported, the number of cases that are investigated, their outcomes, and the frequency of victims’ being transferred.
A spokeswoman for the city department said school staffs were trained in the department’s policies on sexual assault reporting.
“Our legal team is reviewing these deeply troubling complaints and will respond to the Office for Civil Rights regarding any pending matters,” the spokeswoman, Devora Kaye, said. “Nothing is more important than the safety of all students and staff, and we have policies in place that ensure that incidents are reported, investigated and appropriately addressed.”