Former Sugar-Salem student among those calling for more student training on sexual misconduct and Title IX
This story is the third in a series of four stories about Idaho’s failure to comply with federal Title IX law, and why it matters and how children are affected. In other stories, learn how districts are helping each other improve and hear about one student’s experience, which led to a federal investigation.
Editor’s Note: This story chronicles details of sexual abuse that some readers may find disturbing.
Miriam Torres was a second year when she says her counselor at Sugar-Salem High School started grooming her for sex.
Groomingaccording to the sexual violence prevention group RAINN, is manipulation used to gain access to a child and coerce them into accepting sexual abuse.
As a high school student, Torres thought she was falling into a consensual relationship with a married adult man. The counsellor, who denies treating Torres when she was underage, began having sex with her in her senior year after she turned 18.
It wasn’t until years later that Torres, now 26, began to view the relationship as sexual abuse by a therapist and school employee.
Had the sexual misconduct been discussed more broadly at school, or even in her church or community, Torres believes she would have been better equipped to recognize the abuse that she believes violated her rights under the Title IX, a federal law protecting students from sexual violence and harassment in school.
“Since I was assaulted, I’ve read so much about grooming, and teens grooming each other and adults grooming teens,” Torres said, “And none of that has ever happened. never been shared with me.”
Torres, student rights advocates and Title IX experts say improving student awareness of sexual misconduct and their rights in school would give young people more control over recognizing and responding to sexual violence in their own lives.
It is difficult to gauge the prevalence of sexual misconduct in Idaho schools.
Idaho is one of 18 states which does not collect specific data on sexual assault in schools, the Associated Press reported in 2017. The state Department of Education collects general data on school violence and bullying cases and harassment – but these reports do not specify instances of sexual harassment or assault.
Student surveys suggest that young people in Idaho face sexual violence more frequently than the country’s teens.
In 2019, almost 15% of Idaho high school students reported in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that they had experienced sexual violence in the past year. The national average was only 11%. High school students in Idaho also reported more frequent experiences of dating rape and sexual violence than college students nationwide.
If these students don’t get the kind of support they need, it’s not uncommon for them to drop out of school or watch their academics suffer, said Kelly Miller, director of the Idaho Coalition Against Violence. sexual and domestic.
“It has devastating long-term consequences,” she said.
Title IX requires schools to address school-based sexual violence and harassment, including providing support to students and investigating if a student files a formal complaint.
But the law and its requirements are not well known to students.
“I don’t think a lot of people who are victims of sexual violence know about Title IX and their rights in schools,” said Annie Hightower, a Title IX expert who has contracted with SDE to train K-12 schools. on the law.
No student training required
Title IX requires all K-12 staff to report concerns of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, dating violence, and stalking to district Title IX coordinators, who must follow a strict regimen to respond to these problems.
But the regulations do not require schools to educate students about the sexual misconduct prohibited by Title IX, or the kinds of supports they can access at school if they have had a problem.
There are community organizations across Idaho that teach young people about relationship health and where to turn if they have been sexually abused. Eric Studebaker, sstudent safety and engagement coordinator for SDE, says the state has also done some of this work in its efforts to improve youth mental health.
But Studebaker is unaware of any Idaho law or standard that specifically requires schools to teach students about sexual harassment or violence.
The Idaho School Safety Program regularly asks schools what types of training they provide to students and staff. EdNews examined these questions on 127 school safety reviews the program conducted between fall 2020 and 2021. We found:
- About 80% had regular staff training on gender respect and sexual harassment, but only 55% of schools regularly trained students on this topic.
- About 55% of middle and high schools had regular training for students or staff on dating violence, an issue staff are required to report under Title IX.
Proponents say the training would empower students
Lindy Aldrich, a national Title IX consultant, says students should be trained on their school’s requirements under Title IX. Students often think their only way forward after sexual violence is to report a problem to the police or get help from a psychologist.
“There’s a whole web of civil rights, both federal and state, that are given to these populations as well, that nobody ever talks to them about,” Aldrich said.
Under Title IX, if a student has experienced sexual harassment at school that impacts their education, they are entitled to supports that may include counseling, tutoring, or adjusting class schedules. Students can also file a formal complaint asking their school to investigate and resolve the issue.
Talking to students about these rights gives them an opportunity to ask “what justice means to them,” Aldrich said.
“A lot of times we like to deliver proper justice, especially for minors,” Aldrich said. “In my experience, survivors have to define this for themselves.”
Alex Bude, a senior with the Boise School District, thinks more education of students on Title IX procedures would make schools safer. Bude works like a REP youth for the Boise Area Women and Children’s Alliance, helping to educate her peers about healthy relationships.
Bude has friends who have been sexually abused, he said. Him too. And when it happened, they didn’t know where to turn.
“It’s really hard to come to school and learn, and do what you’re supposed to do there, if you’ve had experiences at that school or near that school…that make you feel unsafe “, said Bude.
Schools have the potential to be a place where students feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult about their issues, Bude said, but that relationship requires students to be well-informed.
If students don’t understand how a school can help them, or if they don’t know what will happen to the information they disclose, they won’t feel safe coming forward, he said.
“It is the school’s responsibility to create a safe environment for learning,” Bude said, “not only to make available, but to give you the resources that make you feel like a place safer.”
“I don’t think I should support a system that is clearly not working”
Torres filed a lawsuit against the Sugar-Salem School District in 2017, alleging the district violated Title IX by failing to investigate or arrest her sexual abuse.
The parties reached a settlement in the case last year. The district has admitted no wrongdoing and the counselor continues to “categorically deny” that he treated Torres. In court documents, he said their relationship began after Torres proposed to him.
Torres is married now, with two young daughters and social media accounts where she offers support to survivors of sexual abuse.
There are days, she says, when it seems like childhood trauma will continue to affect her for the rest of her life. She is in therapy weekly and works on the long-term impacts of abuse. She manages post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and panic attacks. And Torres’ experience fundamentally shook his faith in the local school system.
When the time came for Torres to enroll her eldest daughter in kindergarten last fall, she went to an interview with her future principal armed with reading materials.
She was carrying a book on sexual grooming and a 75 page report on sexual misconduct in K-12 schools, which she had printed and collected in a binder.
Torres wanted to know exactly how the school was going to protect his child.
Torres left the meeting unsatisfied. She is homeschooling the girl this year.
“She may not have the same experience as me, but I don’t think I should support a system that clearly isn’t working,” Torres said.
Originally published on IdahoEdNews.org on March 23, 2022