According to a report from the New York Daily News, a new lawsuit alleges that a Brooklyn high school suspended an intellectually disabled girl after she was allegedly gang raped on campus. The lawsuit also alleges that the school covered up the incident. According to a copy of the lawsuit provided to Bustle by Carrie Goldberg, the girl's lawyer, the girl was allegedly cornered by a group of seven male students on Feb. 5, 2016, and allegedly forced to perform sex acts in a stairwell at the school while other students watched. The female student, who has an IQ of 71, reportedly told a guidance counselor about the alleged assault six days later.
According to reporting from 2016 by The New York Times, a secondary interview with an assistant principal, during which one of the alleged perpetrators was present, resulted in the assistant principal allegedly deciding that the encounter was "consensual," and the girl was given a six-day suspension for performing a sex act on school grounds. The suspension was later withdrawn, but it is not clear if any of the alleged perpetrators faced disciplinary action by the school, though one was reportedly charged with sexual misconduct and sexual assault, according to the Daily News. New York City Department of Education spokesperson Miranda Barbot tells Bustle via email the department is taking the case seriously. “Schools must provide safe, supportive and inclusive learning environments and we treat any allegations of assault with the utmost seriousness," she says. "There are strict policies and robust protocols in place to ensure that all incidents are reported, investigated and appropriately addressed."
While the story was first reported in 2016, this new federal lawsuit, which was filed in November 2017, shows the long-term impact of the alleged incident. The girl reportedly continues to experience "extreme anxiety, sleeplessness, hair loss, skin rashes, anger issues, and PTSD, among other injuries," according to the Daily News, and hasn't recovered from the alleged assault. She's seeking damages and accusing the school district of alleged retaliation based on her sex, race, and disabilities.
Goldberg, the student's lawyer, is known for litigating cases of revenge porn and online assault. She tells Bustle via email that her client's willingness to speak out about her alleged experience can make a huge difference in how New York schools respond to allegations of sexual assault. "In the past four months, we’ve seen a real tipping point in our society about not tolerating sexual assault," Goldberg tells Bustle. "Because of [my client], the NYC DOE has been under investigation by the feds for the past year because of its pattern and practice of [allegedly] punishing sexual assault victims of young girls of color from financially disadvantaged families."
In an earlier story about the incident, The New York Times reported that the girl was interviewed by law enforcement officers and school officials and alleged she was forced to perform oral sex. But in a separate interview after a 24-hour investigation, the assistant principal allegedly said the encounter was "consensual." Per The New York Times:
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.
It's easy to tell rape and sexual assault victims to go to the police or other officials, but the treatment alleged in this lawsuit reminds us why survivors sometimes avoid telling officials about what they've experienced. According to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, survivors of sexual violence sometimes fear that they'll be punished or not taken seriously if they tell people. It's too early to know what will come of this new lawsuit, but it's a sobering reminder that coming forward about sexual assault can further re-victimize someone who's already experienced trauma — and it underscores the need to erase the stigma surrounding sexual violence.