The reported rape of a 12-year-old girl by a 14-year-old boy in a stairwell in Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, California, has been making some disturbing waves. Even though two fellow students interrupted the assault (one went to get a teacher, while the other physically intervened), school admins are just not so sure we should call it rape just yet. The school’s principal and vice-principal have been placed on administrative leave. A sampling of cover-your-butt denialism:
School site supervisor Mustapha Cannon: “It was hormones gone wild… I think this is something that’s been worded the wrong way… They probably just took it so far and embarrassment kicked in. As far as calling it a rape, I think it’s something that they did together and it got worded the wrong way… When this is all over with I want to see if I can get a public apology for my principal.”
Teacher Carol Renee: “I hope they’re [school principal and vice-principal] not being blamed for anything because they’re really good administrators and we need them back here… I think the situation is being exploited. I think not everything is going to be as it seems.”
School site supervisor Marquita Dones: “If she was being raped, why didn’t she scream? Why did these students have to come up and tell us that somebody’s down there?”
Cannon again: “I know the girl and I know the guy… I know for a fact that that girl could’ve knocked that guy out with one hand tied behind her back.”
Are you noticing a trend here? These school employees are saying a 12-year-old girl, who legally CANNOT CONSENT to sexual activity, wasn’t raped. Either because she wanted it, or because she didn’t fight hard enough, or because it would be *really* inconvenient for school officials. SHE IS TWELVE. She can’t legally have “sex,” not in a stairwell, not in school, not anywhere. “12-YEAR-OLDS CAN’T CONSENT.” Maybe school employees should be required to write this on the blackboard 100 times a day until they get it. Granted, these school employees have a vested interest in saying it wasn’t rape, but it’s unconscionable, and a sign of rape culture’s pervasiveness, that they immediately dismissed the claims.
Despite Cannon’s “hormones gone wild” theory of sexual assault, a recent investigative report by the Center for Public Integrity found that rape by fellow students continues well past adolescence into college years. The report showed that the few women who do report rapes by fellow students (an estimated 10% of all victims), they encounter a campus bureaucracy tilted in favor of the perpetrators. Campus rules often stipulate mediation or closed hearings. One student from Bucknell University who was raped reported it to campus police, and was sent to mediation to discuss with her rapist what had happened. She says it was “a horrible experience… I was in a tiny, little room, no more than an arm’s reach from my assailant.” Even though her assailant agreed he had raped her, because of confidentiality agreements, she wasn’t able to pursue him in the justice system. “People who work for the university might be serving their own interests, and they might not,” she said. Given the circumstances, she wished she had ignored campus administration and gone straight to law enforcement.
In the case of the 12-year-old, law enforcement does tell a different story than school admins. Another sampling:
El Cerrito Commander Michael Regan: “The location where the assault actually occurred, you can’t see that location unless you’re standing at the base of the stairs. So somebody from another floor, unless they heard the incident, wouldn’t have known that it occurred… If this assault wasn’t interrupted by the student that passed by, there’s no telling how long the assault would have continued.”
El Cerrito police Chief Scott Kirkland: “It is interesting, the criminal mind. When a situation like this occurs, to actually do something like this… you have to be a little sick.”
Juvenile prosecutor Dan Cabral: “A child under the age of 14 cannot be touched… Regardless of consent or not, no person in the State of California is allowed to touch a child under the age of 14 for purposes of sexual gratification.”
I think the last quote says it all. Twelve years old = rape. Even if she’s big for her age. Even if you didn’t hear her scream. It seems so simple. So why do we keep trying to excuse it away?