In September, a 16-year-old Michigan teenager faced 31 felonies, including 20 counts of sexual assault, after he allegedly assaulted three young girls over the period of 13 months. After reaching a plea deal last month, which was partially ignored by the presiding judge, the unnamed teen was sentenced to 45 days in a juvenile facility. Now, according to local reports, he could be back in school with his victims as early as next week.
The attacks reportedly started in February 2016, when the Brighton Township teen, then 14, sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl behind a movie theater. "I remember his hands being freezing and thinking how did I get myself into this?" the girl, now 14, testified in court last month. (She and the other victims weren’t identified because of their age.) "When we got back to my friend’s house … I was crying. I thought something was wrong with me. I told my friend's mom what had happened and she didn’t really do anything except tell the other people that went with us not to tell anyone."
Another 13-year-old told the court that she had once considered her attacker her “best friend” before he sexually assaulted her twice in March. She now says she suffers from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. “You didn’t just take my virginity and my sense of safety and innocence, but you took my personality and my light," she said to the boy during her victim impact statement. “You will never know what it is like to be mortified of your own bed because that was the room I was raped in."
A third victim, also 12 at the time, offered a similar account, in which the teenage boy overpowered her because of his size, and did not use a condom. According to the assistant prosecutor on the case, the teen was consistent in the way he preyed upon these young girls, all from Livingston County—“he manipulated, he threatened, he bullied, he extorted, and he intimidated” each of the girls, she wrote, and then “feigned remorsefulness” in order to assault them again.
In October, the prosecution reached a plea deal with the teen (he pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of accosting a minor for immoral purposes, and four counts of possession of child sexually explicit material) and recommended he be placed in a residential treatment facility for sex offenders. The judge, however, gave him 45 days at a youth facility before returning home for “intensive probation services.” By December 4, he could potentially be back in Brighton High School.
Worried they’ll have to face their attacker again, two of the victims spoke at a Brighton Board of Education meeting last week, urging the board to expel him from the district. The school board president declined to offer any comments about the matter.
Esther Warkov is the executive director of the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools. In an interview with Broadly, she talks about what role Title IX, the civil rights law that guarantees equal access to education regardless of sex, plays in cases of sexual misconduct. It’s never the school’s role to determine if an incident occurred or not, she explains. Rather, “their job under Title IX is to protect the student from a hostile environment. So if the student says ‘I’m being sexually harassed,’ or ‘I’m being sexually assaulted,’ or ‘I was raped in a music room,’ the school district doesn’t get to say that didn’t happen. Their job is to separate the perpetrator and the student.”
“Title IX is never about whether charges were filed,” Warkov continues. “It’s always about protecting the students.”
And that’s regardless if the incident happened on school grounds or not, Title IX attorney Karen V. Truszkowski told the Livingston Daily, which has been covering the Brighton case from the start. “A lot of schools think, if an assault happened off school property, (schools) are not responsible. That's not the case. If it was at someone’s house or in a field … it doesn’t matter. If it affects a student’s ability to get an education, then the school is responsible for making sure that student is able to get their education.”
“If he comes back to school, I’ll have to leave, I don’t want to, but I can’t see him every day.”
Warkov says preference should always be given to the welfare of a victim. “In too many cases, the victim is the one that has to transfer to another school or even may drop out. If you’re going to give priority to the victim, which is supposed to occur, then it makes sense to remove the assailant from the environment,” she says. “Removing the perpetrator is the ideal solution, in my opinion. Alternately, the school must give priority to the victim by removing the perpetrator from the victim's classes, creating a safety plan, etc.”
At last week’s board of education meeting, the 14-year-old urged board members to do right by her and the other victims. “It’s my birthday and I’m at a school meeting begging you guys to protect me,” she said. “If he comes back to school, I’ll have to leave, I don’t want to, but I can’t see him every day.”