As "penance" for allegedly slipping his hands under a fellow student's shirt, a male student at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire was required to bake and deliver monkey bread to his victim, the Boston Globe reported yesterday.
Michaella Henry, 17, told the Globe she was hanging out in the boarding school's church basement last October, keeping Chukwudi "Chudi" Ikpeazu, a friend, company while he worked a campus job. According to Henry, he groped her while they were hanging out, even after she repeatedly told him "no."
Days later, when she reported the incident to her school administrators, alongside another female student with a similar story, they promised to look into it. "The good news is you don't have to report this to the police because there was no penetration.," A.J. Cosgrove, the school's dean of residential life, reportedly told Henry.
By December, the academy still had not taken any disciplinary action against Ikpeazu, a track star with plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania. Henry agreed to meet with him and school minister Rev. Robert Thompson to discuss what could be done. Thompson facilitated the conversation, asking Henry what she wanted from Ikpeazu. She joked about trying the monkey bread Izpeazu sold around campus, and the reverend jumped on the idea. Henry would meet with her attacker once a week for the rest of the year to receive a large order.
"I thought you would be amused to learn that Michaella extracted an act of penance from Chudi," Thompson wrote in a December 18 email to Russell Weatherspoon, Henry's mentor who had been present for part of the meeting. "Young Mr. Ikpeazu agreed to the penance without much resistance."
Henry admitted she was soon ashamed of the arrangement. She suffered panic attacks and continued to feel unsafe on campus. In May, she finally reported the incident to the Exeter Police Department, and last month, Ikpeazu was arrested for misdemeanor charge of sexual assault. He'll be arraigned in August.
The school could have and should have done a number of things to spare her the suffering that she went through.
Neena Chaudhry, the director of education and senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, tells Broadly that raising awareness about cases like Henry's, in which the school clearly mishandled the incident, is critical in helping prevent future instances like it.
"This young woman stepped up and went to her school and bravely reported what happened," Chaudry says. "Unfortunately, in reading the story, there were a number of points where the school should have done something different and should have taken action to ensure that she was not forced to confront the person who assaulted her and make sure she got the transportation she needed to get counseling. They could have and should have done a number of things to spare her the suffering that she went through."
According to a 2009 report from the US Department of Justice, nearly one in five girls aged 14 to 17 had been the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Another study in 2011, this one from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), found that 48 percent of the students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year, and the majority of those students (87 percent) said it had a negative effect on them.
Esther Warkov is the executive director of the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools. She tells Broadly that despite the media focus on sexual assault and harassment on college campuses, sexual violence is happening in primary and secondary schools, too. People seem to "imagine that this epidemic of college sexual assault just sprung up the moment people went to college and had their first drinking experience," she says, but that's not true.
Cases like Henry's are not isolated events, Warkov continues. "[People] don't understand that sexual violence and harassment is so serious. It's in wealthy schools, rural schools, urban schools, suburban schools. It's everywhere. People don't realize that at any moment their own family can be affected by this, and it can be so devastating."