Last month, The Kansas City Star reported that a 16-year-old Michigan teen had been sentenced to just 45 days in a juvenile detention facility after pleading guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct and possession of child sexually explicit material. The unidentified teen had initially been charged with 31 felonies pertaining to the sexual assaults of three classmates and his sentence was the result of a plea deal, as reported by Broadly.
The teen has now been released from the facility and his victims are terrified at the prospect that he'll be back in school with them by early next month. Two of the girls have already secured personal protection orders, according to Livingston Daily, but there's no guarantee that a court will uphold the orders and prevent his return to campus.
"We’ve already been fooled once," one girl's mother told Livingston Daily. "We went into that court hearing blindly trusting we had an agreement, and he was going away for a year and a half," referring to his lenient sentence, which was the result of a plea deal.
According to ABC7 Detroit, many parents and students are deeply concerned about his possible return to school. As reported by Livingston Daily on November 14, two of his victims and their parents attended a school board meeting and pleaded for his expulsion. It was the 14th birthday of one of the survivors: "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."
The outlet noted that school board president Andy Burchfield told attendees the board is working with an attorney to make a final decision regarding the perpetrator's possible return to school.
During court hearings leading up to his sentence, the three girls — who were 12 and 13 at the time of the assaults — provided graphic details of their attacks and heartbreaking statements about the aftermath of experiencing bullying and PTSD.
According to Esther Warkov, executive director of the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, Title IX laws should protect the three victims. "[The school's] job under Title IX is to protect the student from a hostile environment," Warkov told Broadly. "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."
It's unclear when the school board will make a final decision. But if they do allow the assailant to return to school, it could be psychologically damaging to the survivors, who have already stated they're suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Although PTSD symptoms can be intensified and triggered in myriad ways, the daily sight of their attacker will undoubtedly cause major setbacks and prevent them from moving forward in their recovery.
As one survivor said, she would choose to switch schools if the perpetrator is allowed to return. Although that would likely be best for her mental health, it illustrates how backwards the system is when it comes to protecting victims of sexual violence.
When a teen or young adult is convicted of a sex crime, we frequently hear a chorus of how promising his future was. We hear far less about how the trauma has impacted his victim's future. The fact that a survivor is being forced to consider changing schools illustrates that rape culture remains alive and well, despite the recent progress that's been made when it comes to discussing sexual violence.
Refinery29 has reached out to the Brighton Board of Education for comment.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).