Texas Student: After Reporting Rape, I Was Accused of "Public Lewdness," Sent to Disciplinary School
We begin today’s show with a shocking story about a Texas teenager named Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, who was accused of "public lewdness" and removed from her high school after she reported being raped in the band room. Her rapist was punished by being sent to a disciplinary school. Bradshaw-Bean was sent there too. She said she was treated "like a prisoner" for reporting the crime. The incident occurred in 2010, but it is now getting national attention after Bradshaw-Bean decided to speak publicly about being raped and about what happened next. In the summer of 2012, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled that the school had violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education. We speak to Bradshaw-Bean and Sandra Park, a senior attorney with the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "What we know about rape in this country is that half of the women who are raped are under the age of 18, so we are talking about girls, and a significant number of those sexual assaults are occurring in schools," Park says. "It’s vitally important that school administrators and police really understand their obligations to respond to the violence and not turn around and penalize the victim like they did in Rachel’s case."
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with a shocking story about a Texas teenager who was accused of public lewdness and removed from her high school after she reported being raped in the band room at her school. It’s Henderson High School in East Texas. Her rapist was punished by being sent to a disciplinary school. She was, too. She said she was treated, quote, "like a prisoner" for reporting the crime. The incident occurred in 2010, but it’s now getting national attention after Rachel Bradshaw-Bean decided to speak publicly about being raped and what happened next.
Together with the ACLU, Rachel and her family have launched a Department of Education investigation into Henderson High School. In the summer of 2012, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled the school had violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education. It also found the school had retaliated against Rachel by failing to provide, quote, "a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason" for banishing her to the disciplinary school.
For more, we go directly to Houston, Texas, where we’re joined by Rachel Bradshaw-Bean herself. We’re also joined here in a very cold New York by Sandra Park, a senior attorney with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. Democracy Now! reached out to Henderson High School but was told the school and its administrative offices are currently closed for the holidays. We also reached out to the Henderson Police Department, which declined to comment, saying only that the case has been referred to the district attorney’s office. And we reached out to Rusk County DA Michael Jimerson, who declined to join us on our program, saying he had nothing further to add.
We welcome our guests to Democracy Now! But we go right to Houston to Rachel Bradshaw-Bean. Rachel, why don’t you start at the beginning? And I know this is very painful. Though it is three years later, it stays with you forever. Talk about what happened to you.
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Well, I was a senior in high school, and I was in the band. I played baritone. And I’m not going to go through, of course, you know, details, but after I was raped in the band room, I immediately went to the bathroom to clean myself up after what had happened. And then I went directly to a band director’s room, office, and told him what had happened. And I told him that I was—didn’t really want to tell anybody, and I was fearful. And he wanted me to confront my attacker. And from there, I went to a Key Club meeting, and I told a friend, but, you know, we didn’t know what to do or what to say. And then I had went to a band boosters’ meeting with my parents that night, and they didn’t know what happened. I hadn’t told them. And I just went to—I went to my bed that night, and I was just, you know, up all night thinking about it.
And Tuesday, I decided not to go to school. And Wednesday, I went back to school, and I confided in one other friend, because I had this feeling that I should. And I’m glad I did. And we went to another band director, hoping that it would be taken care of more seriously. And it was. It was taken care of very professionally by the band director, and he took me to the principal.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened when you went to the principal?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: I was sat down, and I was asked questions. Some questions I didn’t feel comfortable answering. It was kind of like an interrogation. But it was—it was pretty awkward, and some very sensitive questions were asked. They put me in another principal’s office and shut the door and told me that I wasn’t allowed to come out and that they were going to contact my parents. And I don’t know how long I waited, but it took a while. Then we went to the Rusk County Advocacy Center, where they did a—like a—I forget what it’s called. They did the—
AMY GOODMAN: Rape test?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: The rape kit.
AMY GOODMAN: Uh-huh. And then talk about what happened.
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Well, we went through—we went through a psychological, you know, interview, and then I went through the actual physical rape kit. And I was told that the lacerations were consistent with rape and—by the actual medical person. And then, the next day, my parents were called to the police station, and they were told that I was—it was public lewdness, which I had—which had happened, and that I was going to be put in a disciplinary alternative education program that our school offers.
AMY GOODMAN: That you were going to be put?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to your accused rapist?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: He was also put in the same disciplinary school as I was. And that was it.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they explain why you were being punished?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: They just told me that—you know, I wasn’t even told. It was my parents. I was never spoken—I never spoke to the—I never spoke to anyone after that, not even the principal or any kind of public official.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you respond to this charge of public lewdness? Or, if you weren’t told it was public lewdness, how did you respond to being put in a disciplinary school, removed from your own high school as a senior?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: I was, of course, upset. I don’t really know what feelings I had. I was emotionally numb for a while. I didn’t know who to blame. I didn’t know how to feel or what to think. I know I was angry, but I didn’t know how to—I didn’t know how to express it rationally. I didn’t know how to deal with it. Even though—you know, even though I thought I knew how to, it was just difficult for those emotions to come out.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel, just to understand, if you were put in this disciplinary school, and your rapist was, were you going to school with him?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: I was. I had to—I had to see him every day, multiple times.
AMY GOODMAN: Was he arrested?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: No.
AMY GOODMAN: So this was 2010. It’s now—
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: —the beginning of 2014. Why—when did you come forward to speak publicly about this?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: I never reached out to speak publicly, but I knew that if I had the chance to speak publicly about it, that I would take that opportunity to help other people that have gone through this or have issues speaking to anyone about difficulties they’re going through at school.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has been the response since you’ve come forward? You first went and spoke on NBC News, is that right, at the—in December, just a week or two ago?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Yes, ma’am. The response was overwhelming. I looked at the comments and people that would contact me, and I haven’t had anyone contact me that was negative, but I’ve had several people that had their own story that they wished they would have told someone. And I wish they would have. But there’s nothing we can do about that. And so, I’ve been able to speak with different people about what’s happened to them and how it was handled, or just them not coming forward with something and how it—how it affects them now.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read comments of Rusk County District Attorney Michael Jimerson about your case. Speaking to NBC, he said, quote, "In cases like this, you can either substantiate or not substantiate the claims. We broke it down with her version of events and his. Her claims could not be substantiated. At the end of the day, I just know that objectively, there was almost no chance of a conviction. As a prosecutor, I have to be vigilant about the cases I pursue." He also said that Rachel had used language that, quote, "implied consensual sex instead of forcible rape" in the interview with the forensic specialist. Rachel, can you respond to what he said?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Yes. I was talking about consensual sex whenever I had lost my virginity. And that wasn’t something I was proud of. That’s not something that I stand for or I believe in. And it was taken out of context. I don’t remember speaking about, you know, having consensual sex with the person that raped me.
AMY GOODMAN: So he was referring to that—
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: I wouldn’t have gone—
AMY GOODMAN: —word "consensual" sex, but you’re saying that’s not how you described what happened to you as a result of what he did to you in the band room.
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: No, ma’am, that was not consensual sex at all.
AMY GOODMAN: Sandra Park, you’re with the ACLU. As you listen to Rachel’s story, can you talk about this? Can you tell us how common this is? She was a senior in high school. She reports a rape, and she is put in a disciplinary school—next to her accused rapist.
SANDRA PARK: Well, obviously, it was a serious violation of Rachel’s rights, and common sense, honestly. I mean, when we have set up a system where we want rape victims to come forward and report the violence they experience, to turn around and then actually punish the victim for having done that reporting is just absolutely ludicrous and undermines the public trust in our police system and our schools.
Unfortunately, what we know about rape in this country is that half of the women who are raped are under the age of 18. So we are talking about girls. And a significant number of those sexual assaults are occurring in schools. Obviously, a lot of those sexual assaults are not reported. But what we know about reports is about 3,800 are reported in public schools in a year. I mean, so that’s a significant number, but just a small percentage of the total number of sexual assaults that are occurring at schools. And so it’s vitally important that school administrators and police really understand their obligations to respond to the violence and not turn around and penalize the victim like they did in Rachel’s case.
AMY GOODMAN: Sandra, can you talk about how you got involved in Rachel’s case?
SANDRA PARK: Sure. So, after Rachel and her family started undergoing this terrible experience and she was placed in the disciplinary program, they reached out to us for legal assistance. And so, the ACLU, as well as our Texas affiliate, worked very hard to have Rachel transferred from that disciplinary program, in which she had been placed with her attacker, into a regular high school so she could graduate on time. And after that, we filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education, alleging that Rachel’s Title IX rights had been violated.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain Title IX. If anyone knows what it is, they think of it related to girls’ sports.
SANDRA PARK: Mm-hmm, that’s right. So, Title IX has been on the books for 40 years. It prohibits discrimination based on gender in education. It applies K-through-12, as well as universities. And when we’re talking about sex discrimination, it applies to school sports, but it also applies to sexual violence and harassment in schools. And schools have a duty, when they know about or should know about sexual violence occurring, to prevent it, to address it and to actually help protect the student so that she can learn in a safe environment.
AMY GOODMAN: As you listen to Rachel’s story, talk about what went wrong all along the way after the actual alleged rape that Rachel was talking about took place.
SANDRA PARK: Yeah, so here there were a series of serious mistakes that were made both by the school and, we also think, by law enforcement. So, as Rachel recounted, when she first reported the violence right after the incident to the band director, he told her to go work it out with the perpetrator. And obviously that’s not something we should ever expect a rape victim to have to do. And then, when she went to the principal, the principal immediately reported it to law enforcement, which was appropriate. But at that point the school took no further steps to investigate the assault. And so, once the police, after only one day, decided to close the case—and I do think that was very questionable in this situation, where we had a rape kit that supported Rachel story—to then just take the police’s word and not do an investigation, and instead discipline the victim, was a serious flaw and mistake by the school.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk a little more about rape on college campuses and the lack of punishment for those who attack other students. In 2010, the Center for Public Integrity released a year-long investigation that found, quote, "Students found 'responsible' for sexual assaults on campus often face little or no punishment from school judicial systems, while their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down. ... Administrators believe the sanctions administered by the college judiciary system are a thoughtful way to hold abusive students accountable, but the Center’s probe has discovered that 'responsible' findings rarely lead to tough punishments like expulsion—even in cases involving alleged repeat offenders." Sandra Park?
SANDRA PARK: Yes, unfortunately, I think we’ve seen that same allegation made with respect to many universities around the country. The ACLU recently filed a complaint on behalf of a student at Carnegie Mellon who had gone through that disciplinary process. Her attacker was found guilty of violating the sexual assault policy, but all that was ordered in her case was a counseling assessment for the attacker and a continuation of a no-contact order, which allowed them to be in all of the same classes. So, we do see this again and again, that the process itself—even if the process might be adequate, the actual remedies don’t protect the student.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about other cases you know of in high school.
SANDRA PARK: Sure. So, you know, Rachel’s case is one in Texas. There was another case in Texas from a few years earlier with a cheerleader who had reported being sexually assaulted by an athlete. And when she then refused to do individual cheers for that athlete, she was kicked off of the squad. And so, we see another example of retaliating against a rape victim after she had reported the assault.
There’s another case pending recently where the Office for Civil Rights also found that a high school in Michigan, Forest Hills, had violated a student’s rights when she had gone forward to report to the principal that she had been assaulted. He then discouraged her from going to the police, took no action. In fact, the attacker in that case assaulted another girl two weeks later.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about another well-known recent case of sexual violence in schools. In November, four school officials were charged in connection with the cover-up of the rape of a 16-year-old girl by two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio. The case sparked a national controversy following the emergence of images and social media postings from the night of the assault, including one picture of the defendants holding the victim over a basement floor. In November, the superintendent of Steubenville schools was charged with evidence tampering, obstruction of justice, and falsification. Two coaches and a school principal were also charged. This is Attorney General Mike DeWine.
OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE DEWINE: This community has suffered a great deal. This community has suffered so much. I personally feel for the good citizens of this community and for what they have endured. And I know they desperately need to be able to put this matter behind them. What we must take away from these incidents is this: All of us, all of us, no matter where we live, owe it to each other to be better neighbors, better classmates, better friends, better parents, better citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. A fifth school employee was indicted a month earlier. Sandra Park?
SANDRA PARK: Well, I think Steubenville made headlines because what we saw there was a systemic failure by the police, by schools—by the school, to actually deal with the sexual assault. And there’s unfortunately an attitude of sweeping it under the rug.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, we give you the last word. You’re very brave to have come out. And obviously a lot of attention now is being brought on your case. What do you want to see happen now? Do you want your—the man that you are charging with rape, the high school student that you ended up being put in a school with, sitting next to—do you want him arrested?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: I haven’t made a decision on that. I was asked that, you know, what my priorities were, and that—I had so much going on that I hadn’t thought about it. And it’s an ethical question. And the only reason that I would want him, if I decided to, was so that this wouldn’t happen to another person, at least one person.
AMY GOODMAN: And what message do you have for other young people who are in your situation?
RACHEL BRADSHAW-BEAN: Well, they’re not alone. To go—I would go to a counselor, if anything. If I were to, you know, change what I did, I would go—definitely go to a counselor. And they are trained to handle that. And I know it’s—I can’t really tell them to go to their parents, because I didn’t go to my parents. And I don’t know what’s most comfortable for them, but someone that they can trust. And just take that leap of faith, because every single person is important, whether you feel it or not. And it’s—it is an emotional roller coaster, but they’ll be happy that they chose to tell someone.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us, Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, for joining us from Houston, and also thank you so much to Sandra Park, who is with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go back 20 years to the North American Free Trade Agreement. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. It’s a very cold day here in New York and on the whole East Coast. I hear in Maine it’s negative 30 degrees. A shout out to the students at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. Stay with us.