Mother of sex assault victim seeks improved in-school prevention education

By Shawn Cunningham and Stephen Seitz
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Cover photo courtesy SAPA-TV

In an emotional appeal to the Green Mountain Union High School Board of Directors at its Thursday, June 8 meeting, the mother of a GM student* asked what the high school is doing to educate students about sexual assault and protect them from it.

“A couple of weeks ago, my daughter, a Green Mountain student, was raped by another Green Mountain student,” said the woman to the school board. “Fortunately, I have raised a young woman who is strong enough to stand up to this and pursue it to the fullest extent of the law. While she seeks justice, her greatest fear is that the adults and students of this community will minimize this behavior and in the end, more people will suffer.”

The woman told the board that Chester Police had interviewed other possible victims at Green Mountain and that the alleged rapist was also being investigated by the Ludlow Police concerning assaults on Black River High School students. Ludlow Police Chief Jeffrey Billings told The Telegraph that cases like this take time and he was could not comment on it.

Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud confirmed that there is an investigation and stressed that assaults did not take place at the school or at any school-sanctioned activity. Cloud said that all of the victims are 16 year of age or older. In Vermont, 16 is the age of consent.

“Consent is an issue depending on the condition of the victim,” said Cloud, noting that an intoxicated person cannot legally give consent and alcohol was involved in one or more of the assaults.

In an interview on Monday with The Chester Telegraph, the mother added that her daughter said the alleged perpetrator provided some of the alcohol at the Saturday, May 6 party where the assault took place.  She reported the assault to the school on Monday, May 8 and the Chester Police got involved soon after.

“The suspect is still in school at Green Mountain,” said Cloud. “Until he is charged, and has conditions put on him by a judge, there isn’t much the school can do. A victim could ask for a restraining order to keep the suspect out of school, but that hasn’t happened.”

In Monday’s interview, the mother said the family hasn’t asked for a restraining order, noting that the school has begun to do a good job in keeping the suspect apart from her daughter and making accommodations for her to stop going to a class they both take. “The school finally stepped up to protect her,” she said.

During the board meeting, the mother also said she was disappointed by the school’s response to her situation. “When I went to the administration I was told, ‘I’ll consider it.’ It’s been three weeks and I’ve heard nothing. That’s not good enough … I believe our urge to protect our students should be stronger than our need to protect our public image.”

“We have a school full of young men and women talking about rape, talking about consent … This is the time for our system, our educators and role models to educate.”

On Monday, the mother told The Telegraph that 12 days after the assault, she contacted Principal Tom Ferenc by email suggesting that the school begin opening up a dialogue and educating the students about sex assault and consent. Click the image on the right to read emails provided by the mother.

“Right now we have a school full of young men and women talking about rape, talking about consent, talking about issues that really matter in the real world,” the woman told the board, “This is the time for our system, our educators and role models to educate.”

Since the June 8 board meeting, the mother said, “Numerous parents have reached out to me, that they would like to see this effort pushed forward, that this isn’t just about what happened to my daughter, this is about taking the shame out of sexual assaults and empowering girls and educating both boys and girls.”

Chester Police Det. Andy Brothers agreed. “We want anyone who has been sexually assaulted to feel safe in coming to the police,” said Brothers. “And getting the stigma out of the situation through education is a good way to start.”

The mother said there were plenty of materials available to educate the student body about sexual assault, and she wanted some sort of support system at the school for its victims. “Our only option right now is to educate, support, and make the best out of a very bad situation,” she said. “Our children should have a regular, normal high school career, without involving the idea that this just happens to everyone.

Cavendish board member Dr. Gene Bont stood to say that he was sensitive to the subject since several members of his family have been victims of sexual assault.

“We will certainly be following up with that,” said chairwoman Alison DesLauriers. “At some point we will be asking you,” she said, nodding to Principal Ferenc and Superintendent Meg Powden, “the plan for providing this kind of prevention education.”

“That’s a discussion we’ve been having,” said Ferenc.

Asked for comment last Friday, Ferenc said, “This is an ongoing police investigation and as such, we do not comment on it.” Asked about the request for sexual assault awareness education, Ferenc repeated his previous statement and said,  “This call is over.”

“Our team is on it,” said Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Meg Powden on Tuesday night. “We’re reviewing safety procedures and protocols and looking into program offerings and expanding them for students as they encounter difficult situations in their lives.”

“Our paramount concern is the safety of our students,” said Powden.

* It is the policy of The Chester Telegraph to withhold the names of victims of sexual abuse, unless a victim gives explicit consent.

Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

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  1. Judy says:

    Well said, Carrie Roy King!

    To discuss sex assault in the schools without addressing the very real issue of teen substance abuse is to miss a critical issue. DARE is a good start in the elementary school, but education about alcohol, drugs and the many possible devastating consequences of their use/abuse should be continued in grades 7-12.

    Clearly those lessons taught in 5th and 6th grade are not sticking with many of the kids into their high school years. This awful situation for both the victims and alleged perpetrator certainly highlights the need for continued, age-appropriate education right on up through senior year.

    It is unfortunate there is a need to be reactive instead of proactive, in light of this cautionary tale, but better late than never. The school should begin work on a curriculum to implement next year!

  2. Kathy says:

    The school district offered to remove her from classes shared with the alleged rapist. Who does this empower? What message are we sending to victims of sexual assault? Criminals are removed from society, not victims.

    Granted, there haven’t yet been charges brought up against the alleged rapist, but a history has begun to emerge. Isolating the victim by removing her from shared classes further perpetuates the pain and humiliation suffered at the rapist’s hands.

    Some will remark that he’s innocent until proven guilty, but what about the rights of the victim who did not consent? She deserves the right to feel safe at school while receiving her education.

  3. Carrie Roy King says:

    High school students experience disproportionately high rates of sexual use/abuse/violence, which go hand in hand with drug/alcohol use/abuse/violence. Trying to prevent devastating, life-altering problems for students is critical and really important work. Discussions about these important life issues (sex, drugs and alcohol) are often overlooked due to a number of difficult factors.

    If CAES students are taught DARE from Chester Police to fight drug and alcohol abuse in 5/6 grade; it follows that students at GMUHS be taught sexual abuse and violence prevention. Here exists another opportunity to help with prevention and social change that will have a lasting effect on students throughout their lives. I hope something good can come out of this.

  4. Tammy says:

    Excuse me, why does the girl have to stop taking the class? Let the suspect stop taking the class. This is part of the problem.