Celebrations and Songs
Over the roaring sounds of her own heart, the echo of death threats, and banishment from her Analy High classes, 16 year-old Serena swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. She stepped to the witness stand, tried to steady her legs, and prepared to testify face-to-face against a man twice her age.
31 year-old Jermaine Casey was on trial for the kidnapping, rape, and death threats against Serena. If convicted, this will be Casey's third strike. Twice before he's been convicted for rapes of other girls using the same MO (tactics). And who knows how many more girls he terrified out of even reporting to the police.
Many adults would buckle under the pressure and risk. And many would refuse to testify at all. But, instead of praising her for her civic
heroism, Serena's school, students and officials alike have
driven Serena out of school. The same as has been done to so many
As so often happens when word of a rape gets out, a small group of students with ties to the rapist began accusing Serena of lying about the rape, of "wanting it". They blamed her for Casey being in jail. They pelted her daily with the readily available arsenal of hallway words for trashing a girl's sexuality. A "skank", a "ho", they called her, and more.
Over the weeks more kids joined in. So Serena went to her school counselor for help. "Just ignore it," the counselor advised, "and it will go away." "I can't control what comes out of other people's mouths". The kids' harassment of Serena turned threatening. "You ever seen a Mexican knife?" said one coming at her aggressively.
Serena went to her history teacher and asked to be excused from a class discussion on rape. "It hits too close to home," Serena told the teacher. The history teacher told Serena she had to "get over it and move on."
Serena went to the vice principal. By now, after two months of this, school officials had had enough. Two vice principals decided it was time to put an end to this disturbance. They forbade Serena from going anywhere in the school where she could be seen by the students who were harassing her! They accused Serena of using the rape as an excuse for her problems. One vice principal threatened to kick Serena out of school.
Serena was so upset that the next day she brought her mother in to meet with the vice principal. The vice-principal scolded them both. "Lots of girls have been raped," she said. The vice-principal put Serena on independent study, banning Serena from her classrooms and friends. This further robbed Serena of her rights to a non-discriminatory education, the very rights these school officials are bound by law to protect.
Nor is it just Serena who is victim of the
school's illegal responses. Every girl in the school has been taught
the dangers and futility of seeking help for a rape or sexual
harassment. And every student has learned that school officials will
easily join in on driving a girl out.
Hearing these stories from a distance, people are always struck by the cruelty and injustice. The right thing to do is so obvious even without the instruction of civil rights law. The student harassers should be immediately investigated and punished. And school officials should walk into the classrooms, and say "It's time to talk about rape, about sexual harassment, about girl's rights, about justice and it's process." and "Here's what's going to happen if the harassment doesn't stop now."
But up close it's a different story. In one's own social circle, the charge of rape sparks the inevitable high voltage fury of the rapist's friends. They often gang up and hurl virulent sexist attacks at the victim. People just find it so much easier to shun the victim than to stand up straight to the maelstrom. Even the victim's friends grow silent in her defense.
Abandoning, ostracizing, and driving rape victims out is repeated again and again in schools, families, workplaces, churches -- where ever rape victims are found. It is so common (and so devastating to the victims), that in the literature on rape, it is called "the second rape".
The Teachable Moment
For school officials in West Sonoma County School District, there is just no excuse. They have had ten years of civil rights officials coming into the district and laying down the law. Teachers' credentials have been revoked. Student victims and women's advocates have protested these abuses again and again. Clearly these school officials know the right and the wrong.
In a word it is sexism. The immense power inequalities between school officials and a girl weakened by rape permit these officials to get away with sacrificing the girls. They do it more often than they are caught. It is their contempt of the laws giving rights to women and girls. And it is complicity, not just with the sexual harassment, but complicity with rape itself. If these school officials took rape at all seriously, they would have instinctively come to Serena's aid. It would have been impossible for them to have driven her out.
The overwhelming patriarchal forces that gather steam following a rape conspired to drive Serena out. It is all the more remarkable that Serena and other young girls like her walk up to the witness stand and testify.
For tips on preventing and dealing with the "second rape" see: www.justicewomen.com/help_special_rape.html#two