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While endemic sexual violence on college campus has justifiably garnered headlines over the past few years, a series of investigative reports from the Associated Press has revealed a shocking amount of sexual assaults in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide. The AP found around 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students in just a four-year period.
And the number of actual assaults could be even higher.
The AP scoured state education records and federal crime data and their tally only included the most severe forms of sexual assault: rape, sodomy, object penetration, and unwanted fondling. While the latter was the most common form of sexual assault, the AP found almost one in five victims of assault were raped, sodomized, or penetrated with an object.
The report also noted that "because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don't track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence," the true number of assaults is likely to be much higher. There are no federal reporting requirements when it comes to sexual assaults in schools and laws on incident recognition, tracking, and reporting can vary from state to state.
While parents think of schools as academic sanctuaries where their kids will be safe, the AP found K-12 campuses are the second-most likely place juveniles will be sexually violated by their peers. "Schools are required to keep students safe," Virginia Commonwealth University professor Charol Shakeshaft told the AP. "It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn't happening. Why don't we know more about it, and why isn't it being stopped?"
According to the AP, schools often mischaracterized sexual assaults, including rape and sodomy, as bullying, hazing, or even consensual behavior. The report also revealed that assaults occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised -- from buses and bathrooms to hallways and locker rooms -- and that sexual violence was present in all types of schools, "whether it be in an upper-class suburb, an inner-city neighborhood or a blue-collar farm town."
If you have been the victim of or a witness to sexual assault, whether in schools or elsewhere, you should report it immediately.