Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Walker Middle School Rape

This deeply disturbing case that is unfolding in our hometown is so heartbreaking and troubling. Bullying and rape at a local middle school. A huge part of the community conversation surrounds charging the students as adults, what do you think? If the reports prove true and a pack of young boys taunt, bully and rape another child on multiple occasions, should it be handled on a more serious charge or does the fact that they are children, unable to make adult decisions and understand consequences outweigh the severity of the crimes?

Where were adults at Walker Middle?
Published Thursday, June 4, 2009
St. Pete Times

Four Tampa teenagers are answering criminal charges that they repeatedly raped a 13-year-old schoolmate on campus grounds. But there is another question that needs to be answered: Where were the adults at Walker Middle School while this boy was allegedly pinned down and raped with a hockey stick and broom handle in the school locker room four times in two months?
As horrific as these allegations are, the idea that this was not one isolated event but a series of planned attacks heightens concerns about a systemic failure to provide reasonable supervision.
Prosecutors have brought adult charges of four counts of sexual battery against each of the four defendants, whose ages range from 14 to 15. Prosecutors said Wednesday the victim endured months of abuse and intimidation — all apparently in silence. Students would later tell investigators they heard the victim scream during one attack, but neither the victim nor the witnesses informed anyone in authority. The allegations came to light only after the victim and one of the accused fought during a flag football game.
The Hillsborough County School District has no specific policy requiring staff to monitor the locker rooms, a spokesman said Thursday. The district does have an overall responsibility to supervise students on campus. It also has antibullying policies in place that seek to inform school authorities and parents when a child is harassed.
Those policies are not good enough. Staff should reasonably monitor every facility on campuses that holds large groups of students. That does not necessarily mean every baseball dugout, restroom or stairwell. But common sense says locker rooms and the like are easy places for students to gang up on others.
The school district said it will use the summer recess to train teachers and staff to be "hypervigilant" to signs of bullying. It also intends to review the rape complaint to determine whether it needs to improve its campus security or reporting procedures.
The school district has a real problem if its staff members throughout the county are as out of touch as they reportedly were at Walker. It is incredible that it took weeks for the allegations to surface. It is especially troubling that some students reported hearing the victim scream and yet none of the boy's schoolmates came forward to protect him. Middle school students may not quickly confide in teachers, but they talk plenty among themselves. The problem here goes beyond the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies. The school district and parents need to challenge the culture among students that equates standing up to snitching.
The district also faltered by waiting to review the conduct of its staff until law enforcement completed its criminal probe. It lost valuable time. The district would not have interfered with the criminal probe by merely moving sooner to investigate how its staff handled the rape complaint. Incidents are going to happen on school campuses in Hillsborough and elsewhere, but parents need a higher comfort level that their children are safe and well-supervised on campus.
What is striking about the allegation is not only the savagery of the crime but that the opportunity to commit it apparently occurred repeatedly. This should be a warning to Hillsborough and other school districts to review their supervision policies and make sure their campuses are well-monitored.


Anonymous said...

I saw this case on the news and felt sick to my stomach. I can't beleive this is middle school we're talking about! No matter their age this is a heinous crime and these young men should be held accountable. As you carefully stated, if the allegations do prove to be true, I think they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law will allow. Whether they are tried as children or adults, that's a tough call. Part of me wants to believe that they are children and should be treated as such but when I think again about the crime, there is nothing about it that is childlike other than the childhood that was taken away from the victim.

Anonymous said...

Since there was nothing remotely childish about what these little freaks did, I cant see why they shouldn't be charged as anything but adults.
For kids this young to be this sexually deviant is very frightening. What on earth will they be like when they are older?