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Feds Find Texas School Violated Alleged Rape Victim’s Civil Rights

June 22, 2012

HENDERSON, Texas - An east Texas high school senior who reported being raped on campus by a fellow student in 2010 was wronged when she was punished alongside her alleged attacker, according to a finding this week by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The decision clears the academic record of Rachel Bradshaw and orders the Henderson Independent School District to revise its discrimination and harassment policies, as well as providing staff training on federal Title IX policies.

Bradshaw, now 19, says she's overwhelmed and relieved by the move.

"Justice is being put into place, and I'm feeling like an actual person who has rights. Hopefully it will get across to other districts, and hopefully they can benefit from it and it can help at least one person."

Bradshaw spent three months in a disciplinary school, where she had to face her alleged attacker daily. The American Civil Liberties Union intervened, allowing her to return to her regular classes and school activities.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which mandates that all students have equal access to educational opportunities. ACLU of Texas attorney Stephanie Bauman says Bradshaw was deprived of this equality when Henderson administrators incorrectly determined that she had engaged in consensual sex.

"Their response to this report of sexual assault was completely inappropriate. I think that is the problem that a lot of school districts have. They just don't understand how to respond and how to make sure that students are protected."

She says Henderson's Title IX coordinator should have informed Bradshaw's family that they had a right to file a Title IX complaint. Bauman says Henderson High isn't the only school to implement Title IX incorrectly, so the ACLU sent letters to all Texas districts reminding them of federal requirements.

While most people think of sports when they hear "Title IX," Bauman says, the policy is more sweeping.

"It guarantees access to educational opportunities, so that sexual violence or gender-based harassment does not prevent a student from getting the opportunity that they deserve."

She says this week's decision shows that Title IX remains effective, but the Bradshaw case reveals persistent blind spots when it comes to gender attitudes and the complexity of victimhood. One rationale school officials gave for not believing Bradshaw's story was that she did not weep while reporting the assault.

"There is a lot of work to do in terms of understanding, when these things happen, what sort of effect they have on the victims, and how we expect those victims to act, and how that actually revictimizes them."

Bradshaw says she still plans to pursue charges against the man who she says assaulted her.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX