The boy told investigators he thought the girl was consenting because she had a “blank face” and she had sent him a message six weeks beforehand that mentioned oral sex.
The 16-year-old girl said he had forced her to perform oral sex on him at the newsroom of Peachtree Ridge High School in Georgia. She went to her first-period teacher in tears the next day in February 2015 to report the assault.
She was eventually suspended, not once but multiple times. In the course of the school’s investigation, officials forced her to participate in questioning in the same room as her alleged assaulter, act out what had happened and answer questions about what she was wearing that day, according to Slate.
The girl, identified as her initials T.M., was first questioned by the school’s resource officer, who not only asked her what she had been wearing, but also why she didn’t “bite his penis and squeeze his balls,” according to a legal complaint that T.M.’s family submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
“We begged and pleaded with the superintendent to hold the hearing for each one separately, so that it would be less traumatizing,” T.M.’s father said. “We even considered not having her attend at all.”
But ultimately, T.M. decided she wanted to go, otherwise the school would automatically find her guilty. T.M.’s father said “that did no good whatsoever.”
Last September the Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into the district that includes Peachtree Ridge, Gwinnett County Public Schools, in reponse to T.M.’s complaint. The investigation is centered on whether the school violated Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that accept federal funding. T.M.’s family said they could not find Peachtree’s Title IX coordinator after the alleged assault, which the school is required to have and would have reached out to T.M. to inform her of her rights.
School officials told Slate they “strongly dispute the allegations” of T.M.’s complaint, but would not discuss specifics due to student privacy and the ongoing investigation.
T.M. and her family were soon told she and her alleged assailant were being suspended until school officials conducted a joint disciplinary hearing. There, the girl and the boy, or their legal representatives, could cross-examine each other. T.M. would have to prove that she was assaulted, otherwise she and the boy would be further suspended for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds.
The meeting lasted seven hours as the girl, boy, their families and legal teams debated the facts of the case and how to interpret them. The two agreed that she had never told him it was OK, but she says she specifically told him to stop and the boy denied that.
When asked how he knew it was consensual since she didn’t say it was OK, T.M.’s complaint states he replied, “the look that [T.M.] had on her face, I could just tell she wanted to.” The look was, “just a blank face that didn’t really have an expression.”
He also referenced a message she sent him six weeks earlier that mentioned oral sex, and Slate found comments the girl left on the boy’s profile on Instagram months before the alleged assault that said, “Tbh (to be honest) I love you enough said.”
The school district’s lawyer, who was supposed to be a neutral party that questioned both students, also asked the girl why she didn’t scream louder as the assault took place and why she didn’t have any physical injuries, according to the complaint. T.M.’s family said the boy’s mother came up to them after and expressed how awful the case was for everyone.
T.M. and the boy were eventually both found in violation of the school’s code of conduct and both were suspended further for engaging in sexual activity on campus.
Even when she returned, T.M. said she was the target of bullying, even from her own friends. She told her parents she was contemplating suicide. She eventually went to another school in the area, and then her family moved her out of the area completely to try to escape fallout from the alleged assault.
“What has hurt the most is that I have suffered for something I didn’t do,” T.M. told Slate. “My school punished me and made it seem like the attack was somehow my fault. For a long time, I thought maybe it was.”