After a Pennsylvania high school student told administrators that another student had raped her, the school principal’s response was to use her as “bait” to catch students he suspected were having consensual sex on campus. The alleged perpetrator was not pursued and is now accused of raping the same student later that night.
Yes, you read that right. Not only was a serious crime not investigated, but the alleged victim was forced to take part in a sting operation to catch non-criminals. And then she was raped again.
How could something like this happen?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (“Suit charges Upper St. Clair officials made rape victim ‘bait,'” July 30, 2010) reports:
According to a court filing submitted by the school district, [school Principal] Dr. Ghilani didn’t believe that the students were in danger or that any safety concerns were present. Instead, he thought students were having consensual sex in school after hours.
He devised a plan to have school police officers follow the students in question to determine who they were and where they were going.
Ideas about teens and sex — that sex is something that older adults must restrict until teens are older or married — come through here. Catching teens having consensual sex in school appears to be a higher priority than pursuing an alleged rapist. It is the role of the administrator to protect adolescents from sex — preventing them from honestly learning about it — whether consensual or not.
It should be asked what role sexism played. A male principal did not believe a female student’s accusation, but decided that she was accusing the male out of jealousy. His response could not honestly be called skeptical. The principal was so sure of what happened that he decided to investigate something entirely different from the actual complaint. He did not appear concerned for the victim’s well-being.
The Post-Gazette contains passages from the school’s legal filing:
Security personnel followed the students. Whether the sexual activity was alleged to be consensual or nonconsensual would not have altered the plan. … The plan to was to monitor the students and stop the students before any sexual activity occurred.
This makes it sound like the accuser was at least as much a subject of investigation as the accused.
At the root of the problem are authoritarian ideas. The victim’s personal autonomy is denied, not only by the rapist but by those in charge. If she can be useful in establishing greater control, she’ll be used for that purpose. The administrator will decide what kind of risk she is to be put at.
Authority often becomes institutionalized irresponsibility. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. When one person is in charge of another, the ruled is expected to serve the ruler. Since the ruler views individuals as a means to the end of power he will take care of the ruled as means, not as ends in themselves.
Authorities betray freedom. Whether through social prejudices that they buy into or through their priorities of securing power first and individuals second, they hurt people.