November 20th, over the roaring sounds of her own heart, the echo
of death threats, and banishment from her Analy High classes,
16 year-old Serena raised her right hand and swore to tell the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. She stepped
to the witness stand, tried to steady her legs, and prepared to
testify face-to-face against a man twice her age.
31 year-old Jermaine
Casey was on trial for the kidnapping, rape, and death threats
against Serena. If convicted, this will be Casey's third strike.
Twice before he's been convicted for rapes of other girls using
the same MO. And who knows how many more girls he has terrified
out of even making a report.
It didn't matter how
scared she felt, says Serena, or how badly she was being treated
by her school, she wanted to do whatever she could to make sure
Jermaine Casey would never hurt another girl again.
Many adults would buckle
under the pressure and risk,
and not a small number would refuse to testify at all. But far
from praising her for her civic heroism, Serena's school, students
and officials alike, step by predictable step, have driven Serena
out. The same as has been done to so many girls before.
from her Analy High Classes
As so often
happens when word of a rape gets out, a small group of students
with ties to the rapist began accusing Serena of lying about the
rape, of "wanting it". They blamed her for Casey being
in jail. They pelted her daily with the readily available arsenal
of hallway words for trashing a girl's sexuality. A "skank",
a "ho", they called her, and more.
Over the weeks more
kids joined in. So Serena went to her school counselor for help.
"Just ignore it," the counselor advised, "and it
will go away." "I can't control what comes out of other
people's mouths", the counselor pleaded to Serena. The kids'
harassment of Serena turned threatening. "You ever seen a
Mexican knife?" said one coming at her aggressively.
Serena went to her
history teacher and asked to be excused from a class discussion
on rape. "It hits too close to home," Serena told the
teacher. The history teacher told Serena she had to "get
over it and move on."
Serena went to the
vice principal. By now, after two months of this, school officials
had had enough. Two vice principals decided it was time to put
an end to this disturbance. They forbade Serena from going anywhere
in the school where she could be seen by the students who were
harassing her. They accused Serena of using the rape as
an excuse for her problems. One vice principal threatened to kick
Serena out of school.
Serena was so upset
that the next day she brought her mother in to meet with the vice
principal. The vice principal scolded them both. "Lots of
girls have been raped," she said. The vice principal put
Serena on independent study, banning Serena from her classrooms
and friends, further robbing Serena of her rights to a non-discriminatory
education, the very rights these school officials are bound by
law to protect.
Nor is it just Serena
who is victim of the school's illegal responses. Every girl in
the school has been taught the dangers and futility of seeking
help for a rape or sexual harassment. And every student has learned
that school officials will easily join in on driving a girl out.
Hearing these stories from a distance, people are always struck
by the cruelty and injustice. The right thing to do is so obvious
even without the instruction of civil rights law. The student
harassers should be immediately investigated and punished. And
school officials should walk into the classrooms, and say "It's
time to talk about rape, about sexual harassment, about girl's
rights, about justice and it's process," and "Here's
what's going to happen if the harassment doesn't stop now".
But up close, in one's own social circle, when the charge of rape
sparks the inevitable high voltage fury of the rapist's friends
ganging up and hurling virulent sexist attacks at the victim,
it's a different story. People just find it so much easier to
shun the victim than to stand up straight to the maelstrom. Even
the victim's friends grow silent in her defense.
This phenomena of abandoning,
ostracizing, and driving rape victims out is repeated again and
again in schools, families, workplaces, churches, where ever rape
victims are found. It is so common, in fact, and so devastating
to the victims, that in the literature on rape, the phenomena
is given the name "the second rape".
But for school
officials, especially school officials in West Sonoma County School
District, there is just no excuse. They have had ten years of
civil rights officials coming into the district and laying down
the law. Teachers credentials have been revoked. Student victims
and women's advocates have protested these abuses again and again.
Clearly these school officials know the right and the wrong.
How then can no less
than six officials in this same school district have carried out
the same cruelty against yet another student rape victim?
In a word it is sexism.
The immense power inequalities between school officials and a
girl weakened by rape permit these officials to get away with
sacrificing the girls more often they get caught. In another word
it is their contempt of the laws giving rights to women and girls.
And it is complicity, not just with the sexual harassment, but
complicity with rape itself. If these school officials took rape
at all seriously, they would have instinctively come to Serena's
aid. It would have been impossible for them to have driven her
The overwhelming patriarchal
forces that gather steam following a rape and conspired to drive
Serena out make it all the more remarkable that Serena and other
young girls like her walk up to the witness stand and testify.
This, too, should have
been part of the school's response to the harassment. It was a
teachable moment in which the bravery and civic consciousness
of a young girl should have been celebrated. Conquering her own
fears, putting aside the immense hurt from her school and peers,
Serena stood up in a court of law for the protection of all our
daughters, our sisters, and friends. In classrooms, in the town,
and in your hearts, there should be celebrations and songs for
For tips on preventing and dealing with the "second rape"
For guidelines on girl's
Title IX educational rights, see: