What is sexual violence?
A “plague” of sexual activity at a South Carolina high school set the stage for several instances of sexual assault against two students with special needs, according to lawsuits filed Thursday.
The families of the students — who are not named in the complaints — accused Orangeburg Consolidated School District and several of its employees of negligence after another student with severe intellectual disabilities allegedly raped his classmates at Edisto High School in early 2019.
“Defendants’ failures resulted in various acts of sexual assault and rape on school grounds, including but not limited to inside of the self-contained classroom with a teacher present,” one complaint states.
The accused student was previously charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor, attorneys for the families said in an email Friday.
Jesse Washington, a spokesperson for the district, told McClatchy news group they have not been formally served with the lawsuit and can’t comment “on the specifics of the incident.” But he said students’ safety is a top priority.
“The district in no way condones or tolerates any inappropriate conduct between students,” Washington said. “If information is ever presented to the administration that any such inappropriate conduct may have taken place, the district immediately investigates and handles each situation as appropriate, including notifying law enforcement, if warranted.”
According to the lawsuit, students “C.D.” and “J.D.” received all of their academic instruction inside a self-contained classroom for students with special needs. One of the students reportedly functions at a pre-kindergarten level in math, reading and language skills.
The regular special education teacher was on a leave-of-absence when the alleged assaults occurred, the suit states, and a substitute took her place.
“OCSD put a substitute teacher in charge of the special needs class who was uncertified and inadequately equipped to instruct, monitor, supervise, or otherwise be responsible for students will physical and intellectual disabilities such as C.D.,” the complaint states.
Over the course of early 2019, attorneys said the accused student preyed on C.D. and J.D. by following them into bathrooms inside the special needs classroom and elsewhere on campus.
In one instance, he allegedly walked past the substitute teacher on her cell phone. He then entered the bathroom behind the victim and masturbated him without his consent, the complaint states.
The same student also witnessed his alleged abuser raping another student with special needs in a different bathroom, according to the suit. After the student tried to stop him, his classmate allegedly humped him from behind.
Lawyers said the second student was also forced to perform oral sex on his classmate, who punched him in the stomach and threatened to hurt him and the other student with special needs if they did not do what he wanted.
That student was also anally raped at least five times, according to the complaint.
“On at least one occurrence, (the student) yelled for help but defendants did not come,” the suit states.
The accused student was expelled from Edisto High School, according to the complaints, but neither of the minor students who reported the alleged abuse have returned for the 2019-20 academic year.
“Defendant’s allowed habitual assailant – who was expelled – to enter onto the school bus and ride the same to school with C.D., terrifying C.D.,” the complaint states. “After this incident, C.D. was unable to return to school and is now forced to be homeschooled.”
Prior to the alleged assaults, the district was allegedly “aware of the plague of students engaging in sexual activities” on campus.
Attorneys said there were several previous legal claims of sexual misconduct, students engaging in sexual activities on campus and one minor student who reportedly got pregnant at the school.
Both students have experienced bodily injury, pain, suffering and mental anguish and were taken to the hospital for testing after the alleged assaults and are in therapy, according to the complaint.
The families make claims for gross negligence and negligence per se as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX. They are seeking punitive damages to cover the alleged abuse and access to psychological treatment.
“Special needs students are required to be treated and educated as mandated by state law, federal law, and human decency,” the complaint states.