A Stephenville High School Council member has resigned and the mother of an alleged sexual assault victim is distraught over what both cite as re-victimization.
While the Bay St. George RCMP would not confirm a male student at the school is facing charges of sexual assault, Susan Fowlow, a school council member, is saying four young women have brought allegations to police.
Fowlow said on Jan. 26, against requests of some parents of the complainants, the school board allowed this student to return to school.
“This means in spite of a Safe and Caring school policy, our board has put our school in a position where I believe they are re-victimizing these young women,” Fowlow said.
Fowlow says at a time when these girls risked their reputations and mental health to come forward, they, as victims, had to daily face their alleged assailant rather than the school board have him attend a different school. Fowlow said those who know her from her involvement with anti-violence groups realize this flies in the face of all that she believes in and fights for.
When hazing took place at Stephenville High earlier this school year, all sports stopped to keep people safe. She questioned whether sexual assault is less important? Fowlow is resigning from school council as says she can no longer support a school who she says takes direction from a board making decisions that disempower young women.
“I can no longer be part of a council connected to a school board that values the rights of a male student accused of sexually assaulting his fellow students over the rights of the females who are victims,” she said.
The mother of one of the alleged victims (who cannot be named) also said her daughter and the other complainants were being re-victimized by the accused returning to school.
The male student has since left Stephenville High. The woman said this does not change the fact the school board would have allowed this student to be integrated back into school, had he chose to return.
“It now shifts the problem to a new and unsuspecting location and gives this offender a replacement hunting ground,” the woman said.
The mother said she had contact with a number of associations to try to get help on this matter and they are collectively writing the minister of Education seeking answers.
The woman questions whether her daughter and the other victims have rights and feels they are being let down by the justice system and the school board.
“With decades of activism, advocacy, education and media coverage of what I feel is still the most prevalent hidden epidemic of our era, to send a clear message institutions still do not hold and uphold a no-tolerance position is nothing short of criminal,” the woman said.
Right to a safe school
Janice Kennedy, executive director of the Bay St. George Women’s Council, said she’s concerned about the situation at Stephenville High School with this male student permitted to return to the school where the victims attend.
“The victims have a right to a safe school," she said. “We are concerned the education and justice system are not guaranteeing the safety of victims.”
Kennedy said the women’s council is calling on these systems to address this issue so the victims can attend school and feel safe.
“This has to be addressed at a school board level so it doesn’t happen in another school,” she said.
Board defending right of accused
The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says it is aware of allegations from female students, however, the district said it does not have details of any charges.
In a prepared release, it said all students, ages 5-20, have the right to attend school. There are limited circumstances under the Schools Act to enable the district to remove a student from school and a criminal charge, however serious, does not authorize removal.
The district said any actions in response to the current situation must comply with these statutory requirements, so the district enacted the Safe and Caring Schools policy and is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all students.
The statement said safety is the paramount concern for the district and these actions may include alternate education plans and physical separation of students. Movement of students within the school may be restricted and, where necessary, supervision may be imposed during the school day. The district wrote it abides by any restrictions imposed on an accused under a recognizance or other court order, however, it is not able to influence such orders, and may not even be aware of the proceeding. The district said it is closely monitoring the current situation and, should the male student go back to the school, the district will ensure the alleged victims are advised of any return and all necessary safety measures are in place.