June 25, 2024

Lawsuit: HSE student with disabilities was sexually assaulted repeatedly, district failed to respond

Lawsuit: HSE student with disabilities was sexually assaulted repeatedly, district failed to respond

A 13-year-old student with an intellectual disability at a Hamilton Southeastern school was repeatedly sexually assaulted by another student and school administrators failed to respond, according to a new lawsuit.

The boy was sexually assaulted, which included rape, on more than one occasion from the start of last school year until late-January.

The boy told his parents that he was forced to have sex by another student inside a bathroom at his middle school, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Hamilton County Superior Court. The boy would eventually point out to his father that bathroom where he was allegedly sexually assaulted and threatened by the other student.

Emily Pace Abbotts, the district’s spokeswoman, said in a statement that the district is aware of this lawsuit and takes it seriously. She added that HSE is cooperating with the legal process and declined to comment further and discuss specifics in the case due to its sensitive nature.

Both the boy and the student who allegedly sexually assaulted him were not named in the lawsuit. The accused student was not in his special education class.

The boy has autism along with a language impairment and other cognitive disabilities. He finds great difficulty in “communicating with others and advocating for himself,” the lawsuit explains.

The boy’s parents filed the lawsuit that names top district administrators, including Superintendent Pat Mapes, who was hired in February, and Crystal Thorpe, who was the school’s principal. Thorpe has resigned from her role, according to the district’s personnel reports.

The lawsuit alleges the boy began to show school-based anxiety late in 2023. He asked his parents questions about sexual assault and contracting sexually transmitted infections, specifically AIDS, because he believed he had the condition.

He asked again about sexual assault, so his parent explained the full definition of rape.

In early February, the boy told another student about his forced interactions and stated that he needed help. That peer told his teacher, who is also named in the lawsuit.

Then, the school’s counselor sent an email and called his parents about an incident where their son was coerced into a bathroom by another student and asked for “inappropriate actions,” which he told his peer was forced oral sex.

His parents then went to the school demanding to speak with the principal who refused to see them, the lawsuit alleges. They spoke to the assistant principal who in return asked them what they would like to do and did not present a plan.

“When these allegations were brought to our attention, we took appropriate action to ensure a safe learning environment,” Pace Abbotts, the HSE spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “Our top priority is the safety and well-being of every student entrusted to our care.”

The victim’s family said otherwise in the lawsuit.

They reported their son’s allegations to the police and contacted the Department of Child Services after they said his school did not file an accurate report to the state agency.

The school “failed to investigate the reported sexual abuse, failed to promptly interview teachers, students, and others and failed to review and safeguard documents, including emails and videotapes which might shed light on the abuse,” according to the lawsuit.

The boy’s mental health suffered as a result of the abuse, the lawsuit states. For that, his family is seeking damages.

The lawsuit says his parents have had to answer questions from their son because of the abuse, such as “Was this my fault?”

Rachel Fradette is the WFYI Statehouse education reporter. Contact Rachel at rfradette@wfyi.org.

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