Across the U.S., thousands of children have been sexually assaulted by other students in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools — a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore, reports the Associated Press. Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a yearlong AP investigation uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015. Though that figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assaults among the nation’s 50 million K-12 students, it does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don’t track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.
Elementary and secondary schools have no national requirement to track or disclose sexual violence, and they feel tremendous pressure to hide it. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act. And when schools don’t act — or when their efforts to root out abuse are ineffectual — justice is not served. Sexual abuse allegations can be difficult to investigate. Because many accusers initially keep quiet, physical evidence can be long gone once investigators step in. Often, there are no eyewitnesses, leaving only the conflicting accounts of the accuser and the accused.