School can be a minefield for students—whether it’s struggling academically or socially, kids face lots of challenges. Perhaps the most serious but mostly unspoken experience some students face: domestic violence or sexual abuse.
The latter came to the fore this past summer at Chicago Public Schools when a Chicago Tribune investigation found problems of sexual assault in CPS and an insufficient system of reporting and accountability. But the problem is not just in CPS.
A new report finds that across the state, schools are lacking in sufficient guidelines for dealing with domestic and sexual violence.
The report, which came out Monday, is the work of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Morning Shift sat down with Wendy Pollack, the author of the report and the director of the Women’s Law and Policy Initiative at the Shriver Center to talk about the report’s findings and recommendations.
On the findings of the report
Tony Sarabia: One of the things you did in this report is you talked to not only caseworkers and social workers, but students in schools across Illinois? What did you find specifically when it came to what you were being told by students, and did anything surprise you?
Wendy Pollack: Unfortunately, not too much surprised me because I’ve been working on these issues for a while. But what came to light is that schools are just lacking in any kind of protocol or policies so that students and parents and guardians and staff know what the process is and who to report to if there are incidents of violence and how can students get the kinds of supports they need in order to heal and move on.
Some recommendations to consider going forward
Pollack: We need a written policy that’s student centered, trauma informed, that lays out: Who are the go-to people? So everybody knows who to go to, who has the training, empathy, who has the understanding of those kinds of situations to be able to respond in an appropriate manner. What’s happening now is if students are revealing, they’re revealing to a favorite teacher who may or may not have any idea of how to handle the situation or be aware of any kind of protocol that might exist in the school. So it’s very haphazard. What we’re suggesting and recommending is that there are clear and transparent policies in place so that everybody knows and understands what the rules of the game are. And school personnel are then held accountable for implementing those policies in the way that they should.
Everybody’s been put on notice about this problem. [...] Even when these issues [on assault in schools] come out, the conversation immediately goes to the people who are committing these crimes and acts of violence. Now, that conversation needs to happen, but it’s the students and survivors who get left out in the cold. And they need to be part of the conversation so they can be part of the solutions.
On why already-required training is not taking place in many schools
Sarabia: There’s a law that says training should take place, but it’s not happening. What does Illinois law require schools to do, and why do you think it’s still not happening?
Pollack: We see this through the #MeToo movement and the accusations against powerful people and institutions and corporations and churches and schools, we’ve seen this in sexual assault on campus discussions… that these people in these institutions kind of wraps themselves in protective shield because of fear of reputation and certainly of fear of liability. And what we need is more transparency so we can pierce through those fears and really come up with solutions to these issues. Otherwise survivors are just left out in the cold and left alone to continue to be re-traumatized.
Ensuring Success in School (Shriver Center report)