The 14-year-old girl walked the halls of her high school, fearing she would turn a corner and encounter the boy who allegedly pinned her to the ground in a park and sexually assaulted her last summer.
She would leave her math class at John Handley High School in Winchester, Va., early in hopes of dodging the boy between classes. She second-guessed her movements, silently questioning whether it was safe to move or act.
“It’s hard to know what was more traumatizing — what’s happened then or what’s happening now,” the girl said in an interview. “I’ve been re-traumatized going to school. I’m not getting the proper education I deserve, and I feel powerless.”
The teenager and her mother, Dani Bostick, say Winchester Public Schools failed to prevent unwanted run-ins between the girl and her alleged attacker at school. A court order declared the boy was not to initiate contact with the girl.
The girl and her mother contend the school district’s inaction has contributed to a hostile environment for the student and violates Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. They filed a report of harassment with the school district on April 23 with help from the National Women’s Law Center, a group that advocates for policies and laws that help women and girls.
The grievance also accuses the school system of conducting a delayed and inadequate investigation.
The Washington Post is not identifying either of the teenagers because they are juveniles.
Winchester Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum said in an email that the school system ensures “a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation” of harassment complaints. He declined to answer questions about specific students, citing student privacy policies.
“Winchester Public Schools takes its responsibilities under these policies very seriously,” Van Heukelum said. “We are also committed to redressing any behavior found in violation of our policies.”
The girl’s experience has unfolded amid a cultural reckoning over sexual assault in the #MeToo era. The topic has emerged as a prominent issue on college campuses across the country and has garnered more attention recently in the nation’s K-12 schools.
Students still hesitate to share experiences of sexual assault and harassment in schools, fearing that they won’t be believed or that they will face retaliation, said Esther Warkov, co-founder of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about Title IX.
The Winchester student’s dealings with the school system stem from a July 2017 incident that allegedly unfolded at a park, according to documents detailing the assault that Bostick filed with the school district.
The teenagers, who attended the same middle school but did not know each other, were invited to the park by a mutual friend, Bostick said. After the friend left, the boy allegedly pinned the girl to the ground, fondled her breasts and rubbed his genitals against her, according to the girl’s account.
The girl’s wrists and breasts were bruised during the encounter, which she says lasted about an hour, the complaint said.
The girl shared details of the alleged attack with Bostick about a month after it happened, on Aug. 8. Bostick, who teaches at her daughter’s school, said she reported the alleged attack to police and the school system that day.
The boy was charged with abduction and sexual battery and appeared in Winchester’s juvenile and domestic relations court on Dec. 6, according to a court order the girl’s family shared. The Post could not independently obtain the documents from the court because the boy is a minor.
The court agreed to dismiss the abduction charge and change the sexual battery charge to simple assault and battery if the boy complied with the terms of a supervision agreement, the documents state.
The boy agreed not to initiate contact with the girl, according to a copy of the court order Bostick provided.
A lawyer who is listed as the boy’s attorney in the court order declined to confirm his involvement in the case and would not provide further comment.
Keith Buzby, the Winchester assistant commonwealth’s attorney who prosecuted the case, said he could not comment on the matter involving Bostick’s daughter.
But generally speaking, he said, juveniles in Winchester may plead “facts sufficient” when they acknowledge enough evidence exists to find them guilty. A judge could then dismiss or reduce a charge after a period of time if the juvenile stays out of trouble, completes therapy or community service, or agrees to other court-mandated activities that aim at rehabilitation.
Bostick said she had hoped the court proceedings would persuade the school district to implement measures to keep the students apart during the school day.
But an independent investigator for the school system determined there was “not a preponderance of the evidence” to prove the boy violated the school district’s policy prohibiting harassment, according to a November report responding to Bostick’s first complaint. Bostick provided a copy of the November report to The Post.
Sexual harassment complaints to the school system must prove that unwelcome sexual conduct has created an environment so hostile it interferes with a student’s education, according to district policy.
The mother appealed the school system’s findings but was informed in a letter that the Winchester School Board upheld them.
The November report described interim measures the school system put in place after Bostick filed her complaint. They included ensuring that the teenagers had different class schedules and lunch periods, according to the report.
The school system told Bostick it implemented a “safety plan” to keep her daughter from seeing the boy, but she said she wasn’t given details.
Bostick’s daughter said she discovered the boy’s first and second classes were two or three classrooms away from her own. She said she encountered the boy on more than a half-dozen occasions during the spring semester.
She missed all or part of nearly three dozen days of school during the semester and, after each encounter with her alleged attacker, suffered from increasingly severe panic attacks, according to the April complaint filed with the school district.
“I shouldn’t be limited and I shouldn’t be punished for being strong and going to high school,” the girl said.
In February, the high school’s principal and the school system’s Title IX coordinator acknowledged in a letter to Bostick that they were aware of the court order barring contact between the boy and Bostick’s daughter. They also noted the court order said “incidental” contact may occur between the students during academic or school activities.
Elizabeth Tang, a legal fellow with the National Women’s Law Center, said that incidental contact implies the encounter is unavoidable. The school system, she said, placed the girl and boy within proximity of each other throughout the school day and failed to prevent possible contact.
Any encounter the 14-year-old has with the boy can trigger memories of the day in the park, further traumatizing her, according to a letter from the teenager’s therapist that Tang shared. The fear of an encounter causes the teenager to be hypervigilant at school, according to the letter.
The environment, Tang said, hinders the girl’s equal access to education, violating federal law.
“What they’re refusing to recognize is that it feels like she’s being sexually assaulted all over again,” Tang said.
She said the teenager chose not to file a complaint with the federal Education Department because the Trump administration has “proven time and time again that they are not supportive of survivors.”