Sexual Assault And Forced Silence Is An Everyday Reality At Lemoore Union High School District

Lemoore Union High School District is a public school district in Lemoore, California. If you look up the school, it is easy to assume that LUHSD is a typical school district; news about construction, the school opening soon and a virtual challenge show up on the page. However, something far more sinister is at play.  On July 23, Savana (@princessvana_),  who graduated from Lemoore Middle College High in 2016, created a Twitter moment titled “Lemoore Union High School District silences victims of campus sexual assault.” By exposing the school of silencing multiple victims and creating a deadly environment, students are challenging the system, and I was able to interview Savana.

 

On the Twitter moment, Savana tweeted the district “systematically shames and silences sexual assault victims.” How exactly does the district silence victims?

The district silences victims by ignoring their complaints, intimidating them into silence, handing down reduced punishments to the assailants and concealing relevant information from their parents. In the case of one girl, she was pulled out of class to speak with a male faculty member as well as a male police officer. They told her that if she chose to report the boy who sexually assaulted her, it would affect his college applications, future employment and would be a permanent mark on his record. She was scared and she said she wouldn’t like to press charges. However, she was only 15 at the time of the incident and it was up to her parents to decide whether or not they’d like to press charges — at least it would of been if they were ever contacted. Neither Lemoore PD or Lemoore High School made any effort to reach out to her parents. How is that justice? How is that protecting students?

 

What is something that you [Savana] went through at because of the school district?

At LMCHS, I was standing outside a classroom with my boyfriend and he was vaping. A teacher saw us and reported us to the office. The principal, Charles Gent, came and collected us from our classes and we were escorted into the office. My boyfriend was placed into a large room with windows, while I was placed in a small office with the principal. Initially, a female staff member was in the room with the principal and I. The principal asked me if I had any nicotine products on my person and I responded that I did, a few bottles of vape juice that I’d been holding on to for my boyfriend. He asked me to place them on the desk and I immediately complied. It was at this point that work called the female staff member away from the situation and I was left alone with the principal. He then informed he he’d have to search my backpack. I complied, I was well aware that this was policy, no complaints so far. I began to grow uncomfortable as he fingered through my pads and tampons, picking them up and checking what they were. After he completed searching my bag, he asked me to stand up and pat myself down. I did so. He looked at me for a second, then asked me to do it again. I complied. After I patted myself down the second time, he informed me I was in violation of dress code because my midriff showed when I raised my arms to pat myself down. But there’s another side to this story and it’s an important contrast.
After the principal finished investigating me, he went to speak to my boyfriend. He asked my boyfriend, Tyler, if he had any nicotine products on his person. He responded that he did not. The principal then asked him to empty his pockets. He complied and pulled out a bottle of vape juice as well as a vape mod, a device used for smoking the juice. For clarity, consuming raw juice can easily result in hospitalization and chemical burns. The vape mod was 100% necessary for consuming the product. The principal then had Tyler rifle through his bag. The principal did not ever touch Tyler’s bag personally, he just watched him rifle through it. There was no thorough search of his bag, no pat down, even though my boyfriend initially lied about his possession of the products.
We were both suspended for a week, which is not school policy. It bothered me that I had been treated differently than Tyler and to my surprise, it bothered my parents too. My father, typically a very strict man, was far more concerned with how the principal treated me than with why I was in trouble. My parents filed a formal complaint with the district and what followed was nauseating. The principal changed his story multiple times, initially telling my family that I wasn’t smoking, then that I was, then that there was no way to be certain. As it became clearer to him that we were concerned with his conduct, he did more to try and make it seem as though I had done things that I hadn’t. I’m a good kid, honest with my parents and they trusted me. When he was told we were filing a complaint with the district, he told us that what he did was 100% in line with policy. It wasn’t. An investigation followed our complaints and as it moved forward, we were offered the explanation that Gent was “used to harsher schools and overreacted when presented with this issue.” An administrator I respect asked me if I felt there had been more to my interaction with Gent than was appropriate. My boyfriend answered ‘no’ before I had gathered the courage to say I had felt targeted for my gender. I had felt that Gent enjoyed getting me in trouble. I had felt that he asked me to pat myself down twice because he enjoyed watching me while I did it. I will forever regret that I didn’t answer ‘no’ in that moment, because it means more girls could fall victim to the harassment I went through.
“I had felt that Gent enjoyed getting me in trouble. I had felt that he asked me to pat myself down twice because he enjoyed watching me while I did it.”

Elizabeth (@bunnybun51), a contributor to the moment, shared the following:

Here is what multiple students experienced with the teachers and administration:

Sexual assault and harassment at LUHSD been occurring since at least 2002. Savana has had some older adults reach out to about inappropriate conduct with students and neglect of sexual assault victims occurring around that time. When I asked her about this, Savana said “it is the norm an assailant is more likely to face a slap on the wrist than any serious consequences.” At the time I contacted Savana and Elizabeth, 29 people had reached out to them with stories, 12 of which have joined the formal complaint. One way to make immediate change is by signing this petition. Their next move is to apply pressure via the media. “We are trying to build up a bit more momentum before we present our complaints to the school, and it’s working,” Savana stated.

However, there are a few critics. “A teacher that once taught Elizabeth and I has begun spreading false statements about my story, saying I’m lying about the details and the principal would never do such a thing. Our response is simple: you don’t know the truth unless you were there. That’s why we’ve been so grateful that so many people have stepped forward and stood hand in hand with us. One girl can be written off as wanting to start drama. Maybe two. Maybe even five. But thirty students of varying ages? All of our stories echo each other. There are names mentioned more frequently than others. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and unfortunately for LUHSD, this is a f*cking inferno,” said Savana.

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