SACRAMENTO, CA - The Twin Rivers Unified School District has come under fire for not reporting sexual assault allegations to police in a timely manner under California's mandatory reporter laws.
When a student at Grant Union High School accused fellow students last month of sexual assault, it took a week before Sacramento police said they were notified by Twin Rivers School District Police, but the principal admits he knew about the case the day after the alleged attack.
On Wednesday Sacramento police said after examining the case in question, they've determined that the charges do not rise to the level of forwarding the case to the district attorney's office. Why remains unclear, but regardless of the merits of this individual case, how school officials handled the reporting has raised serious questions.
In a December, Grant Union High School Principal Craig Murray said he first learned of allegations of sexual assault from Vice Principal Wesley Marshall on Dec. 6, the day after the alleged incident.
The victim's mother said her 15-year-old daughter reported to her that as many as eight members of a school athletic team were involved in an attack in which a boy pulled her daughter into the boy's bathroom of the school gymnasium and attempted to force her to perform oral sex.
The victim's mother said she reported this to Marshall and the following week met with Murray.
In an email, Twin Rivers Communications Director Zenobia Gerald wrote, "The school conducted an investigation immediately upon receiving the allegation and met with the family of the alleged victim. Due to the seriousness of the allegation, the matter has been turned over to the Sacramento Police Department..."
However, Sacramento police said they did not receive the case from the Twin Rivers school district police until Dec. 13.
Margaux Helm, Director Of Programs for the sex abuse victims advocacy group WEAVE, said that gap in time presents a major problem for school administrators, who are mandated reporters of child abuse.
"Often times, if there are many days that go by, no evidence can then be collected, so we don't know why they're not moving forward with the case necessarily," Helm said.
The law is clear. A mandated reporter is required to make an initial report by telephone immediately and follow that up with a written report within 36 hours, but Sacramento police said they did not receive the case until a week after the principal said he learned of the allegations, an apparent violation of the law. The law also said notifying the school district's own police force is not sufficient.
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"Particularly with schools, there could be people who are not objective," Helm pointed out. "They know the student's history. They may know the people who were the perpetrators of the crime, or the alleged perpetrators, so it's important for police who have the proper training and more objectivity to be able to come in to do the investigation."
The major takeaway from all this, and one thing the folks at WEAVE wanted to stress is that parents themselves should report any allegations of sexual abuse directly to the appropriate law enforcement. It's okay to bring school officials into the discussion in addition to the police, but they should not limit those reports to school district police.
By Gabriel Roxas, firstname.lastname@example.org
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