A few years ago, I was sexually assaulted. Although it did not happen at school, I
reported it to the school because my assaulter was a student there. The school did
not tell me I could press charges or anything. They had me write a statement, called his parents, and
asked him if it was true. As far as disciplinary actions, none were taken to my knowledge.
I have often wondered, “How can that be legal?” Wasn’t the school supposed to tell
me my options, or offer some sort of support? As far as I can gather from my research,
no. The law on sexual assault response in public schools in this state is hazy to
say the least.
According to the website of the Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland, Erin’s Law requires public schools to enact “a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program” teaching students prekindergarten and up how “to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult,” as well as teaching school employees “about child sexual abuse.” Erin’s Law also requires public schools to teach parents and guardians how to recognize child sexual abuse and about the assistance and resources for these children. This law implies that schools teach students in all grade levels the aforesaid lessons. However, on my school district’s website, under Comprehensive Health Education, there is a link to the “Comprehensive Health Education Act,” which says “the board … shall select or develop” units on “sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention,” once again with emphasis on every grade level. The wording seems to suggest that the curriculum be available but not necessarily taught in South Carolinian schools. As a student in a South Carolina school, I can firmly say I was not clearly taught about sexual abuse and how to recognize it. I remember learning about Erin’s Law in ninth grade, but that was as far as it went.
I am well aware of the fallacy of the anecdotal evidence used in the previous paragraph, but I cannot help but wonder if the wording of the law allows for a lack of proper education based on its wording. As it is, the law seems to leave it to individual schools and districts to interpret whether they should teach their students these vital lessons about sexual assault. An assistant principal at my school said teachers are taught Erin’s Law, but she was unsure about the student body. If the assistant principal is unaware of the policy, I wonder what the teachers know. Sadly, sexual assault awareness education is not one of the main focuses of South Carolina schools, which is why it is so hard to find what is and is not required.
The Greenville News reported that in 2017 there were 2,086 sexual criminal charges prosecuted in South Carolina in which the victims were children, “almost three times the 769 cases of sexual crimes in which adults were victims.” If the majority of sex crimes in the state were against children, one can assume that the majority of them were against students. These numbers are alarming, but what is even more alarming is that the average sentence for an adult having sexual intercourse with a child is only three to six years. Many South Carolinians will agree: that sentencing is much too lenient, allowing those guilty of such heinous crimes off the hook easily. In that Greenville News article, Laura Hudson, executive director of the South Carolina Crime Victim’s Council, says she believes there is “an inordinate number of pedophiles” in our state.
South Carolina schools need a clear-cut state-mandated policy on how to respond to sexual assault reports. Currently, the law allows for schools to teach Erin’s Law and sexual assault awareness and prevention education as they see fit. This allows for some students not to get the punishment they deserve for their crimes against other students. This allows for students who are being sexually abused at home to not know of their ability to report it. South Carolina needs to be stricter in its punishment for those charged with sex crimes against a child. This state could be a much safer place for its students and therefore adults if these things were corrected.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools / Homepage, www.aacps.org/.
"Code of Laws - Title 59 - Chapter 32 - Comprehensive Health Education Program." South Carolina Legislature Online, www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t59c032.php.
"Erin's Law." Mary Black Foundation, 2 Jan. 2019, maryblackfoundation.org/2017/12/19/erins-law/.
"Health Services / Comprehensive Health Education." Spartanburg District Five / Overview, www.spart5.net/Page/7727.
"Know Your Rights: Title IX Prohibits Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Where You Go to School." U.S. Department of Education, 5 Jan. 2021, www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/title-ix-rights-201104.html.
Pressley, Anne. “Erin's Law Memorandum.” State of South Carolina department of Education, 25 July 2016, https://ed.sc.gov/scdoe/assets/File/instruction/standards/Health/Erin's%20Law%20Memorandum%20072516.pdf, PDF file
Smith, Tim, and The Greenville News. "Sex Crimes Against Children Far Outnumber Adult-victim
Cases in South Carolina." The Greenville News, 15 Apr. 2018, www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/local/south-carolina/2018/04/15/sex-crimes-against-children-far-outnumber-adult-victim-cases-south-carolina/502918002/.
South Carolina Department of Education - 9/19/21 7:44 PM, ed.sc.gov/scdoe/assets/File/instruction/standards/Health/Erin%27s%20Law%20Memorandum%20072516.pdf.
"South Carolina Sexual Assault Laws." Ryan Montgomery Attorney at Law, LLC, 2 Apr. 2019, www.ryanmontgomerylaw.com/blog/south-carolina-sexual-assault-laws/. Theoharis, Mark. "South Carolina Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences."
Www.criminaldefenselawyer.com, 26 Mar. 2010, www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/criminal-defense/felony-offense/south-carolina-felony-class.htm.