[author: Aaron Kase]
Four students are suing an Illinois school district over hazing accusations at a Des Plaines high school that include reports of victims who were sodomized by their sports teammates.
School officials looked the other way while players on the baseball, soccer and potentially other teams were subjected to an extreme form of hazing that went at least as far back as 2007, the lawsuit alleges.
The hazing came to light when three players were allegedly sodomized with fingers and sticks this September as a welcome to the team. A witness told his parents, who contacted authorities. Six teenagers have been criminally charged in the incident.
The charges filed against the students were changed from criminal sexual assault, a felony, to misdemeanor battery and hazing, according to the police report. Prosecutors have indicated that the defendants could still be charged with felonies if more evidence is discovered. The Illinois Department of Family Services is also involved in the investigation.
The lawsuit was originally filed by one plaintiff, a 14-year-old who says he was one of this year’s victims. Three other plaintiffs have since joined the suit, all alleging they were victims of hazing going back as far as 2007. Attorneys have said that more allegations could be forthcoming.
Antonio M. Romanucci
The key element in showing that the school knew of the hazing and did nothing to stop it is a letter written by a mother of one of the victims to the school principal in 2008, complaining of the abuse her son suffered. According to the mother, the school did nothing to investigate at the time, and the district rebuffed her when she approached the superintendent this year following the latest allegations.
“[The school superintendent] told me that in order to be sexual assault there needed to be sexual gratification and I was wrong,” the mother said at a press conference. “I told him that my son was pinned down, pants ripped off exposed, boxers completely ripped off, in my opinion that’s a sexual assault.”
The principal of the school, Audrey Haugan, might have run afoul of state mandatory reporter laws by not following up on the letter when it was originally written in 2008. “Under Illinois law, any educator, which includes a principal, coach or school board member, has the responsibility to report any documented case of abuse which could include hazing, bullying and sexual abuse, to the Department of Children and Family Services,” says Antonio M. Romanucci of Romanucci and Blandin, attorney for the plaintiffs. “And that’s a duty. And that duty was ignored.”
The district’s claim that it didn’t know about the 2008 incident until the newest allegations were made public is undermined by the fact that the boy in question was given a transfer to a different school at the time. “Transfers have to come at the district level,” Romanucci notes. “There’s no doubt that the principal knew about the sexual abuse back in 2008. What she told the school board in regard to the transfer we don’t know yet.”
The Department of Children and Family Services issued a press release suggesting that criminal charges could also be brought against any school employees who knew about, but failed to properly report, the alleged assaults. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced on Wednesday a special investigation of the case to find out exactly what the school knew, and when.
If you have concerns about your child being a victim of hazing, bullying or other types of harassment, or if you have been a victim yourself, visit Lawyers.com to find an attorney in your area who can advise you of your legal options.
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