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Sabin couple spearhead nationwide effort to reduce sexual assaults on K-12 campuses


A nonprofit group with nationwide reach has newly taken up residence in Portland with the return of Esther Warkov and Joel Levin to the Sabin neighborhood.

The couple started Stop Sexual Assault in Schools after the alleged 2012 rape of their daughter on a school field trip and the Seattle Public Schools district’s lackluster response to the report.

Warkov says it took months of escalating complaints before the two doctorate-level educated parents found out that Title IX wasn’t just an athletics gender-equalizing law — it was also supposed to protect and restore their daughter’s right to an education before and after her assault.

Instead, Warkov says, her daughter is still struggling to this day.

“Everything that we imagined for her and planned for her completely collapsed,” she says, noting previous interests in violin and engineering in the former ACCESS Academy student. “When the rape happened, her whole educational trajectory collapsed.”ESTHER WARKOV

Warkov says she has now dedicated her life to educating others about the federal law’s provisions for access to education without fear of sexual harassment and assault.

The family moved to Arizona for a short time before moving back to Northeast Portland last summer. The nonprofit they started has already filed a Title IX complaint against the Oregon Trail School District in December for an alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old by a peer that occurred at school.

The case, which is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “sort of spearheads the movement of what we’re trying to do in Oregon as well as nationally,” Warkov says. “I think that that’s going to be a very important signal to Oregon that we need to start to look at Title IX compliance.”

K-12 is where college-level assaults start

National media attention in recent years has centered on sexual violence on college campuses. Vice President Joe Biden introduced pop star Lady Gaga’s much-discussed performance of “Til It Happens to You” at the Academy Awards Feb. 28. Last week, Biden was touring college campuses promoting the Week of Action for the White House’s It’s on Us campaign.

But Warkov says that more attention needs to be paid to younger victims of sexual assault who might not have the maturity to speak as loudly about their experience as college students do.

“The fact is, people don’t become predators the minute they get into college,” Warkov says. “There’s a whole culture of unwelcome touching that starts in the younger grades.”

The unwelcome touching, verbal or physical harassment is the trigger for school district intervention. But Warkov says often districts actively ignore or devalue the problems in attempts to avoid legal liability.

“They do everything they can to make people go away,” she says. “There is every reason not to report when you are a vulnerable younger survivor.”

Complaints to the U.S. Department of Education of unwanted touching, kissing and intercourse are rising dramatically from both college and K-12 campuses, according to a Feb. 17 Washington Post article. The newspaper says complaints to the federal agency of K-12 Title IX violations tripled in 2015 from the year before to 65.


What about LGBT youth?

In addition to male and female gender discrimination, Title IX also protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in the K-12 school system.

Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition and TransActive Gender Center recently released a one-page primer on the rights transgender students have.

“This issue has changed and grown so quickly that Oregon schools are scrambling to make changes,” says OSSCC board co-chair Joy Wallace.

Title IX and Oregon law prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and require safe schools. This means students have the right to:

  • Use a name and pronoun that matches their gender identity.
  • Dress in clothing that affirms their gender identity.
  • Use restrooms and locker rooms that match their identity.
  • Play sports on teams that reflect their gender identity.
  • Learn in an environment free from harassment.
  • View the one-page flyer here.


    Shasta Kearns Moore
    Reporter
    503-546-5134
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    Twitter:@ShastaKM
    Facebook: ShastaKearnsMoore