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Website claims sexual assault allegations not taken seriously by Tualatin High, PD

Tualatin principal warns parents that school is addressing situation.

Parents of Tualatin High School students were assured this week the school takes reports of sexual assault seriously.

Principal Darin Barnard sent an email Tuesday in response to a story on The Huffington Post, which published an article on Friday about a group of students concerned that school officials weren’t taking strong enough action in response to alleged cases of sexual assault.

The story cited #ProjectGirlsWithGuts, a blog started last month where a number of Tualatin High School students have written about their experiences with and opinions on sexual assault and harassment.

According to the blog, some students said the school officials, including the principal, were supportive and helped them file police reports after they reported being assaulted or harassed. But others expressed concern that the school has not done enough.

“We're tired of being silenced,” the blog's creator, whom the Huffington Post article identified as Angi Coleman, wrote on the website March 19. “Tired of having our voices unheard, being told our stories aren’t true, our bodies aren’t really ours, what we say doesn’t really matter. That if it really happened, our abuser would be in jail. But that’s just the thing. The validity of our experiences doesn’t depend on whether or not our perpetrator is behind bars, whether or not the justice system believed us, whether or not anyone believed us.”

The Times reached out to the Girls With Guts blog creator via email but received no response by press time.

According to The Huffington Post, three female students told school officials in February that they had been sexually assaulted by the same boy, who was also a student at the school. Tualatin Police had not pressed charges, citing a lack of evidence, but the students asked officials to remove the student from their classes.

“The response from a counselor in a meeting, according to the two students: ‘You have to remember accusations are just accusations,’” the article read.

Barnard wrote in his letter to parents that the school is taking every step it can to ensure students’ safety.

“All students have educational rights,” Barnard wrote. “Just as in the criminal justice system, schools can only take action when a claim of abuse or harassment is substantiated.”

He continued, “The safety and welfare of all of our students are our greatest priority. When we receive reports of sexual harassment/abuse that cannot be confirmed, we continue to provide support for our students. The types of support we provide include ongoing counseling for the students and their families, referring them to outside resources and connecting them with school groups such as AGE (Advocates for Gender Equality), a student-run club focused on raising awareness and planning activities that empower female students.”

Some accounts on the Girls With Guts website also accuse police of being “harsh” or unsympathetic in responding to their reports of being sexually assaulted.

The Times contacted Jennifer Massey, a spokeswoman for the Tualatin Police Department, for a statement on the allegations.

“Our response is that the school district administration brought this forward to our officers' attention in February, and our officers interviewed the alleged victims and at that time determined that no action could be taken,” Massey said. “However, based on those interviews, the law requires that we report any incidents involving juveniles to DHS and the Juvenile Division of the Washington County District Attorney's Office.”

Massey said she did not know how many alleged victims were interviewed, how many alleged perpetrators were named, where the interviews were conducted or whether parents were present at any of the interviews.

“Unfortunately, it involves juveniles, so I can't really say a lot,” she said.

The Times also asked Susan Stark Haydon, a spokeswoman for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, about how the district has responded to the allegations.

Stark Haydon said, “Truly, our concern has to be with all the kids. We have continued to provide support for the girls, even though nothing happened with the criminal justice system. We've offered ongoing counseling for them and their families, referred to outside resources and connected them with (Tualatin's Advocates for Gender Equality), a group that can offer a proactive way to be empowered.”