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Betrayed Beyond Chicago: Statewide Report Reveals Schools Across Illinois Are Failing Student Survivors

Widespread lack of training, policies to address disclosures of domestic and sexual violence

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
December 10, 2018

Contact: Ishena Robinson
(P) 312.549.9879 
ishenarobinson@povertylaw.org

BETRAYED BEYOND CHICAGO: STATEWIDE REPORT REVEALS SCHOOLS ACROSS ILLINOIS ARE FAILING STUDENT SURVIVORS 

Widespread lack of training, policies to address disclosures of domestic and sexual violence

CHICAGO—While coverage of the incidence of sexual abuse in Chicago Public Schools has spurred critical dialogue around how school officials respond to students who’ve experienced gender-based violence, a new statewide report shows that there are widespread blind spots to domestic and sexual violence in schools all over Illinois. The report, published by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law today, reveals that K-12 students in all corners of the state have little to no support from schools as they grapple with trauma that can derail their educational advancement.

The findings are based on eye-opening interviews from service providers, school social workers, and middle school and high school students who’ve witnessed or experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence. In the report, students from across Illinois disclose struggling with anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and suicidal thoughts after experiencing domestic and sexual violence. Despite these debilitating manifestations of trauma, the report found that school officials are largely failing to compassionately respond to students cries for support and, instead, often re-victimize them.

The report underscores the current inadequacies in Illinois schools that can hold student survivors back before their lives have even begun in earnest. Among the report’s troubling findings:

  • Most schools lack a written policy or customary protocol for school personnel to deal with revelations of domestic and sexual violence.
  • Despite a 2007 Illinois law requiring training for teachers, guidance counselors, and other school personnel likely to deal with students who’ve survived domestic and sexual violence, training is not taking place.
  • School personnel often respond inappropriately to vulnerable students who disclose their experiences, and breach confidentially by publicly sharing details of students’ experiences.
  • School officials’ inexpert responses result in intrusive questioning and peer bullying of survivors.
  • Many student survivors are left to fend for themselves in the wake of their trauma and, as a result, miss classes, move schools, or drop out.

“During my early elementary school years, I was dealing with an issue that no child should have to experience – childhood sexual abuse,” said one of the survivors featured in the report. “What I realized at some point is that no one noticed. Not the people in my home life, nor the people in my educational life. The two places that I spent the most time.”

Student survivors from families with few resources to address their trauma are at even greater risk of academic failure. Schools have a critical role to play in ensuring all students get the support they need to focus on learning, succeed academically, and have a fair chance at the advancement and future economic stability that education can bring.

The report calls for all K-12 schools across Illinois to develop survivor-centered, trauma-informed policies for responding to the needs of students who are survivors of domestic or sexual violence.

“This report makes it clear that schools all over the state are falling short in adequately supporting students who’ve been through devastating experiences,” said report author Wendy Pollack, director of the Women’s Law and Policy Initiative at the Shriver Center. “Education is a key engine for equity and economic advancement. Given the weakening of Title IX protections at the federal level, it is more critical than ever for states to take the lead in ensuring that gender-based violence does not rob students of their chance to succeed."

Read the full report here: www.povertylaw.org/student-survivors   

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The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies that secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. We specialize in practical solutions. We advocate for and serve clients directly, while also building the capacity of the nation’s legal aid providers to advance justice and opportunity for their clients. www.povertylaw.org

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