It isn’t business as usual at Silsbee High School in Texas after the unlikely duo of the Ms. Blog and Fox News covered the story of the school kicking a cheerleader (known only as H.S.) off the squad for refusing to cheer for Rakheem Bolton, a basketball player who had assaulted her. (Though he was charged with sexual assault of a child, he pleaded guilty to a lesser assault charge, receiving only a suspended one-year prison sentence and two years probation.) Many readers/viewers have contacted the school to express their outrage. Bolton’s Facebook page has been taken down, likely due to the new attention.
The assault occurred in 2008, but made headlines earlier this month when an appeals court dismissed H.S.’s case against the school, ruling that her refusal to cheer constituted “substantially interference with the work of the school” because her job as a cheerleader was to cheer. Also, Bolton just received his sentence on September 14 of this year, then told the local TV station, “I have no hard feelings toward the girl. It was a misunderstanding.” (Yes, that’s what he said, even after taking a plea.)
The survivor’s father, C.S., spoke with me about the family’s struggle for justice the past two years. At the start of the interview, he assured me that H.S. is calling her own shots. “We do nothing without her permission.”
C.S. is a self-described conservative who generally votes Republican, a Christian and a small business owner. In his Texas drawl, he tells me that he initially entertained thoughts of violence against his daughter’s alleged assailants, but quickly realized that this course of action wouldn’t help her. Instead, he followed H.S.’s wishes to fight back through legal remedies and by maintaining her school routine.
He describes the nights his daughter woke up crying from nightmares, and the mornings she set off for school without any sleep, insisting on going because she didn’t want to show her suffering:
I look at my kid and say ‘Wow, she’s my 15-year-old kid, and she’s my hero.’ She’s so strong and determined, beat down but fighting back. She could have given up and quit fighting, but she didn’t do that.
C.S. notes that his daughter’s “greatest strength”–standing up for herself–“became a weakness” because it led people to believe that she hadn’t actually been assaulted. The family has been struggling for two years to bring attention to the injustice H.S. has suffered. To C.S., it seems that many people at the high school and in the Silsbee community of 8,000 have sided with the sports star, so the recent outcry from people across the nation is a welcome development. “It’s refreshing to see her feel like there’s some support.”
After the attack, C.S. extensively researched rape/sexual assault. He and his wife were shocked to discover that sexual assault is epidemic in the U.S. “Some people say 1-in-3. Others say 1-in-4. … Both numbers are high.” C.S. compiled over 300 pages of information on school-based rape/sexual assault prevention programs, such as Coaching Boys Into Men, and sent them to Superintendent Richard Bain. He has heard nothing back.
C.S. says the experience has pulled the family closer together. His wife is still a teacher in the school district, but their youngest daughter transferred to another school after H.S. graduated. He is happy to report that H.S. is in her first year of college.
The family will continue to fight for justice for H.S. and other survivors of sexual assault. Their lawyer plans to press the free speech issue again in the courts, and C.S. is looking into filing a Title IX lawsuit against the school. He also plans to run for the Silsbee school board in the spring. Proceeds from successful lawsuits (“the filthy school district’s money”) will be donated to organizations serving rape/sexual assault survivors. He says,
It took me a long time to get to a point where I can say ‘We’re not going to undo it. We’re not going to change it. We can only try to stop it from happening again.’
If you would like to send H.S. a note of support, please address it to me and I will promptly forward it:
Attn: H.S.; c/o Caroline Heldman; Politics Department; Occidental College; 1600 Campus Road; Los Angeles, CA 90041.
Also, Silsbee High School officials should be held accountable for their actions. H.S. alleged that Richard Bain, Jr., the superintendent of schools, ordered her to cheer for her attacker or go home. Athletic director Bobby McGallion chose to allow Bolton to play (after an initial grand jury refused to indict he and the other two alleged perpetators–two of whom, including Bolton, were later indicted by a second grand jury). You can write Bain and the school’s new principal (who was not part of the initial handling of the case), Eldon Franco:
Richard Bain Jr., Superintendent, Silsbee Independent School District, 415 Highway 327 West, Silsbee, TX, 77656; firstname.lastname@example.org; (409) 980-7800
Eldon Franco, Principal, Silsbee High School, 1575 Highway 96 North, Silsbee, TX, 77656-4799; email@example.com; (409) 980-7800
Bobby McGallion, Athletic Director, Silsbee High School, 1575 Highway 96 North, Silsbee, TX, 77656-4799; firstname.lastname@example.org; (409) 980-7800