In my life, I’ve never felt anything like the disappointment and disgust I felt when I learned that the Los Angeles Unified School District has taken the position that one of their middle-school students is partially responsible for the abuse she survived at the hands of one of her teachers.Let that soak in for a moment. In the past, there have been judges and TV personalities and anonymous cretins in comments sections who have said similar things: that women are responsible for the fact that someone else raped them. They blame her clothes. Her sexual history. The fact that she changed her mind. Whatever it is.But to me, those have always been “other” people. Other people think that way. Other people do those things. Not the people I work with. I work in education, where everyone should know that students are to be protected and teachers who harm them are to be put far, far away from them.Of course, I know that isn’t always true. Districts cover up stories of teacher abuse all the time. They continue to pay teachers but get them away from students. They pretend like taking small steps will fix the problem, the problem being teachers who prey on children. But this was new: for a district to look one of their students in the eye—a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her 8th grade teacher—and say “you consented, you lied, you are to blame.” To put it simply, districts should exist to protect and teach their students. LAUSD has, in every sense of the word, failed this child. When a minor is raped, she is not at fault. Period. This is even more true when it comes to a minor being raped by one of her educators—someone she should be able to trust. Not only has LAUSD blamed this student for the actions of one of their staff members, they’re actually blaming her because she concealed the relationship and “therefore thwarted the District's ability to find out about it and stop it.” In this case, it was a young girl who trusted her teacher, who then took advantage of that trust. And instead of supporting their student, instead of apologizing to her, Los Angeles Unified School District chose to tell her that it was her fault they didn’t know and to suggest she was not emotionally damaged because of her past sexual history. LAUSD leaders need to stand up for this girl and against this kind of horrific legal evasion.
Valentina Payne joined Bellwether Education Partners in 2021 as chief of staff to Andy Rotherham on the External Relations team. Prior to Bellwether, she spent seven years at brightbeam, where she most recently served as its chief growth officer, overseeing operations, finance, fundraising, and strategic growth of the organization.