News of a reported sexual assault at Shawnee Mission East High School has prompted an outpouring of support for the victim from other students.
Hundreds of students at Shawnee Mission East and other schools throughout the area wore black Wednesday to express their support for the victim.
Twitter users tweeted photo of students wearing black clothing at a number of area schools, including Notre Dame de Sion, St. Teresa’s Academy and all-male Rockhurst High School.
Word of the “wear black to stop attacks” effort spread on social media Tuesday night shortly after news of the police investigation into the alleged sexual assault was made public.
Katie Kuhlman, a Shawnee Mission East senior, came up with the idea along with six of her friends.
She said they wanted to find a way to show support for the girl at their school and all victims of sexual assault. They also wanted to raise awareness of the issue of sexual assault.
“It’s a universal issue, a universal problem,” Kuhlman said.
They checked with the alleged victim at Shawnee Mission East and got her blessing before spreading the word Tuesday night.
Kuhlman said it was empowering to see so many people willing to make a statement.
“I could not have imagined that kind of response,” she said.
The Shawnee Mission East incident was reported last week by a freshman girl who said a male student had groped and fondled her inside a boys bathroom while another boy held the door shut, according to Chief John Douglass, executive director of emergency services for the Shawnee Mission School District. The boy holding the door didn’t realize what the other boy allegedly was doing to the girl and was not intending to help the other boy harm her, Douglass said.
The incident is being investigated by Prairie Village police, who will turn over the report to Johnson County prosecutors for consideration of criminal charges.
Douglass said district officials have also conducted an internal investigation and have taken action against the boys involved.
He said he could not comment on what action may have been taken, but said school officials took the incident “extremely seriously” and that the girl who reported the assault was safe from any possible threat posed by the alleged perpetrator.
While the parents of the students involved in the incident were notified, no statement was released to other parents.
“Out of concern for the students involved and recognizing the privacy issues and lack of details that could be shared, a broad communication was not initially shared regarding the incident,” a spokeswoman for the district said in a statement Wednesday.
Douglass provided what limited information he could legally to “correct inaccuracies and attempt to stem rumor,” according to the spokeswoman.
Shawnee Mission East Principal John McKinney also issued this statement to parents:
“I want to assure you that there is nothing more important to the Shawnee Mission School District and Shawnee Mission East than the safety of our students. The SME administration takes the safety, well-being and privacy of every student very seriously. You can trust that anything or anyone that jeopardizes the physical or emotional well-being of a student will be swiftly addressed and appropriate actions taken. That always has been and always will be the case. We take the trust that you have in our school and our staff very seriously. Please also understand that the story the media is perpetuating involves minors — legally, neither the school nor the district are at liberty to share specific information about students or ongoing investigations. This obviously puts us at a disadvantage against rumors, hearsay, conjecture and misinformation. But, again, we are committed to maintaining the safety and the privacy of our students, even when doing so casts a questioning light on our efforts. We ask for your continued trust and support as we balance the education and privacy of our students with the media’s seeming insatiable need for information.”
McKinney also said counselors, social workers and administrators would be available for any student who wished to talk about the situation.