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Hamilton Southeastern Schools Fail Community with Swim Team Decision

By: Lindsay Stawick, director of programs, Domestic Violence Network

Working in the field of domestic, teen dating and sexual violence, we are often asked, “Why don’t victims report?” It’s difficult to say exactly why some people do not report since we’re not in their shoes, but based on our experiences with teen and adult victims of abuse, here are a few reasons why it may be difficult to report or why victims choose not to report:

  • Fear of retaliation from offender, friends/family, or community
  • Fear that the report of abuse or violence will not be taken seriously
  • Fear that nothing will be done to protect them from the violence or abuse
  • Cultural and religious reasons
  • Lack of finances or resources
  • Fear that the victim will be blamed for the violence

Keeping those reasons in mind, let’s take a look at the recent incident involving the Fishers High School swim team. Last month, a male student and swimmer at Fishers High School perpetrated three incidents of sexual harassment against female swimmers – all three alleged incidents were substantiated by school administrators who suspended the perpetrator from participating in swimming – until sectionals rolled around.

The star swimmer and perpetrator of sexual harassment was granted permission by the Hamilton Southeastern (HSE) school board and IHSAA to participate in the sectional meet. The reason directly quoted from the HSE school board statement: “Noting that because the girls swim season had concluded and that joint competition and practice were no longer taking place, the swim environment had been altered sufficiently to allow the male swimmer, no-contact provision enforced, to resume participation on the boys swim team.”

Let’s revisit some of the reasons why a person experiencing abuse, violence or harassment may not report. Reading about this case DIRECTLY ties into why people fear reporting and why the cycle of violence continues to persist. At first, it seemed that the allegations of harassment were taken seriously – the perpetrator was suspended from swimming, and it appeared he was being held accountable for his actions. When faced with the possibility of losing sectionals, school officials did not want their star swimmer benched, so the suspension was lifted and he was allowed to participate in the meet. What started out as an appropriate measure to holding this young man accountable for his actions was dropped. The adults failed. In a WTHR news story, one of the female swimmers said, after hearing that the perpetrator would be allowed to swim, “They’re basically saying it is OK what he did. They’re saying our voices do not matter.”  

Preventing violence is a community effort and the school could have played a larger role in changing the culture that leads to violence by holding this perpetrator accountable for his actions. The school failed. They not only failed the young women, but they failed their community and they failed this young man. He ultimately was not held accountable for his actions and our best guess is that he will do this again.

Every day we stand in classrooms teaching students that they deserve loving, supportive and safe relationships. We teach them that if they experience abuse or violence it MATTERS, and that there are people in their school and community that want to help them feel safe and protected from the abuse or violence. Fishers High School and the HSE school board let these young women down. They are sending a message that what happened to them is only important when it is convenient for the school.

The Domestic Violence Network stands with these young women and their families, and we will continue to advocate for students and their families on issues of dating violence, stalking, and sexual violence.

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