Pullman High School faces aftermath of sexual assault report

Pullman PD investigation is still ongoing; PHS encourages students to use counselors, ATVP

Pullman+High+School+students+walked+out+Sept.+23+in+response+to+the+schools+handling+of+the+sexual+assault+report.

CATHERINE CIBOTTI

Pullman High School students walked out Sept. 23 in response to the school’s handling of the sexual assault report.

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen reporter

Trigger warning: This article contains details about sexual assault that may be triggering for some readers.

Following a report of sexual assault at Pullman High School, staff have attempted to provide safety and resources, but a student says she has seen little change after the initial report.

A Pullman High School student reported she was sexually assaulted on school grounds by another student, said Superintendent Bob Maxwell. 

“We take any allegation seriously,” he said. 

Aaron Breshears, Pullman Police Department operations commander, said the incident was reported to Pullman PD about a week after it had happened. An investigation began the day the incident was reported, but because it is still ongoing, Pullman PD can not make any comments on its progress.

Maxwell said there had been multiple social media posts that spread misinformation about the incident, including one stating PHS took no further action in response to the incident.

Many students initially found out about the report from a Facebook post on Sept. 20 in a private group from the student’s father, said PHS senior Jade Dodson.

The post, which is still available on Facebook, states a PHS junior who has raped freshman girls, including the poster’s 14-year-old daughter, was still following the student around PHS without repercussion after the report, according to the post. 

In the wake of the report, students have been encouraged to reach out to counseling staff and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse to seek advice and counsel, Maxwell said.

ATVP is often a resource brought in or recommended by schools in similar situations, said Katrina Critchfield, ATVP’s coordinator for sexual assault services.

“We often also do lessons or presentations within the school on violence prevention topics, fostering strong communication, talking about consent and health boundaries,” Critchfield said.

Critchfield said ATVP’s services are free and confidential, with information given to them not reported to anyone unless it falls under the category of mandatory reporting.

The easiest way of contacting ATVP is through their 24/7 hotline or their website, she said. The main message people should hear in the aftermath of the incident is that people should reach out to get help if they are concerned as soon as possible.

“Our primary message is survivors have every right to have their voice heard and reach out when they need it,” Critchfield said. “There’s absolutely no shame or judgment in reaching out.”

The ultimate message the administration has been trying to communicate to students is to let a member of staff know if they feel unsafe, Maxwell said.

“I think it’s something we want to make sure we’re raising awareness about. We do take it very seriously,” he said.

Dodson said she was unimpressed with the school’s response.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories about students going to the counselors and nothing ever comes of it,” she said. “That makes it kind of hard to reach out.”

In response to the school’s handling of the incident, students participated in a walkout from 9:15 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sept. 23, primarily organized by PHS senior Lilly Chalmers. 

“Originally we were just going to walk outside the school and start chanting but I think some of the students were a little bit nervous about going out,” she said. “We started walking and some people joined. We ended up all the way downtown.”

The walkout was meant to show the school’s administration that students wanted to feel more supported and safer at school, but since then, there has been little change, Dodson said. 

Along with raising awareness of the incident at PHS, the students also walked out to encourage the administration to meet other demands relating to making students feel more comfortable at PHS, which have not yet been met. 

“One of them was we wanted our doors back in the bathrooms,” she said. “That was ignored and now we have teachers standing outside the bathroom and watching students go in which is very uncomfortable.”

The other demands that were not met were to eliminate the rule that students can not go to the bathroom 10 minutes before or after class starts and to allow students to take their cellphones with them to the bathroom, she said.

Dodson said while there are teachers who are supportive of what students are going through, the biggest problem since the incident occurred is that there are many staff members who are not.

“I think the school is sending out emails to make the students feel better about it, but they’re not really changing anything,” Dodson said.