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Nonprofit Aims To Raise Awareness About Sexual Assault And Harassment In Schools

Kyle Stokes
Garfield High School alumna Sylvie Nemeth protests the district's handling of a 2012 case of alleged sexual assault at a meeting of the Seattle School Board on Aug. 20, 2014.

Albert Virachismith, the man charged with repeatedly raping an elementary school student in Seattle, worked at eight other schools in the district. That brought him into contact with many children and raises questions about whether there are other victims.

A nonprofit group in Portland aims to increase awareness about sexual assault and harassment in public schools and provide resources to families. The organization, Stop Sexual Assault In Schools, recently launched a #MeTooK12 social media campaign to shine a spotlight on what they say is a widespread but underreported problem.

The group has its origins in Seattle. Joel Levin and his wife, Esther Warkov, founded the organization after their daughter said that she was raped by a classmate on a Garfield High School trip to the Olympic Peninsula in 2012.

Before that happened, Levin said he knew nothing about the federal civil rights statute known as Title IX. It’s a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding.  That includes requiring schools to provide an educational environment free of sexual harassment and sexual assault and investigate when incidents do occur.

Now it’s one of the missions of the non-profit to help students and their families understand their rights under Title IX, Levin said.

The Seattle school district reached a $700,000 settlement with his family in 2014. The district said in a statement at the time that law enforcement agencies had not found conclusive evidence of a crime. But Seattle Public Schools said it’s made a number of changes to ensure safety of students on field trips. The district also added a Title IX web page with information about the law and how to file a complaint.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.