Loudoun County’s fight over the handling of sexual violence reports exposes a deeper problem with people in leadership.
Loudoun County, Va. has garnered national attention within the past week over their handling of a reported sexual assault case. In May, a high-schooler at Stone Bridge High School came forward with a report that she was sexually assaulted by a 15-year-old boy in the bathroom. The boy was arrested and charged on July 8th, nearly two months after the initial report, and after the school failed to initially take legal action. In an attempt to dissolve the situation, the school board transferred him to Broad Run High School instead.
Flash forward to October 2021 and another high schooler from Broad Run High School told a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer that she was forced into a classroom, sexually assaulted, and held against her will by the same boy. Upon discovering this, the community was outraged. Despite the county’s best efforts to quell parents’ anger, it only grew as they found out about the initial assault that happened back in May for the first time.
It’s not surprising to see this kind of behavior from an institution, but it does not make it any less disheartening. Institutions claim to lend their support in situations like this, and yet time and time again people who come forward with reports of sexual violence are let down by the way their reports are handled — if they are even handled at all. From movements like Me Too, we see those who felt like they were silenced or their accounts were disregarded to fight back, especially for those who are at fault to accept accountability.
Many of the parents are demanding the superintendent and the school board of Loudon County resign over their handling of the cases. The parents are also accusing Superintendent Scott Ziegler of lying and covering up the assault after an email was uncovered from May that contradicted the statements made at a school board meeting where he denied the assaults of the student. A meeting held on Tuesday allowed outraged parents to express their disapproval with how things were handled and call for the resignation of the board and superintendent.
In support of the victims, hundreds of students from high schools across Loudoun County staged a walkout from classes on Tuesday. Claiming a lack of safety from the students and a lack of transparency and accountability from the parents, pressures from the community are only mounting against the school board. Even though their efforts have garnered national anger over the case, Ziegler and the other school board members are still yet to resign.
Unfortunately, this is not the only case that has garnered attention from the media. Almost simultaneously as the Loudoun County case, Liberty University — a private Christian university also in Virginia — has come under hot water for their mishandling of reported sexual assaults. At least 12 women have come forward with a multi-plaintiff lawsuit against the university for making it “difficult or impossible” to report sexual assaults. From a Christian school that is expected to uphold a certain standard, it is appalling to see how little regard they have to the people who have been attacked on their campus.
On Tuesday, Walter Scott Lamb, the former senior vice president of communications and public engagement for Liberty University, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university for the handling of the lawsuit of the 12 women back in July. He alleges the university fired him due to an argument with executive leadership over the handling of the “Title IX” case.
The university claims his dismissal was due to a meeting over a recent review of the area under his management and attempts to claim otherwise is only Lamb trying to save his reputation. In a Tweet, Lamb states that the university has “drifted from the original mission.”
With two highly publicized cases coming from Virginia alone, it’s hard to not think about all the possible mishandlings of cases from across the country. Sexual assault happens more often than anyone wants to admit — with an even greater amount happening on school campuses that are often dismissed, unreported or disregarded. All of a sudden, the notion of believing all people who come forward with reports of sexual violence becomes obsolete. It becomes the job of those coming forward to hold those in leadership accountable for actually handling cases to ensure they don’t happen again.
In Loudoun County, the judge ruled against the young man — finding him guilty of both assaults. The only one who hasn’t taken accountability for the handling of the reports is Scott Ziegler and the school board. Instead of resigning, the superintendent is doubling down on the handling of the second reported case. The longer they continue to serve, the more people will become outraged by it. Loudoun County knows what is right, but they won’t take no for an answer.