LORAIN, Ohio (WJW) – The Lorain Police Department is investigating more than a dozen cases of alleged sexual assault stemming from a high school forum in which students shared their painful experiences of assault.
Police are also investigating whether any school staff members previously failed to report allegations, as required by Ohio law.
The Lorain City Schools said about 150 high school students voiced their experiences with sexual assault over the course of nearly two hours at an assembly Friday.
The district said the school provided a microphone and supported the students sharing their stories.
While some students spoke about the sexual assaults for the first time, others said they previously tried to tell school staff members and felt “belittled,” with those staff members never reporting the allegations to authorities, according the district.
Lorain County Children Services said it was investigating multiple cases stemming from the forum.
“I applaud the students for coming forward,” Executive Director Kristen Fox Berki said. “I think it takes a lot of courage to do that.”
Fox Berki said the agency is contacting the children and their families and connecting them with mental health services.
Lorain Police said the agency has referred more than a dozen cases to police detectives for criminal investigation.
“We are here, we have to be prepared to listen and to help them and support them, but make them feel safe,” Fox Berki said. “Now we’re in a position where we’re able to reach out to them and get them connected with the help they need and the support that they and their families need.”
Under Ohio law, school staff members are among those who are required to report potential assault to local children services agencies.
The school district said it had contacted police to investigate allegations that staff members failed to properly make those reports.
The Lorain City Schools said it brought a crisis team to the school Tuesday to help students file reports and access services.
In a letter to parents, CEO Jeff Graham wrote “our kids are hurting” and “we as the adults and all our systems and processes and promises are failing to keep them safe.”
A school spokesperson said an outside agency will review its policies and procedures and determine if any changes are needed.
“Trauma is something that if you don’t have the support, you’re going to struggle for a good amount of time afterwards,” said Rachel Humphrey, a licensed social worker and clinical supervisor for Beech Brook’s school-based program.
She said sexual assault is underreported because kids don’t feel safe speaking out or their allegations are not taken seriously.
“It’s not our job to be investigators, it’s not our job to figure out what is or isn’t true,” Humphrey said. “It’s our job to believe them and help them to connect to the supports that they need.”
**Anyone in need of help, may call RAINN, the national sexual assault hotline, at 800-656-4673**