Bainbridge High students report more sexual assaults
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -- Bainbridge police have seen a significant spike in sexual assault reports from high school students on Bainbridge Island since the start of 2016.
Police Chief Matthew Hamner says the department investigated three reported assaults total between 2014 and 2015. But last year alone, students reported eight assaults, with five more already reported this year. He says two students have come forward just this month.
“I was shocked, because we really have great youth on the island,” Hamner said.
Hamner says most of the alleged attackers were other students, and alcohol or drugs was involved in the majority of cases.
Two teenagers are awaiting trial right now for alleged crimes after a party at Pritchard Park last August. One allegedly gave a 15-year-old girl Xanax, then raped her as she begged him to stop. He is charged with third-degree rape. The other teen is charged with third-degree child molestation for alleged sexual contact with another 15-year-old.
But Hamner says those numbers may not mean more assaults are actually happening. He says Bainbridge police have worked hard to create a trust with the community that would encourage victims to come forward and report incidents. He thinks perhaps more victims are just reporting.
Bainbridge Island School District sent a letter home to parents earlier this month to acknowledge the reports of sexual assault and offer resources for students and parents in need.
“I know I’m not alone in feeling deeply concerned and wondering how to help end this trend,” Superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen writes.
Several Bainbridge Island High School parents told KOMO News they were concerned when they learned about the trend. Several said they sat down with their children to discuss the issue, including Dana Maria. She put two daughters through Bainbridge High. Her youngest still attends the school.
“I just kind of repeated to her about really taking care of herself,” Maria said. “Being aware that when you say no it means no, right? That you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Bainbridge Island School District has also emphasized open dialogue and trust with their students. Bang-Knudsen says the district hase held panels and forums to bring together students, parents, educators and law enforcement. One earlier this year called “Where’s the harm?”
The school district has also built a partnership with Bainbridge Island Youth Services, a non-profit that provides free counseling to students. The non-profit has a home on the Bainbridge High School Campus.
“I really believe in the power of together we can make it a better, safer, more powerful climate for our kids to thrive and to be happy and to be successful, but that’s going to take some tough work. It’s going to take having some honest, proactive conversations with our kids,” Bang-Knudsen said.
“We really want to encourage students to come forward if they have anything that’s happened to them,” he added.
Bainbridge police also want victims to feel safe reporting assaults. Only four of the 13 reports since the start of 2016 have led to charges, Hamner says. He attributes that to the burden of proof with these charges. But he stressed the department will always support a victim who comes forward.