Across the United States, thousands of students have been sexually assaulted by other students—in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools.
A yearlong investigation by The Associated Press, relying on state education records and federal crime data, uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students from fall 2011 to spring 2015.
The figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assaults among the nation's 50 million K-12 students, but it does not fully capture the problem because such attacks are greatly under-reported. Some states do not track such assaults, and the states that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.
The sexual violence that AP tracked often was mischaracterized as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior. It occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised: buses and bathrooms, hallways and locker rooms. No type of school was immune, whether it be in an upper-class suburb, an inner-city neighborhood or a blue-collar farm town.
"Schools are required to keep students safe," says Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in school sexual misconduct. "It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn't happening. Why don't we know more about it, and why isn't it being stopped?"
Data showed that student sexual assaults by peers were far more common than those by teachers. For every adult-on-child sexual attack reported on school property, there were seven assaults by students, AP's analysis of the federal crime data showed.
Elementary and secondary schools have no national requirement to track or disclose sexual violence, and many feel tremendous pressure to hide it. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act.
Sexual abuse allegations can be difficult to investigate. Because many accusers initially keep quiet, physical evidence can be long gone once investigators step in. Often, there are no eyewitnesses, leaving only the conflicting accounts of the accuser and the accused.
Video from AP: