Sexual Assault at Willard Jr. High (Parent discussions)

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Parents of Teens received several emails asking about the sexual assault incident at Willard now being reporting in the news. Here are links to news reports from yesterday and today:

Daily Cal (Nov 8): "City's Police Investigate Alleged Group Rape"

SF Chronicle (Nov 9) "Twelve-year-old girl sexually allegedly assaulted by nine boys"

Here is a message that went out on the Willard e-tree today, from the Willard etree host, parents of a 6th grade boy at Willard.

It is with a bit of trepidation that I send out this email since I have not been able to contact Gail Hojo, Principal of Willard yet. I have left several urgent messages without a reply. I feel it is necessary, however to respond to all of the voices in emails and telephone calls that I have been receiving. Here is what I have heard and I hope I am not spreading incorrect information:

On Wed., Oct. 25 a developmentally disabled 12-year old girl was "kidnapped 
and raped" by seven male students from Willard.  Apparently, the attack began 
on the Willard campus and then moved to 11 other locations and lasted for 5 
hours.  Most of this info came from a SF Chronicle article in today's East 
Bay section p. A27.

When this information was reported to the school is unclear.  This bit of 
information is crucial to us as parents because Ms. Hojo sent a note home on 
Nov. 8 -- two weeks after the incident.  

Her note also did not tell what happened, only that "a very serious assault 
occurred" off the campus.

I have heard only through the rumor mill that the kids were given 5-day 
suspensions (the most they can give) which will be repeated until they can be 
expelled.  And that they were arrested but are in the custody of their 
parents. (SF Chron)

Today, there were reporters from all of the press, trying to interview the 
kids on and off campus.

Parents are calling for a community meeting during an evening with their 
children to discuss this issue.  Why weren't we notified immediately, 
especially since it is now dark when the kids come home?  Why didn't this go 
over the etree ASAP?  Lots of folks never see papers in kids backpacks.  How 
can we discuss this with our kids who may not even understand what occurred?  
How can we make this 'not OK' in our community?

Please respond to: Gail Hojo

some of the mail received in the Parents of Teens mailbox:

The content of this article is appalling. Not only for what happened to this poor child, but for what it says about so many aspects of the culture at our middle schools. Others not wanting to get involved. Not wanting to tell. Not believing the children who reported that this was happening. Seeing this girl as a commodity, to be shared. Not having enough adult supervision available. And thinking that all of that is alright.

I can only hope that an event like this helps galvanize support for more money and attention devoted to creating better, more stable schools, with smaller classes, and better supervision for students. Perhaps mainstreaming should be reexamined.

I absolutely agree with the outrage expressed here. My daughter is a 6th grader, and I am astonished at the breach of responsibility displayed by the Willard administration that puts her and her schoolmates in the terrible position of having to figure out by school yard rumor what happened. None of this is "OK".
I was horrified when a friend called me to tell me about an article run by the Daily California today 11/8/2000 on an alleged gang rape at Willard of a disabled student. I would like to hear from parents their experiences of sexual harassment at school. We have had 2 at the middle school my daughter attends. I really would like to see the matter addressed by the school district.

I got an email from Ms.Hojo, in reply to my inquiry. I doesn't help me much, I think the school is in denial about this. Very disturbing. I did ask again about where the letter from her was? Did it get sent out? She's asking for some kind of meeting with her staff. Awfully late, I think?

This was sent to the Willard e-tree, but I think all Berkeley parents should hear:
As Willard parents,we should be organizing a community
  meeting at Willard to address the many issues brought out
  by the terrible assault. This cannot be seen as merely the
  aberrant behavior of 7 or 9 boys, but must be dealt with
  in the context of the world our kids are living in.
  Everything is so sexualized, and violence overlays so much
  of this sex that our kids, sponges that they are, are
  internalizing the worst messages possible. Both boys and
  girls, imitating the music they love, refer to girls as
  bitches and ho's, totally demeaning all girls and putting
  them in the category of "fair bait." 

  The "sex ed" that they get at school, minimal as it is,
  does not deal up front with the real life issues
  surrounding sexuality. Our kids, many of them, know the
  facts, but they are completely ignorant when it comes to
  all the repercussions of all of it. We need to demand that
  the district work with all the kids, at all the middle
  schools, to start teaching positive values, so that our
  kids can be safe. I believe all middle school boys should
  be given anti-violence, anti-harassment, self-esteem
  training; and that all middle school girls be given
  training on preventing sexual assault and on building
  self-esteem. The district should fund this and do it now.

  I heard a speaker last spring at the Y, a man who wrote a
  book about raising boys, a man who has done anti-violence
  work for years. He talked about how we have to stop
  talking about "those boys", the ones who do bad things,
  and start thinking and talking about "our boys", that is,
  all the boys. Otherwise, our girls are not safe, and
  neither are the boys. 

  Let's have a meeting at Willard, maybe Thursday night, and
  get as many parents there as possible. The PTA, Healthy
  Start, etc. should be involved. It's time BUSD in all its
  manifestations start living in the real world. 

In response to the sexual assault at Willard. I don't know why the district does not inform parents immediately of things like this. My deepest sympathy goes out to the victim and her parents/family. I am outraged as if it was my own child.
The informal or underground theme during Monday of BHS spirit week was "Pimps up, ho's down." No doubt, this is a sign of student rebelliousness; however, the fact that a significant portion of the students are attracted to behavior based on the sexual enslavement of women indicates these students are morally depraved. The school administration did threaten to send kids home who dressed in conformance with the pimp/ho theme, but apparently no action was taken against the many students who came dressed as pimps or whores. In addition, no school administrator believed it necessary to call the students together and tell them such behavior is unacceptable in a civilized community (and, of course incredibly demeaning to the young women at BHS). And anyway, who believes an administration that, year after year, tolerates Spirit Week's pervasive on-campus drunkenness, pot smoking, and threatened violence. This is the same school system which tried to cover up the last arson fire, does not seem to react to on-campus violence such as the recent PE class beating, and was unable to communicate with the community in a forthright way about what happened at Willard.

Are we surprised at the Willard incident? A student body that idolizes pimps will find it easy to produce individuals willing to rape a developmentally disabled 12-year old.

We have a school administration in denial. The Chronicle quoted a school board member, as saying, "I believe we have a good sexual education program that includes respect, but the tragedy is these things still happen." Really? Where? - How many junior highs have gang rapes? The article also quotes the school spokesperson as saying the Willard rapes were an isolated incident. Really? - The Voice reported there were 14 reported sex offenses district-wide between July 99 and June 2000. And how do we know the Willard rapes are an isolated case if the school system apparently has a policy of keeping negative incidents under raps. We know they don't notify the community when they have fires at BHS. Why wasn't the Willard incident reported immediately? How many other rapes, harassment, arson attempts, and violent assaults have occurred that we haven't heard about? Maybe it's time for the school system to provide a comprehensive accounting.

We are a tolerant community. But our tolerance of diversity does not mean that we have to accept those that brutalize women, or commit other types of violence, or try to burn down the school. Nor do we need to tolerate music in our schools that glorifies rape and violence.

We need a school administration that is honest and willing to tell us what is going on. We also need a school administration that is morally grounded itself and willing to say pimping isn't cool, violence is unacceptable, and those that refuse to behave in a decent and respectful manner will be expelled.

Anon: An Unhappy Parent of a BHS student

What happened to the girl at Willard is very disturbing. The event is made even more disturbing by the school board's apparent willingness to keep the assault a secret until forced to divulge it by its publication in the local papers. I assume this decision was made at the level of the school district, and not by the principal at Willard. Why was it kept a secret from parents and the community? Why were middle school children allowed to speculate and gossip about it for two weeks? Does the school board believe that parents and students should not be told at once about an assault and rape at their school? Is any child protected by the secret, or is it just the district that is protected? Would the rape at Willard have stayed a secret if the Daily Cal hadn't run a story on it? What other secrets does the school board keep from parents and students? I know that bad things can happen unexpectedly despite our best efforts. But when a bad thing happens that affects my child, I expect to be told about it and not kept in the dark in order to protect the school district.

an anonymous Willard and BHS parent

It would be worthwhile to call Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) at 510-430-1298 and ask to speak to Marsha Blackstock who is the director. They might know about the incident and be able to give information without violating confidentiality if they were involved with assisting the victim. Secondly, they could of assistance in coming to Willard to answer questions about student and parent concerns as well as do a sexual awareness/assault prevention and education training for students.

I am a backup rape crisis counselor for Contra Costa County and this past school year a young girl was raped on the grounds of Helms Middle School. Our organization provided on-site counseling and support for the school community and concerned families.

Since the rape mentioned in the email happened at Willard in comes under the jurisdiction of Alameda County of which BAWAR serves. Please call them if you have not already done so. They can be most helpful.

Parent of a son at Portola Middle School and a son at Albany High School.

In response to the sexual assault at Willard and e-mails in regard to it. What about mainstreaming should be reconsidered? I hope the writer means that general education students should be educated as to the rights of and human respect due everyone at school, not just those who are not disabled, and that more opportunities for mainstreaming - not fewer - should be generated. Other students need to see special education students as fellow human beings, not some sort of "other." Terms such as "retarded," when used to put down someone or someone's actions should be as taboo as "racial slurs." When they are heard, the speakers should be confronted - by students and staff - and have it made clear to them that this sort of language is offensive to the hearer and totally unacceptable. If "disability awareness" workshops are not held at Willard (or every single school in Berkeley), they need to be well and carefully planned and implemented swiftly. As a special educator, I have witnessed far too much abuse to disabled students, both in terms of specific incidents and benign neglect as a school solution to problems. It's time to draw a line in the sand and stop every single incident promptly and firmly. in my experience, when a school does so from top to bottom, change can occur.
Response from the Berkeley School District
An Open Statement from the Board of Education President - Joaquin Rivera

All members of the Berkeley School Board were deeply shocked and 
disturbed by news of an alleged assault on one of our middle
school students by other students.   We are closely monitoring the 
situation to ensure that:

        -- our students are safe;

        -- a full investigation is completed as swiftly as possible;

        --appropriate disciplinary action is taken;

        --the incident is discussed and addressed sensitively with 
students; and

        --the community is given complete information, an opportunity 
to be heard regarding this incident, and inclusion in planning how we 
address this as a community.


After meeting with the Superintendent I am satisfied that the 
following steps have been taken:

        --The District took immediate action to ensure the safety of 
its students.  The District immediately suspended the alleged actors 
and none of them will return to school unless and until they are 
exonerated.  The District is also working closely with the family of 
the girl involved;

        --The District is taking all necessary steps to ensure a 
complete and swift investigation.  The District is cooperating fully 
with the police, and is hiring its own investigator;

        --The District has--and will continue to--provide information 
to the community as it becomes available, reliable and will not 
compromise the integrity of the investigation.  The District's first 
priority is to find the truth.  Both the number of people involved, 
and their youth, have made the investigation especially difficult. 
The allegations and reports are conflicting and have changed on an 
almost daily basis.  The District is also constrained from releasing 
identifying information regarding the accused juveniles and is doing 
everything it can to respect the privacy of the girl involved and her 
family.   Within those constraints, the District will continue to 
provide as full and complete information as possible.


        Although we do not have all the facts yet, the District 
cannot, and will not, wait until that time to begin responding to 
this incident as a community.  Thus, the District has developed the 
following action plan:

        --Tuesday, November 14:  classroom teach-ins for all Willard students.

                With the assistance of outside trainers, Willard 
staff are currently developing lessons tailored to address  the 
specific issues surrounding this alleged assault.  These lessons will 
build on the Second Step Program already in place at Willard, and 
will include peer pressure and sexual harassment training,  as well 
as information about making good decisions and  how individuals can 
help create a respectful and empathetic school environment;

        --Wednesday, November 15:  grade level assemblies

                All Willard students will attend grade-level 
assemblies on Wednesday, November 15.  Students will be encouraged to 
ask questions, reach out to adults at home or at school, talk to each 
other, and seek counseling made available at the site, if desired. 
Students will be assured that they are safe and that we will continue 
to address issues of safety, respect, peer pressure and community in 
our regular, weekly Second Step classes.

        --Thursday, November 16:  Community meeting

        Because this matter is so serious,  a community meeting has 
been scheduled for  Thursday, November 16, 7:00 p.m.,  at Willard 
Middle School.   Parents and students are all encouraged to attend.

        --Utilize pre-existing Second Step program and Social Living Classes

All K-8 classes in Berkeley currently participate in the Second Step 
violence prevention /conflict resolution program.  In addition to 
these weekly classes, middle school students also take a social 
living class that addresses teen issues including rape, drugs, 
prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.   These classes 
will be utilized to ensure that Willard and the District respond to 
this incident with an on-going, preventive strategy.

        --Utilize pre-existing crisis intervention plan

        Willard has, in place, a crisis intervention plan to respond to the
emotional effects of disturbing incidents that do occur.   That plan has
been put into action and counselors will continue to be made available at
the school to help students, staff or parents cope with their reactions to
traumatic events.

        --Full accounting to the community

        The District will produce a timely report of all the facts 
for community review.  There is nothing more important than the 
safety of our students.  When that safety is violated there must be a 
full accounting made to the public of our programs and practices. 
This includes a full accounting of all actions taken by staff 
involved in dealing with this incident.  I have
called for a full report to the Board.  Once we get a full report, we will
release all the facts that can be released.

Parents Responses:

Contrary to the usage of of the word "alleged", the assault upon this child victim is "real". It is not "alleged". Legality of the usage of this word would be used in regard to the perpetrators in terms of who they are and exactly who was involved. It is clear and without a doubt the victim was sexually assaulted and raped by a group of males. To use the word "alleged" is to dishonor this victim and her family and the community, and, to be in denial of the awful tradgedy and pain that has happened to this young girl and her family.

My daughter, a sophmore at BHS, asked me to send this in to parents of teens:

Being the daughter of a parent who reads "Parents-of-Teens newsletter" nearly every night at dinner, I am very up to date on the issues concerning Berkeley High, and the parental views on it. Being a teen (and of course all you talk about is us), I would like to incorporate my opinion into the web of arguments currently surrounding the Willard and now King sexual assaults. In the Jacket recently, we had a discussion about what was the cause of the rape, and of course, today's media came into play. Is it to blame, is it not? In my opinion, we are so afraid of blaming who actually is to blame, the rapists, that we explore every option we can of blaming something else. It is, of course, easiest to blame the media. The media is something children participate very actively in, and the media is such a broad concept. Saying, "The media is to blame," is an easy way to escape blame. Everyone passively blames the media about something. It is a very simple thing to do, because the media is not a single person or a single show. It is a complex system of radio, television, newspapers, magazines, billboards and Internet. By blaming the media, we are really saying that we do not know whom to blame.

When most people blame the media, they have no plan of action. It is a reactive thing to do. Without thinking through all the concepts around the blame, they focus in on something that they know they can't change. Something that is there for good. It is difficult, nearly impossible for us to make changes in the media that we find offensive. Therefor, it is very simple to blame the media. There is a cause for unexplainable actions and this cause is something terrible, yet something difficult to do anything about. The media cannot force us to do anything. Perhaps these boys watched a lot of television and music videos where women were looked at as sexual objects. That may have influenced them to have less respect for women, or have fostered an environment where women are less respected. That is a terrible thing, but it does not cause rape, it is only one of the factors. Rape has been around for centuries. Women have been taken advantage of since the medieval ages. It is not a new thing, and we cannot just say that it is the modern-day media that sends out the message, "rape is okay." Yes, rape is happening at younger and younger ages, but it is not occurring that much more frequently than in the past. There is just a more open attitude about it. Since rape is not a new thing, and our current-day media is; it cannot be the sole cause for the rapes.

Yes, the media is portraying terrible messages that women are not to be respected, that they are sex objects, but it is also portraying good messages. There are so many more strong women in the media than there were twenty years ago. Look at Rosie O'Donnell and Drew Barrymore. What about the three strong women of the WB series "Charmed?" Don't forget the station, Lifetime which advertises television for women. There are a lot more positive messages about women in the media today, and we can't forget that. In my opinion, it is extremely difficult to place the blame on the media for these terrible rapes. We have to look at the family situations, the fact that this was a gang of boys who may have influenced each other, the initial willingness of the girl, and the educational factors. Instead of blaming the media, a source of information that we have very little control over, we should look at the factors that affect us. What's going on at Willard right now? Is the sexual education program adequate? Is there counseling given? Were the family situations of these boys difficult? Thanks for letting me voice my opinions. I'm eager to hear what you have to say in response.


You are a very articulate young lady and I totally agree with your point-of-view. I'd also like to go one step further and ask why this young girl was not protected at her new school in light of what happened at the old one and what is taking place to protect all of our young people, especially our girls, from these types of assaults.

It is unfortunate that the media becomes the scapegoat, in many instances, in our society for poor, personal decisions. However, without the media's involvement, how many people would have known about these horrible attacks on this young lady, specifically, and our children, in general. Miss Tania has a valid point when she talks about how reactive we can be, instead of proactive.

I am a single parent of a 15 year-old girl and I could not tell you what I would do if anything this horrific happened to her. I teach her and stress to her the importance of watching out for herself. Don't talk to strangers. Don't take rides from anyone I have not authorized you to accept rides from. Make sure the doors are locked when you get home, etc. I'm pretty sure that every parent, with access to this tree, have similar household rules. However, how do we get beyond household rules and incorporate them in our schools? I find myself instilling in my daughter, the same rules that were instilled in me...and there is nothing wrong with that, but I think we need to do more to protect our young people, while they are at school, or in route to and from.

Tania, you are a very bright young lady and I'm pretty sure that you and your friends discuss issues such as this. How would you and your peers resolve this issue? What do you think is missing from the adult way of thinking to improve your "working" conditions and the safety of your environment?

I don't want to totally disregard the environment from which these young men come from as being a contributing factor. However, I'd hate to present another place where we, as a society, place blame instead of taking a proactive stand in seeking a resolution. A part of the answer for me was to move. I now reside in Suisun City where my daughter attends high school, but this is not a feasible solution for everyone, nor does it resolve the problem. I still have concerns for what is taking place in Berkeley, because I have a cousin who is currently enrolled in a Berkeley High School and friends who have children enrolled at the middle schools involved in these attacks.

I pray that we go back to the days when everyone took a vested interest in the children of the neighborhood, whether they had kids or not. Whether we want to believe it or not, it really does take a whole village to raise a child. Where do we go from here?

Sorry for the long response. I just find it promising to read responses from our young people regarding issues that involve them. I think it's important that we involve them and encourage their input when we, know-so-much adults, run out of "fresh" ideas for effective resolutions.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

This is in response to Tania Lown Hecht's articulate, intelligent discussion about the Willard/King Sexual Assaults. I believe it's true that we constantly look outside ourselves (and the media is a good target) to understand what we find abhorent. The media is only a reflection of our culture--the positive as well as the negative--as Tania points out. It disturbs me to hear (and I have heard it often in recent days in response to these incidents), that rape has "been around for centuries," or "since the beginning of time." As a culture, we need to understand what lies behind acts of violence towards women --(I know there is much violence towards men--that's not what I'm talking about here). I'm talking about acts of violence that prove dominance and power over particular groups, acts that somehow are seen to prove one's "manhood." Rape is not a sexual act. Rape is a hate crime.

I was especially disturbed to hear one father's comments that his son was afraid of how he would be seen by other boys if he left or protested the assaults (I think this goes beyond the usual "peer pressure" when the need to prove masculinity is understood to include the domination and assault of a woman/girl). The quote in the Daily Planet (Nov. 20) by Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes that there is "a thin line between sex play and a sex crime" is even more outrageous--we need to be clear about, and our chioldren need to be taught in no uncertain terms, the difference between rape and sex.

Rather than thinking at this point about who is at fault, or who is to blame, I think we must ask what we can all do now to begin to make real change. I think the schools can definitely help by increasing the availability and use of therapists & counselors, and perhaps providing quality self-defense courses (like Bay Area Model Mugging Teen Trainings). But most important would be an integration into the entire curriculum--not just the Social Living classes--of the history of women, an understanding of the roots of sexism, an understanding of misogyny and the treatment of women, an understanding of the issues involved in wanting power over as opposed to power with. It is not irrelevant here to look at the fact that the Berkeley Public Schools close on International Women's Day, rather than dedicate time to understanding why it is that such a day exists at all. I am afraid, as I write this, that my words will be dismissed as the rantings of another feminist--as feminist perspectives are often dismissed. But I believe that without this perspective, we will continue to see these events as isolated incidents that need to be addressed by looking at issues of safety, containment, punishment, and individual blame. I believe we can make a commitment to make this change. Just as we look at the effects of racism and make the assumption that it is essential to eradicate it, so, too, must we look at the effects of misogyny, and do our parts to end the violence that accompanies it.


[from the Berkeley High e-tree]

To All BHS Parents:
Berkeley High School is putting together a plan to deal with the issues that came about at the middle schools over the past few weeks. We will be concentrating on 9th and 10th graders now, and then the 11th and 12th graders during the Spring (just in time for the proms). We will be using teachers, speakers from Women Against Rape and, hopefully, someone from Kaiser-Permanente.

Have a great Thanksgiving.
Frank Lynch, Principal

Please be aware that, besides learning how to deal with assault and rape by peers, teens need to learn how to deal with sexual harrassment and assault by teachers and other adults. This will carry over into adulthood when people in "authority" may try to push them into unwanted sexual behavior. Teens need to know that, as minors, they are NEVER at fault if an adult gets sexual with them. They also need to know to call the police IMMEDIATELY. Even if it happens at school, they need to call the police FIRST, so that the school officials don't inadvertently mess up the investigation. Teens need help dealing with all the feelings that come up in situations of assault, rape, sexual harrassment. This needs to be part of every student's learning--what to do, how to deal with the feelings. I am happy to work with people, especially at BHS, on developing a program. Someone from BPD has already offered their help. Meg
I believe sex education should begin in elementary school, and the discussions should begin at home. You shouldn't have to wait until your child is ripe for sex to begin discussions about sex and sexuality, nor should you wait for the schools to offer classes. The discussion should come naturally, the answers given matter of factly. Sex education should be taught when children are young enough to understand their bodies are their own and here's what your body can do now and what it will become as it matures. The discussions should be continued into junior high and high school. There are age-appropriate ways to lead the discussion for each age group and stage in life, but the point is a young child's curiosity should be satisfied. In junior high and high school, pre-teens and teens will not be as willing to discuss sexuality with their parents openly and candidly as they would have been at a younger age. Schools as an institution should offer an intelligent and meaningful discussion of sex to its students. I've been following the issues raised from the rape/assault involving13 and 14 year old children, and this is my response. Many may disagree, but I feel there is no one solution and no one perspective that deals with sexuality, yet as a subject it certainly touches us all, is pervasive in our society, and people all too often are embarrassed to talk about it without feeling awkward. How then can adolescents who are trying to figure out their own sexuality turn to us to give them reliable cues and reliable information if we're so conflicted and/or embarrassed about the subject of our own sexuality? It would be great if we could place sexuality within the context of our own lives and not as dictated by MTV, TV soaps, in Playboy or Penthouse, listened to in rap songs, and laid out in commercialized ads. I read an article in Time or Newsweek about how young girls as young as 7 or 8 years of age are developing mature-sized breasts and the onset of menstruation has begun with girls as young as 9 (since the '40's, the median age of 14 years has fallen with many 9 years olds beginning their menses). A young girl of 9 who begins her period should be given sex education in school, as well as her peers, to learn about their own sexuality and how to respect each other's differences, from your most private parts to the color of your skin. There is little I can do to help the rape victim and to keep a gang of boys from being brutal, but there is something I can do for my child and that is to offer a humane understanding of his or her sexuality, and when it becomes time for that child to experience his or her sexuality it should be, at the very least, with a high regard for themselves and respect for their bodies as well as for all others. -- Anon
The BHS student paper - the Jacket - carried some very informative articles about the middle school assaults. My subscription copy hasn't arrived yet but you might ask your child if they have it. I'm not sure which issue it was -- I found it on Saturday morning under a pile of stuff on the livingroom sofa. From last week I imagine. Ginger
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