Bloomberg News reports that during a high school wrestling tournament in Denver last February, three upperclassmen from Norwood, Colorado cornered the 13-year-old on an empty school bus, bound him with duct tape and sodomized him with a pencil as some form of hazing ritual.
The boy was the son of Norwood’s k-12 principal, who, after reporting the incident to police, was forced to resign by the townspeople. Students lodged protests against the victim, putting “Go to Hell” stickers on his locker and wearing T-shirts supporting his attackers.
Making matter worse, two of the attackers were sons of Robert Harris, the wrestling coach and president of the school board. When the victim’s father confronted Harris, he claims the coach said nothing had happened, only to later tell him, “This happens 1,000 times a day around the U.S.”
According to Bloomberg, more than 40 high school boys were sodomized with foreign objects by their teammates in over a dozen alleged incidents reported in the past year alone; an alarming increase from just three such reported incidents a decade ago.
Due to his personal involvement with the case, the principal stepped aside and let school officials dole out punishment. He had hoped they would handle the perpetrators properly, but he was severly disappointed when Superintendent David Crewes gave them a measly one-day in-school suspension. Harris recused himself from the board’s discussions and eventually resigned.
Neither Crewes nor the school board reported the incident to police, leaving the victim’s father no other choice but to do so himself. The three boys were arrested and charged as juveniles with kidnapping, sexual assault and false imprisonment. News of the arrest spread like wildfire through the town of 500, and the victim and his family were the ones who inevitably got burned.
Some believed the principal was blowing things out of proportion and that bullying was just a part of growing up and being involved in athletics. “When I was in school there might have been bullying, but there was none of this crap about telling the school,” one resident told Bloomberg. “How you going to be tough if you don’t get bullied sometimes?”
The school board held a series of private meetings calling for the principal’s resignation. A mother of one of the accused allegedly paid to have T-shirts made bearing the initials of the suspects, worn in support by their friends. The victim, however, didn’t understand why no one was supporting him.
“Nobody would help us,” said the victim’s father. “My son was the outcast. He was made to feel like he was the one who caused the whole thing.”
Later that year, one of the accused students pleaded guilty to sexual contact without consent and the other two pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. They received sentences including probation, community service and restitution of about $2,500 apiece. The board was forced to renew the principal’s contract, through negotiations with both of their lawyers, but he was put on paid leave until they reached a settlement. When the principal was offered another job 200 miles away, he took it, even if it meant earning half of his original salary.
His son, now 14, is doing better, it seems, joining his new school’s wrestling team and starting football and weightlifting. As for his old school — Norwood brought in experts from Denver to address bullying and hazing in school. Only time will tell if these students will be made less “tough” as a result.
Cover photo: Holmes Education Post