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I-Team: Danger in the Classroom

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Michele-Gillen-600x450 Michele Gillen
Michele Gillen is chief investigative reporter at WFOR-TV, Mi...
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“He went into the bathroom. I was told my daughter pleaded and asked him not to hurt her. But he did not listen. He threw her to her knees. He zipped his pants down and made her perform oral sex.”

Sitting in a darkened room with Chief I-Team Investigator Michele Gillen, this Miami mother shared her story of outrage and hurt, as she explained what police say happened to her 11-year old, special needs daughter.

If the location of the alleged assault, the bathroom of her elementary school is shocking, the age of the alleged perpetrator is even more chilling.

“Eleven years old,” this mom told Gillen, as she shook her head in disbelief and disgust. “Eleven years old.”

The mother said that two other male classmates allegedly served as lookouts and prevented her little girl  from escaping the bathroom.

“As she ran out, the other two boys were trying to push her back in,” the mom recalled her daughter telling her.

“This was bullying at another level. She said she was very, very scared.”

Across county lines in Broward, another young girl we’ll call “Kay,” shared with Gillen the horror she lived through as an 8th grader while riding her school bus. She described a group of bullying boys exposing themselves, forcing her to touch them, thrusting their hands down her pants.

“Do you remember feeling invaded? Having a stranger’s hand on you?” Gillen asked.

“Yes, I will never forget it. It will always be there. It changed me,” responded the petite girl who is willing to speak out to encourage other victims to do the same.

After months of reviewing school and police records and academic investigations from across Florida and the nation, the I-Team has discovered the victims of a largely secreted and hidden crisis:  children committing sex crimes against other children.

“Statistically, in Florida, we now have about 1,400 children who are charged with sex offenses a year. And those children are minors. The vast majority of them are in our schools,” says Maria Schneider an Assistant in the Broward County State Attorney’s office, and one of the nation’s leading experts on Kid on Kid crime. She offered a rare window into the problem she has tracked statewide and across the country.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen everything from simply rubbing other children’s genitals over the clothing, all the way to acts of sodomy and actual sexual intercourse.”

Gillen discovered that a third of all sex offenses against children are committed by other minors.

“Unfortunately, a significant portion of the sex offenses are committed by kids 12 or even younger.”

“It’s happening at staggering rates. Unfortunately child on child sex abuse is the most under reported and unpunished sexual abuse in our society,” said Adam Horowitz, family attorney for the young girl who described the nightmare on her school bus.

Horowitz represents a half-dozen students molested by children at both public and private schools.

“Rarely are the teachers even informed that they have a sex offender in their classroom,” Horowitz said.

According to Florida law, school superintendents are supposed to be alerted when a student has been arrested for a sex offense.

“They are to alert the school which is supposed to alert the teachers,”  Horowitz told Gillen.

But an I-Team review of Broward school incident reports, relating to alleged sex crimes, show that in the overwhelming majority of cases the offending students are not arrested.

For this school year, at one high school, there were 21 incidents reported as sexual battery/ rape/or attempted rape. No arrests.

At one middle school, there were 51 incidents reported as sexual misconduct/indecent exposure. No arrests.

In one elementary school, 44 such incidents of sexual misconduct/indecent exposure, and no arrests.

“And because they are not being arrested, then the schools are not always finding out who they are,” says Schneider.

In the case of the woman’s special needs daughter, the alleged student attackers were ultimately arrested and expelled, but only after the mother first removed her terrified daughter from the school.

And because the alleged offenders are juveniles, the location of their current school is a secret. The mother fears they could end up in her daughter’s new school.

Ariel Saban is the family’s new attorney. “We need faculty, administration, we need certain policies and procedures to be intact to make sure those kids are protected from other students.”

One of the students who assaulted “Kay” was sentenced to probation. She has no idea what school he is in now. But she knows what price she paid.

“I didn’t feel the same anymore. I hated myself. I didn’t want to look into the mirror. I thought everything was wrong with me,” said the girl.

“We can’t afford young casualties,” Schneider insisted. “What do you say? I’m so sorry. You can’t erase being the victim of a sex crime.”

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