Editorial: Adults and students dismissed the football team's 'Rape Squad' as a rite of passage. That carries has an important lesson for all of us.
The apparent betrayal of vulnerable young athletes at Hamilton High School is a breathtaking reminder of how far we remain from fully grasping the seriousness of sexual assault and harassment.
First and foremost, though, it is a betrayal of vulnerable young people.
It is a betrayal of their youth, their innocence and their trust.
It is a betrayal of the duty of schools to protect students.
It is a betrayal of the confidence parents have in those who are supposed to safeguard children at school.
And, yes, even high school students are children who need protection. Even big, strong football players need wise guidance and benevolent adult leadership to teach them right from wrong. To teach them to respect themselves and others.
At Hamilton, evidence suggests the adults failed miserably. That failure had grave consequences.
School administrators repeatedly neglected to notify authorities about multiple allegations of sexual assault, according to information in police documents that were released to The Republic under the state’s public records law.
“Had these offenses been properly reported it is possible that many of the sexual assaults would not have occurred,” Amanda Janssen, lead investigator for the Chandler Police Department, wrote in a report.
Documents suggest some saw what was going on as merely a football team initiation rite. This is a mistake a child might make. It is a misconception adults have a responsibility to correct.
Police interviews with students say that in most cases, a younger player was held down by upperclassmen who would penetrate him with fingers or various objects. Some incidents were recorded and shared on social media.
According to police documents, the players called this hazing “rape,” but they did not appear to understand the seriousness of what was happening.
Neither, apparently, did the adults who should have been monitoring and protecting them.
Nathaniel Thomas gets a hug on his release from custody on April 6, 2017, at the Maricopa County Lower Buckeye Jail. Logan Newman/The Republic Nathaniel William Thomas Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Ken Countryman, attorney for Hamilton High School football player Nathaniel Thomas, speaks to reporters after an April 5, 2017, hearing at which bond was set for his client. Garrett Mitchell/The Republic Steve Belles, the onetime head football coach at Chandler Hamilton High School, was reassigned as coach less than a week after six Hamilton football players were arrested in an assault case. Carlos Salcedo/Special for The Republic The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said it filed criminal charges on March 30, 2017, against three football players for incidents based on a Chandler police investigation of hazing at Hamilton High School. Diego Mendoza-Moyers/The Republic
These are among the revelations in nearly 700 pages of documents released Thursday. The documents contain information gathered from the police investigation into abuse claims concerning Hamilton’s famed football team.
Three teens face charges, and Chandler police recommend criminal charges be brought by the Maricopa County Attorney against former principal Ken James, former head football coach Steve Belles and former school Athletic Director Shawn Rustad.
At least six families of alleged victims have filed claims against the district, totaling $44 million.
Documents from the police investigation show that James didn’t share all the information about so-called hazing until police obtained a search warrant. The documents include handwritten notes about multiple instances of coaches and administrators trying to deal internally with serious allegations that young football players were being sexually abused as part of hazing rituals.
“Incidents have been going on for years and (football coach Steve) Belles is aware,” according to notes that mention a “Rape Squad.”
School Resource Officer Kevin Quinn reportedly was not told about the issue — even though Quinn had provided training to educators and administrators at Hamilton about mandatory reporting laws that require suspected abuse to be reported.
These ugly revelations come as the nation is still reeling over the downpour of accusations of sexual harassment and abuse in politics, entertainment, the media and business.
What happened at Hamilton needs to be sorted out in the judicial system. Those who suffered deserve justice. Those who assaulted them or failed to protect them deserve to be held accountable.
But the issues raised go well beyond one high school.
Hazing involving physical assault must not be dismissed as a rite of passage, as something to endure.
We need to continue moving toward a society in which predatory behavior will no longer be tolerated.
Not at workplaces. Not at schools. Not anywhere.
We want to hear from you! Send us a letter to the editor to respond to this editorial. Also be sure to sign up for our free, emailed opinion newsletter.
After Hamilton arrests, many Phoenix-area anti-hazing rules unchanged
County attorney seeks more victims in Hamilton sexual-assault case
Valdez: To stop sexual harassment, change our vulgar culture
Editorial: Don Shooter and sexual harassment are everyone's problem
Want more opinions? Click here to subscribe to azcentral.com.
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2zNdOVl...Read more