Dr. Terry Trevino-Richard said one of the saddest moments during the Operation Intercept research was when he heard two Latino girls at two different elementary schools use virtually the same words when speaking about repeated incidents of sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of classmates: "I just want them to stop."
Of the 19 fourth- and fifth-grade Latino girls researchers spoke to for the Operation Intercept study, Trevino-Richard said, 16 reported they had been sexually harassed by their African-American classmates, some of them repeatedly, in ways Trevino-Richard called "shocking," given the youth of the victims and perpetrators. In one instance, a Latino parent spoke of her young daughter being sexually accosted in a girl's bathroom: "A black girl sneaked under the door [of the stall] and showed my daughter her private parts and told my child that now it was her turn to show her her private parts," the parent said. "My daughter ran out of the bathroom and went to her teacher and nothing was done. I also talked to the teacher, but they do not want to hear/know about this."
Just as pervasive as the sexual harassment were reports of violence and intimidation, even by young children, with Latino parents and students saying administrators, teachers and security guards often did nothing to intervene, even when informed of the incidents. From the same school as the bathroom incident: "Her son has been pushed during recess by black students and many times the security people are black and they laugh."
"What was disturbing was that in all of the schools we went to," Trevino-Richard said, "a common theme was predatory acts." Trevino-Richard said that some of the black students surveyed for the study said that "sexual harassment was how they played around with each other" in a joking way, an attitude that's likely at the root of many of the sexual harassment issues.
Though Trevino-Richard is careful to point out that there are good teachers at all the schools surveyed for Operation Intercept — teachers who care about both the black and Latino students in their care — some of the teachers who spoke with researchers seemed to dismiss lewd behavior in their school as a result of a more sexually permissive culture, or called bullying "horseplay."
"In many cases, they're just chalking it up to: 'Kids will be kids. It's normal,' " Trevino-Richard said. "It's not. It's not normal."
KEY FINDINGS BY SCHOOL:
Study conducted 2008
Latino students at Hall reported constant problems with bullying, sexual harassment, violence and gangs. Drugs, the study said, were "omnipresent at the school," with students telling researchers that alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and cocaine were readily available there. Students reported numerous fights between Latinos and blacks, with Trevino-Richard saying the Latinos were beginning to form gangs to protect themselves. Latino parents noted an incident in December 2008 at the school in which a fight between a black student and a Latino student (which a former teacher told the Arkansas Times was the result of a drug deal gone bad) escalated into a near-riot. In that case, all the Latino students in the school were sent home for the day while black students were allowed to remain, which Latino parents "perceived as discriminatory action by the school."
Latino girls from Hall who spoke to the researchers said they often felt "sexually threatened" at school, with the summary of Hall High's portion of Operation Intercept stating: "Bullying and sexual harassment are serious problems at Hall. Girls noted that they were inappropriately touched by African-American male students. There was no indication from these students that any action was taken by responsible parties to stop this harassment." One girl said she'd been molested in the hallway. " 'I reported this to the teacher, and the teacher asked for names,' " the girl told researchers, "but I didn't know who they were.' Student doesn't know if the teacher did anything." The study said the Hall High teachers the researchers spoke with "have seen and witnessed all types of sexual harassment and bullying." During a focus group with black parents at Hall, Trevino-Richard said a black parent told researchers there was black-on-Latino discrimination at the school, but added: "It's just a survival of the fittest thing."