Bullying And Horseplay: When Does It Become Abuse?

A 17-year-old high school junior honors student and football player sued his school to reverse of his one-year expulsion from school in addition to other damages to be proven at a jury trial.

The young man was accused of shoving a car key into another player's rectum multiple times during "horseplay" at the school in February. The alleged incident occurred after a football weight training session. The plaintiff and two friends were "engaged in locker room 'horseplay' on and off for about 20 minutes." Some of it was recorded on the social media app Snapchat, according to the lawsuit.

Although there are no details on what exactly was going on, according to the plaintiff's lawyer, all three boys' actions were "typical 16-year-old boy behavior." The complainant turned 17 after the incident.

His lawyer added that the horseplay between the boys was "mutual and consensual, and there was no sexual harassment or bullying." She said the video shared on social media "escalated it" into something it was not. The attorney has not seen the video. After the horseplay, the three boys went out and ate together, then attended football meeting.

A few days later, the plaintiff was called to a school office. The boy asked to speak to his mother, but was not able to reach her. School officials questioned him for several hours and required him to provide a written statement of what occurred in the locker room.

Sometime after the incident, the principal wrote a report, saying that the plaintiff "had become physical with one of the other boys and used a car key to penetrate his rectum multiple times." In the report, the incident was classified as sexual harassment and charged the plaintiff as the main instigator/aggressor. The plaintiff denied the allegation but "influenced by [the superintendent, he] apologized for the situation." The plaintiff was expelled from school for one calendar year, prohibiting him from being on any school district property during that period.

He alleges the district denied him his constitutionally-protected right to due process following the accusations. Katy Moeller "Ridgevue football player accused of sexual harassment in 'horseplay' incident sues school district" idahostatesman.com (Apr. 27, 2018).

Commentary and Checklist

The lack of appropriate response by the school led to the filing of the lawsuit by the alleged perpetrator of a crime.

The allegations, if proven true, of the plaintiff’s conduct against a team member are not only sexual harassment, but are also child sexual abuse and the crime of assault. Law enforcement should have been immediately called to investigate. The plaintiff would have received all available due process from the government’s investigation.

The school should have suspended the young man and then cooperated with any investigation.

Juvenile child sexual abuse is a risk for any school. Here are some facts about it:

  • Juvenile child sexual abuse, broadly defined, is when a child sexually abuses another child. In most cases, the juvenile sex offender is older.
  • Estimates show juveniles commit 23 percent of reported sexual assaults against children.
  • Juvenile sex offenses are believed to be underreported.
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