Live 5 Investigates: Sexual assaults inside lowcountry schools

Live 5 Investigates: Sexual assaults inside lowcountry schools

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Live 5 Investigation uncovered more than a hundred sexual assaults and rapes have happened inside Lowcountry schools over the last three years.

Over the last three years, Lowcountry schools reported a combined 156 sexual assaults and 16 rapes to the State Department of Education.

“No doubt, I mean, anytime there's a violation of anybody, when it comes to this specifically, one is too many,” Charleston County School District Communications Director Andy Pruitt said. “So, any school, any school district in this state, any school or school district in this country, one is too many.”

Of those sexual incidents, data from area law enforcement agencies show only about 25 percent of those incidents were reported to law enforcement.

“We want to make sure everybody stays safe,” CCSD’s Director of Security Michael Reidenbach said. “So, first thing we do is make sure that all the students are separated, that they’re safe, and the situation is contained. We then want to get to get law enforcement involved as quickly as possible.”

In some instances, data would show that law enforcement doesn’t have reports for every state-reported case of sexual assault.

“If we call an SRO they’re just walking down the hall to us,” Reidenbach said. “Unless that incident rises to the level of an incident reporter requiring documentation and formal incident record, it may not be recorded in the numbers that are coming to you.”

Reidenbach explained that the way sexual assaults are coded could also be a factor.

“So, it's really hard to compare data without looking at the specific situations, and also the specific circumstances,” Reidenbach said. “So, we all code situations differently.”

Ryan Brown with the State Department of Education said when a sexual assault is reported to the state, it could mean a variety of sexual school offenses.

“There’s outside of rape, obviously the most heinous of these sexual offenses, there’s what I would term a catch-all offense reporting category and that will that will catch any related encounters on school grounds,” Brown said. “Whether that involves two teachers or two students or two members of the public that have no affiliations with the school itself, if it happens on the school grounds, it’s being captured in that reporting category.”

“When you're comparing our data to there's not all of our incidents, in particular that non-forced code, are criminal in nature, so many of those incidents are consensual sexual acts between two students,” Reidenbach said. “And so, while we would typically notify law enforcement in those cases just for awareness purposes, that is not a statutory sex offense.”

Charleston County Schools has reported more sexual assaults and rapes to the state than any other district, 108 sexual assaults and 12 rapes over the last three years.

“When it comes to prevention, you know, it's one of those things where you have to be mindful of where we live,” Pruitt said. “And across our county, there are issues outside the school walls, and our schools are reflection of our society. And so, when we see these problems happening in our schools we also understand they’re happening outside the schools, and it's just coming inside. No doubt, we're going to act, and we're going to take measures to make sure we can do what we can.”

Pruitt said that’s where community engagement comes into play.

“To identify it's not just a Charleston County School District problem, it is a problem in our communities,” Pruitt said.

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