A teenage cheerleader who was sexually assaulted by a star player from her school's basketball team is to appeal after a court ruled she had no right to refuse to applaud her attacker during subsequent matches. The girl, known as HS, is suing Silsbee High School in Texas for expelling her from the cheerleading squad after she told coaches she was not prepared to shake her pom-poms in support of her attacker, Rakheem Bolton. Three judges at the Fifth US Court of Appeals in New Orleans said her constitutional rights had not been violated and ordered her to pay the school's legal costs.
The lawsuit stretches back two years, and began when HS, who was 16 at the time, was taken into a games room at a house party in the small town in south-east Texas and sexually attacked by Bolton and two other youths. Bolton later pleaded guilty to misdemeanour assault, for which he received two years of probation, community service, a fine and was required to take anger-management classes. Charges of rape were dropped, leaving him free to return to school and take up his place on the basketball side.
During his first game back, HS, who remained highly traumatised from the incident, folded her arms and sat down on the occasions when his name was being applauded. "I didn't want to have to say his name, and I didn't want to cheer for him," she said this week. "I didn't want to encourage anything he was doing."
Richard Bain, the school superintendent in the sports-obsessed small town, saw things differently. He told HS to leave the room and that she was required to cheer for her attacker. When the girl refused, she was expelled from the cheerleading squad. This being America, she swiftly sued, saying Silsbee school had violated her rights to free speech. However several courts, most recently the Fifth US Court of Appeals, have found that her treatment was in line with the letter of the law.
"In her capacity as cheerleader, [she] served as a mouthpiece through which the school could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams," said the court's most recent judgment. Not cheering for Bolton "constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, [she] was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily".
The girl is prepared to take her case all the way to the Supreme Court. "All I've wanted all along is for somebody to say they've done wrong," she said.