What really happened in Loudoun County? How a claim of sexual assault fuelled a culture war

School bathroom sexual assault case seized on by right despite no evidence that attacker’s gender was a factor

Tuesday 26 October 2021 23:27
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A claim of sexual assault in a Virginia high school girls school bathroom has ignited a culture war in the state, opening a new debate over gender neutral facilities and spilling into the state’s governor’s race on the eve of Election Day.

The incident in question occurred in May when a then-14-year-old male student was accused of assaulting a female classmate in a girls’ bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn. The student was transferred to Broad Run High School where he is alleged to have assaulted another female student.

Outraged students in Loudoun County, Virginia, staged a walkout on Tuesday to protest sexual assaults in the public schools system.

A group chanted “Loudoun County protects rapists” outside of Broad Run High School in Ashburn over concerns about the way the two reported sexual assaults had been handled by the school district.

On Monday, a Virginia juvenile court judge ruled there was sufficient evidence that the student, now 15, had committed the first assault at Stone Bridge High.

The case received national attention after the father of the teen victim in the first sexual assault was arrested while trying to enter a school board meeting in June, and later told media that the youth in the case identified as “gender fluid”.

“I did not intend to speak and did not sign up to speak at the meeting, but I was very concerned about what the School Board was considering, especially as it pertains to the safety of not only my daughter, but also the children of other parents as well,” the teen victim’s father Scott Smith told ABC7.

“When the School Board abruptly ended the meeting, I was confronted and taunted by activists supporting the School Board’s bathroom policy. Despite being subjected to this unprovoked confrontation, I was unreasonably restrained by law enforcement, completely violating my constitutional rights. While some in the media have tried to impugn my character, I am not a domestic terrorist. I am a concerned father who loves his family and will protect them at every turn,” he added.

At the school board meeting, according to The Daily Wire, the school superintendent pushed back on the trope of the “predator transgender student or person”.

“It has been so hard to keep my mouth shut and wait this out. It has been the most powerless thing I’ve ever been through,” Mr Smith said in an interview with The Daily Wire on Monday.

“I don’t care if he’s homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transsexual. He’s a sexual predator.”

Mr Smith was ultimately sentenced to ten days in jail, but did not ultimately serve any time so long as he doesn’t have another brush with the law.

The case prompted a storm of controversy about a Loudoun County schools policy to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

However, that policy was only adopted after the assault on 28 May. And it’s not clear gender nonconformity played a role in the case, despite some of the reported details.

That hasn’t stopped misinformation around the case from running wild online amid years-long debates over gender-inclusive school bathrooms and sports.

“Surprised people aren’t talking about the verdict in this Loudoun County case, and how the testimony undercuts the right wing’s narrative about what went down,” Salon writer Amanda Marcotte wrote after the verdict came out.

“Turns out it was a dating violence story, not a trans bathroom story, as portrayed.”

It has also become a major issue in next week’s Virginia governor’s race after Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin alleged the school district had engaged in a “cover-up” over the case.

Last week, former President Barack Obama gave a stump speech for Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe where he said: “We don’t have time to be wasted on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage, the right-wing media’s pedals to juice their ratings.”

The comments were seized on by some rightwing commentators, who have sought to amplify the case as proof that allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with endangers women and girls.

At the court hearing on Monday before Chief Judge Pamela L Brooks, prosecutors said the defendant and victim were classmates who had twice engaged in consensual sexual encounters prior to the assault taking place.

The victim gave evidence that on the third occasion, they had arranged to meet in the girls’ bathroom.

They spoke inside a locked handicapped stall where she told the boy she was not interested in having sex.

Testifying in court, she said the boy threw her to the ground and assaulted her.

The attack stopped when someone entered the bathroom. A second sexual assault occurred a short time afterwards.

The defendant’s lawyer William Mann told the court the encounter was consensual, and the two classmates had regularly discussed sex.

According to the Washington Post, the teen initially told detectives he was wearing “a knee-length skirt” at the time of the assault.

However, NBC Washington reported there was no mention in court “of the boy’s gender identity, what he was wearing or any insinuation that his gender had to do with the attack”.

Judge Brooks ultimately determined there was sufficient evidence that both assaults took place.

She said she would wait to sentence the teenager after the second case is heard in November.

WTOP reported the girl’s family are planning to file a civil lawsuit against the Loudoun County school system for failing to protect her. 

Earlier this month, Loudoun County School Board Superintendent Scott Ziegler apologised to alleged victims and their families over the way the case had been handled, and outlined a number of policy change proposals.

A conservative group of parents has called on Mr Ziegler to resign.

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