Should Police & Schools Keep Parents in Dark on Sex Assault?

Posted by on March 23, 2011

How would you feel if a stranger abducted and sexually assaulted a female during lunchtime and in the same block as your daughter’s school? 

And how would you feel if your school administrators and police officials never told you, other parents, and students about the incident for 12 days?

This happened near David Douglas High School in Portland, Oregon. But police asked school officials not to alert the public out of concern it would impede their investigation according to a February story from The Oregonian

School officials eventually issued a letter advising parents to go over “common safety precautions” with their children such as walking in groups and running or yelling if approached.

As a former school investigator of such incidents, I understand the goal of arresting and prosecuting such a suspect.  But as a parent, I also understand how angry I would be if I knowingly let my child walk in this area with no knowledge of the incident and the specific accompanying heightened risks. 

As a national consultant on school security issues, my advice to school (and police) officials would have been to err on the side of communicating the true circumstances to students, parents, and the school-community in a timely manner. First, I would want students, parents, and my school neighbors on heightened alert. Maybe they saw something, or would see something, to identify the suspect.

I would have a hard time living with myself as a principal if I withheld information on a known threat and one of my students was subsequently abducted, sexually assaulted, or otherwise victimized.  Giving general information may or may not push people’s attention to the desired heightened level.  Discussion of a specific incident likely would create greater attentiveness.

I believe most parents and students would agree, even if the suspect in the initial attack was not immediately apprehended.  Chances are such an immediate apprehension could be highly unlikely anyway.

Ken Trump

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