HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's a parent's worst nightmare.
A mother of a special needs student at Waianae High School said her daughter was sexually assaulted by a fellow student last year and that the alleged assaults continued even after she complained to school officials.
"This is going to be with her forever. You can't just take it back," said the mother, who asked that her identity not be disclosed.
"It's just really shocking that they tell you they're going to do something and they don't."
Attorney Michael Green sued the Department of Education and Waianae High School's principal on behalf of the 16-year-old girl, who is autistic and has the learning abilities of a second grader.
"They fooled the mother into believing that her daughter would be in a safe environment after there were concerns about sexual inappropriateness before. Then we have four straight days of it," Green said.
Among the key charges is that the school allowed male and female special education students to use the same bathroom. That's where the boy allegedly assaulted the 16-year-old, the suit said.
"You set up a situation where there's co-ed bathrooms after there are concerns about inappropriate touching. That's the definition of insanity," Green said.
A DOE spokeswoman denied that the school operated co-ed bathrooms. The department declined further comment, citing the pending litigation.
Advocates say allegations of sexual assaults against the mentally disabled are often brushed aside because victims have a hard time speaking up for themselves and because officials often ignore the charges.
"The frightening thing in a case like this is that they are some of the most highly underreported cases," said Alex Santiago, a former state lawmaker and head of Health & Human Services Advocates.
"There are so many incidents occurring that we never hear of."
Allegations that the school ignored the parents initial complaints is also troubling, others say.
"I think when you're talking about a vulnerable populations like special education, the school has an extra obligation," said Louis Erteschik, executive director of the Hawaii Disability Rights Center.
Green and other say the case has some parallels to the sex assault scandal at the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind.
A class-action lawsuit claimed for more than ten years, students at the Waikiki school was terrorized by upperclassmen who called themselves "the ringleaders."
These older students routinely attacked younger and smaller students, assaulting, robbing even raping and gang raping them on a regular basis, while school officials looked the other way. The suit was recently settled with the state agreeing to pay $5 million.
Green, who also represented several Deaf and Blind School victims, said he and the Waianae girl's parents are pursuing the lawsuit not only to get justice for his client but they also hope to protect other students from similar abuses.
"Someone is going to pay for this and I don't mean pay money necessarily," said Green.
"But they have to be held accountable to protect our children."
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