Content Warning: Sexual abuse, Self-harm, Physical Abuse
In 2019, under the pseudonym of Jill Roe, Nikki Wombwell filed a 35-page lawsuit describing her experiences in an abusive relationship and the events leading up to her September 2014 rape.
Wombwell and her assailant noted as M.G. in Roe v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education were 15-year-old sophomores at Myers Park High School (MPHS). Soon after ending the relationship, Wombwell received sexually explicit images, slander and threats of suicide from M.G.. She notified Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and MPHS staff about M.G.'s behavior. However, she felt MPHS dismissed her concerns. M.G. messaged her he had brought a gun to school, and if she did not meet up with him in the woods, he would shoot himself. When she did, he raped her.
Wombwell had told multiple adults, such as School Resource Officer (SSRO) Bradley Leak and Principal Mark Bosco, yet nothing was done. According to Wombwell's lawsuit, Leak had reviewed messages from her rapist and told her that he would talk with her assailant about the "consequences" of his behavior, though none followed. He also said he planned meetings with counselors and vice-principals to give her appropriate direction, though none were held. "I reported the incident to Leak, and he told me he was not surprised given the history at MPHS and how he had caught M.G. harassing girls in the woods before. I was told not to go to the police because they wouldn't view it as rape and that I had waited too long to report it," Wombwell said. As an SRO, Leak is not a member of the judicial system. It was not his call to dismiss Wombwell's rape, nor does he have the authority to give insight into whether her rape would be perceived as rape.
MPHS staff, administrators and even the student body knew of the rapist's violent behavior toward girls—especially underclassman girls. According to Roe v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, Bosco allegedly offered to meet with M.G. to discuss the "proper way to treat a lady." He added that even if her rapist was found innocent, MPHS would still punish her for having sex on campus and that it would not be a good look for her. This logic implies what had happened to her was not really rape, and it is best to drop it (which she did). This is a direct abuse of power from a rape-apologetic principal. He seems to only care for the reputation of his school rather than the safety of female students. The hard truth is that CMS failed Wombwell and countless other students (who wish to remain anonymous) on Title IX laws.
The MPHS administrators failed to take any action and also gaslit her. Instead, they implied that Wombwell put herself in a position to be raped. According to her suit, Bosco held an assembly to discuss the known problems about the woods and made an unnecessary remark that "some people go into the woods and don't come back happy." He directed this haphazardly thrown-around statement to invalidate her experience and blame her. In addition, Bosco informed male students that they would be treated as "guilty until proven innocent," as that is "just the price [men] pay for being men." Mark Bosco, shame on you because I am sure you would not say that to your children.
Wombwell said she told her counselor Kimerbly Folk about her assailant's harassment, violence and about her rape. However, Folk failed to share with Wombwell her rights as an established procedure from her Title XI training. Moreover, as a mandated reporter in the eyes of the law, she neglected to report the assault to Wombwell's legal guardians and the proper authorities.
The site coordinator at MPHS was also alerted of Wombwell's assault. As another mandated reporter, she should have immediately notified Wombwell's parents and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department but did not do so. Additionally, she promised Wombwell's parents that action would be taken, but this was just a ruse as no complaint was taken forward.
There is no question that MPHS violated Wombwell's Fourth Amendment rights. The MPHS staff did not provide her with the proper aid or protective care after the initial report of her assault. They made no attempts to remove or punish M.G. as Wombwell still saw her attacker in the halls.
Schools should be obligated to intervene if the behaviors are severe or happen so frequently that it takes away a student's right to an education. Unfortunately, Wombwell's assault was not an anomaly. According to an investigation made by the Charlotte Observer, the federal Office of Civil Rights (OCR) reported a disturbing glimpse of sexual assaults against students. Investigators reviewed 96 sexual harassment complaints from CMS students lodged between the years 2010 and 2013; eight of which rose to sexual assault status. In most of these cases, the Charlotte Observer noted that the OCR found little or no documentation of victim support services or assessing the schools' safety. Soon after these cases, CMS signed an agreement laying out steps to prevent sexual harassment and improve procedures for dealing with assault. These policies have yet to be revised since 2016; however, MPHS administrators and staff seem to have knowingly chosen not to follow these procedures.
In terms of Wombwell's case, CMS's system and its governing staff appear unfit to assist students in distress regarding sexual assault and any other situation, even though they received funding for staff Title IX training. Mecklenburg County allocated $2,492,890 toward student discipline and behavior support in the 2020-2021 budget proposal. To this day, MPHS hasn't hired a Title IX coordinator during this pattern of sexual violence towards the students.
Wombwell did win her suit seven years after advocating for herself. Since coming public with her name, CMS has not apologized in general or for their embarrassing, now deleted, June 10 Facebook post where they attempted to distance themselves from Wombwell's rape. They said they could not speak upon the details, that recollection may vary and that the school did everything they could to support Wombwell. However, this argument is flawed as there should be sufficient and thorough punishment for the perpetrator. MPHS and CMS could have done more than just separating Wombwell and her assaulter. Having a victim separated from their assaulter is not the best MPHS and CMS could have done. In fact, that is the bare minimum, nor does actively throwing around statements such as "principals and schools and staff receive annual training on Title IX reporting and investigating requirements" when Bosco admitted under sworn oath that he did not receive training. CMS lied about publicly available facts and further tainted names of those who have been assaulted.
I stand with Nikki Wombwell, and if CMS truly believes they keep their students safe, they must issue a public apology to all the girls that have come forward. They need to answer all questions, hire a Title IX coordinator, expand upon the poorly lacking sexual education classes and training and most of all, conduct a thorough investigation of past and current cases. Without a doubt, MPHS is not the only school that is defending rapists or harassers. If you or anyone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, help is available. For more resources and live chatting, please visit RAINN.org or call 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential support. Abuse should not be left unnoticed and neither should you. #HoldCMSandMyersParkAccountable