By Seth Klamann
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — There have been roughly 15 reports of sexual battery in Natrona County’s high and middle schools over the past two weeks as part of a “game” where male students challenge each other to inappropriately touch their female peers, officials told the Star-Tribune on Monday.
“Fairly confident that I can say that all the (Casper middle and high) schools have been affected by it, to one degree or another,” Casper Police Sgt. Scott Jones said.
Jones said the “game” involves males singling out female students and daring each other to touch the girls in their “intimate” areas. He said the behavior happened in schools and involved victims as young as sixth-graders up through seniors in high school. He said some students had come forward and said they had been victimized months ago, before the recent uptick in reports. He said some of the alleged perpetrators had victimized multiple female students and that the numbers were higher than what authorities knew.
“The number I’m giving you is just what’s been reported to us,” Jones said. “We know there’s incidents that occurred that have not gone reported.”
He said it was unclear where the pattern of sexual battery began. Some victims don’t want to prosecute, he said, but “many” do. He said that as far as authorities knew, the victims were entirely female and the perpetrators entirely male. But Jones said he wasn’t ruling anything out.
The Natrona County School District notified parents and the community of the “game” by email Friday night, after Jones contacted the district Thursday to alert officials that police had seen “an increase in sexual battery reports” over the preceding two weeks. In the email, the district wrote that the police department “has and will continue to aggressively prosecute these cases.”
During Jones’ investigation into the incident, officials “identified that some students are ... committing criminal activity, as a ‘game’ or ‘challenge’ in which they are ‘dared’ by another student(s) to commit sexual battery,” the district said in its email.
Jones said police had issued several court summons for male students accused of inappropriately touching their female peers.
Sexual battery is a misdemeanor under Wyoming law, defined as when a person “unlawfully subjects another person to any sexual contact.” It’s punishable by imprisonment for up to a year and a fine of up to $1,000.
Jones said the episode made clear that authorities were “not doing a good enough job” of letting victims know that they could report incidents to police or other adults.
“They should reach out to those officers, or school personnel, let them know this happened, so we can put a stop to it,” he said. “We’re not going to tell anyone who they are, I am not going to publish their names or specifics of the incident.”
He added that parents of boys should sit down with their kids.
“The other side of it too is if you’re a parent of a middle or high school-aged boy, it would probably be a good idea to sit down with them and say ... it’s not funny, it’s not a game, it’s not a bet, it’s serious,” he said. “The last thing, if I was a parent of a high school-age boy, the last thing I would want to do at this junction or education or development, is go to court for a sex crime, sexual battery. That is something you do not want hanging over you as you proceed and progress through life.”
District spokeswoman Tanya Southerland said individual schools were aware of the incidents and had been investigating, but that Jones — who oversees the school resource officers — was able to compile reports taken by the SROs and notify administrators that it was a districtwide issue.
Southerland said some schools had already disciplined students.
“We are asking parents and guardians to speak to your children about the seriousness of this information. This behavior is not a ‘game.’ It is a crime,” the district wrote. “Students are encouraged to contact a school official, trusted adult, and/or law enforcement if they have been a victim of sexual assault or battery.”
Southerland said every staff member in the district, from principals to custodians, was sent the same message that parents received to alert them to the issue. She said the Casper Police Department had made its “victim-witness team” available to victims to help them better understand any upcoming court proceedings.