https://reveal-player.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/711_Reveal_PC.mp3

For years, the Pentagon mishandled sexual assault cases involving kids living on military bases, until an Associated Press investigation jolted lawmakers into action.

AP reporter Justin Pritchard tells the story of an Army officer in the Judge Advocate General Corps who was an important inside source. He was haunted by what he saw at Fort Hood in Texas and at bases overseas – allegations of assault and rape that were falling through the cracks because of a lack of a juvenile justice system. We also examine how reforms the military has promised are affecting victims of assault and their families. 

Then, reporter Holly McDede brings us to Berkeley High School in California, where students were fed up with what they saw as a culture of sexual harassment and assault among their peers. After years of allegedly mishandled allegations, they wanted action from adults in the administration – and they got it. 

Dig Deeper

Credits

Reported by: Justin Pritchard and Holly J. McDede

Produced by: Michael Montgomery and Martin Kessler

Lead producer: Michael Montgomery

Edited by: Jennifer Goren, Casey Miner and Brett Myers

Production manager: Amy Mostafa

Mixing, sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Brett Simpson and Ameeta Ganatra

Digital producer: Sarah Mirk

Episode illustration: Molly Mendoza

Special thanks: USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism Impact Fund, Maud Beelman, Brian Barrett, Reese Dunklin, Ron Nixon, Vanessa Rancaño and KQED

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Maria Feldman:Hi, I’m Maria Feldman, the Director of Operations at Reveal. I’m part of a big team of people who are behind the scenes that make the show possible each week. We have staff all across the country from Tampa to Portland to Oakland, California and I help set up systems that keep us all connected. And most importantly, I process payroll so I make sure we all get paid.
Maria Feldman:We’re a nonprofit organization and members like you keep us going. Text the word, reveal, to 474747 to show your support. You can text, stop, at any time. Standard data rates apply. Again, to support this work, just text the word, reveal, to 474747. Thank you. Suave is a new podcast series from Futuro Studio and PRX that tells the story of David Suave Gonzales, a man sentenced to die in prison when he was just 17. Now, Suave is one of thousands of juvenile lifers who after decades in prison are now getting a second change at freedom. It’s a story nearly 30 years in the making, chronicling Suave’s friendship with journalist, Maria Hinojosa and the ways the justice system fails young people.
Maria Feldman:Subscribe to Suave now wherever you listen to podcasts.
Maria Feldman:Reveal is brought to you by Progressive. Saving money on your car insurance is easy with Progressive. It’s an average savings of over $750 for customers who switch and save. In fact, customers can qualify for an average of six discounts on their auto policy with Progressive. Discounts just for starting a quote online or for having multiple vehicles on their policy. Get your quote online at Progressive.com and see how much you could be saving. National average auto insurance savings by new customers surveyed in 2019. Potential savings will vary. Discounts vary and are not available in all states and situations.
Al Letson:For the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Speaker 3:The Senate will come to order. The chaplain will lead the Senate.
Al Letson:I want to take you briefly to the United States Senate. It’s June 2018. Lawmakers are discussing sprawling legislation known as the National Defense Authorization Act. The bill covers the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget. Among big ticket items there are fighter jets, missile systems, attack drones, and nuclear warheads.
Speaker 3:The Majority Whip.
John Cornyn:Mr. President, we will be voting on the National-
Al Letson:But when Texas Republican, John Cornyn takes the floor, he pivots to a very different subject, military kids.
John Cornyn:Our children who live on military bases must be protected at all costs.
Al Letson:He’s pushing language in the bill to help military families whose children are sexually abused by other children.
John Cornyn:When they are sexually assaulted, their juvenile assailant should not escape justice because of the constraints of the status quo.
Al Letson:A few months earlier, the Associated Press had published an investigation that jolted Congress. The AP documented hundreds of cases of sexual assault among teens and younger children living on military bases. Cases that were basically buried. AP reporter, Justin Pritchard led that investigation together with his colleague, Reese Dunklin.
Justin Pritchar…:This was a systemic failure by military leaders to protect the children of their fellow service members and when it came to these kinds of cases, military bases were black holes for justice.
Al Letson:One of their sources was an insider, an Army officer who had seen the problem close up.
Justin Pritchar…:He contacted us almost out of desperation. He wanted to fix the problem from the inside, but it wasn’t happening and he felt stuck.
Al Letson:The source was a lawyer in the Judge Advocate Generals Corps, the JAG. Acting as a private citizen, he also had reached out to lawmakers. Senator Cornyn actually mentions him in his floor speech, though not by name.
John Cornyn:This issue is brought to my attention by an Army JAG officer who is concerned that juvenile sexual assault cases were falling through the cracks when the federal government chose not to prosecute. This was a particular problem though at Fort Hood in central Texas.
Justin Pritchar…:The Army JAG was haunted by what he saw at Fort Hood and at other bases. He wanted the public to know, but he needed to remain anonymous, speaking out of turn is frowned upon when you’re in the military. Still, he had a really powerful story to tell and I thought it was important that the public hear it. I also wanted to see whether reforms required by the legislation, that he helped set in motion, were helping the military families get justice.
Al Letson:Nearly three years after they first started talking, Justin’s source agreed to share his story. And before we go further, I want to say that we’re talking about child sexual abuse and this story may not be appropriate for some listeners. Here’s Justin.
Justin Pritchar…:Meeting up with our source was complicated because he was heading off to Afghanistan. It was his fifth deployment since 9/11. After he got back and just before the Coronavirus hit, I flew out to Hawaii where he’s stationed.
Justin Pritchar…:Hey, Rob.
Rob Levine:Good to meet you.
Justin Pritchar…:You too, man.
Rob Levine:Yeah.
Justin Pritchar…:We meet up at his apartment on the east side of the island of Oahu. His name is Rob Levine. He’s 44 and you’d have no idea he’s an Army major. Rob’s dressed in shorts, tee shirt, and sandals. He’s friendly and also a little nervous. His wife takes the kids out and we sit down on the living room couch.
Justin Pritchar…:There’s a lot at stake in talking to me so Rob wants to make it clear up front that he’s not doing this in any official capacity.
Rob Levine:I’m not speaking on behalf of the Army, Department of Defense, or any individual or group. Just offering my own opinions. There’s always the concern that when we speak up about something, there’s a problem, you’re going to be seen as disloyal and there’s going to be some repercussions that way.
Justin Pritchar…:You’re not comfortable being called a whistleblower. Do you have a name for what you’re doing or how do you think about it?
Rob Levine:I think just an advocate, grounded in just a sense of what’s right and what our values in the military are. When I would talk to commanders or other lawyers that were peers, they couldn’t usually believe it at first. I don’t believe you. How can that be true, that we know of cases of kids raping other kids, kids sodomizing other kids, multiple victims and we don’t do anything. That just isn’t right.
Justin Pritchar…:The military has always been Rob’s home. He was born at a US air base in Turkey and grew up on installations in Europe and state side. His dad was in the Navy, his mom an Air Force nurse. He says that from the start, they taught him, if you encounter a problem, even a small one, don’t complain about it, fix it.
Rob Levine:I used to joke to myself, my parents are the kind of folks who would stop the car and pick up some trash that was on the road. That’s just a small metaphor for the bigger issues I know that the faced and so that was always something that was [inaudible] in me of, don’t run away from something, ever.
Justin Pritchar…:There are other things Rob experienced in childhood that motivated him to speak out, as we’ll see later. After high school, he earned a spot at the Air Force Academy. First tours to Afghanistan and then Iraq followed. Later, law school. Eventually he joined the Army and became a JAG officer. Then in 2012, something happened that shook Rob’s view of the military. He was assigned to the JAG’s unit at Fort Hood and he happened to be the officer who picked up an anguished phone call. It was from an Army mom who said she’d witnessed her 10-year old son being sexually assaulted on base by a 13-year old boy.
Justin Pritchar…:She said the boy even admitted to investigators that he’d assaulted her son multiple times.
Rob Levine:It sounded like a prosecutable case. You had, obviously, the victim. You have another separate eyewitness. You have a confession and it had been going on for some number of years.
Justin Pritchar…:By prosecuting cases, Rob isn’t talking about locking kids away. He’s focused on rehabilitation, like treatment with a specialist, the kind of help that a court can order. Research shows early intervention makes a dramatic difference and sometimes that does include punishment. But the mother told Rob months had passed without any word on the case.
Rob Levine:She was calling to ask that question. “I haven’t heard anything else. What happened to the investigation? Why is not being prosecuted?”
Justin Pritchar…:Rob discovered that investigators had closed the case without informing the victim’s family. There was nothing he could do about it so he started going back through the files at Fort Hood and he found a pattern.
Rob Levine:We had numerous juvenile on juvenile sexual assaults taking place, serious incidents, and would be investigated and then just sort of disappear.
Justin Pritchar…:Now the legal context here is critical. The Uniform Code of Military Justice applies to service members, not the tens of thousands of families living on bases. When the suspect is a civilian, typically the federal government is supposed to take over but federal prosecutors, the FBI, they are not set up for juvenile cases so the Feds would review a case then file it away. That’s what Rob says he heard from a FBI agent.
Rob Levine:He said, “They get referred to me from the Army and I open a case on them and then a year or two later, I just close the case. That’s it.”
Justin Pritchar…:Rob began to see it for himself. Time and again, child sexual assault cases passed from the Army to the Feds would just fade away. Some military investigators were sympathetic, but didn’t want to speak up. Rob says he recalls pleading with the top JAG officer at Fort Hood to transfer some cases to local authorities. After all, they do have a juvenile justice system in place.
Rob Levine:And he said simply, “Well, this just sounds like bad parenting to me.” That kind of showed me early on of the mindset that some people have with this. We’re going to blame somebody else instead of the person who did it and then we’re just going to push this on because there’s other things to do.
Justin Pritchar…:In 2016, Rob had a breakthrough, or so he thought at the time. He was on an academic fellowship for military lawyers. In his research he learned that decades ago, the Army had been alerted to problems created by the lack of a juvenile justice system. In the early 1970s, Congress had even attempted a fix. Lawmakers authorized the Pentagon to work with state and local authorities to take over cases involving minors on military bases, but nothing really changed.
Rob Levine:We, as the Army, had the power and the authority to do. For whatever reason, lack of interest or fear or what have you, or just didn’t want to give something over to the state, it wasn’t being done.
Justin Pritchar…:Rob included these findings in a paper he was hoping to publish in the Army’s military law journal. But he says his advisor, another JAG officer, had a warning.
Rob Levine:He said the Army is never going to publish this paper. He said if you try to get it published on the outside, it will negatively impact your career.
Justin Pritchar…:Because it could draw unwanted attention to the Army.
Rob Levine:That’s why I took all of this as a threat, as something we don’t want to get this word out specifically on this issue because it’s going to make us look bad.
Justin Pritchar…:Rob had no way of calculating the scale of the problem since the Army wasn’t tracking cases but he knew there were a lot out there and that they were devastating.
Rob Levine:That was baffling. It was shocking to me and I knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right to our military family members that were reporting these things and wanted some semblance of justice.
Justin Pritchar…:The Army declined comment for this story. I wanted to get a better sense of the impact all this was having on military families and I wanted to see if the reforms that Congress passed in response to the AP’s investigation were making a difference. So the day after I sat with Rob, I met up with Beth Lynch. She was visiting Hawaii with her kids from Japan where her husband was stationed with the Marines. Now, usually we don’t identify the parents of kids in sexual assault cases, but Beth felt it was important to use her full name.
Beth Lynch:We moved to Okinawa, we were looking very forward to living in Japan and was amazing, we were very thankful to be there.
Justin Pritchar…:They had been on the island about a year and a half. That’s when she learned that the daughter of a friend said she’d been molested by a boy. He was 11 and the son of a high ranking officer, a colonel. Beth’s kids also had spent a lot of time with the boy. She worried about her two daughters, one was seven years old, the other was six with developmental delays.
Justin Pritchar…:And a warning that this section contains some disturbing details about child sexual abuse.
Beth Lynch:I spoke to my children that night and I said I needed to speak with you about was the colonel’s son doing anything inappropriate and all of their faces just had blank stares. I knew right then something had happened.
Justin Pritchar…:Beth says her children described how the boy would get them to play games when adults were out of view. One was called the mountain game. Whoever didn’t make it first to the top of a hill had to show their genitals. Beth asked her older daughter if she did that and she said yes.
Beth Lynch:I said, “Why did you show your vagina?” She goes, because it was the game and it was the rules of the game, mom. And he told me that we could never tell you what was happening because if we did that we were going to get in big trouble with you. And she goes, “Am I in trouble with you now?” I said, no, you’re not in trouble with me.
Justin Pritchar…:Beth’s daughter told her games like these had been going on for a year.
Beth Lynch:My heart just sunk and I had asked my developmentally delayed daughter, I said, “Have you ever been touched inappropriately?” And she didn’t say anything to me. I pretty much as a mom knew in my heart that something had happened.
Justin Pritchar…:Her younger daughter eventually confided that sometimes the games involved touching. Beth’s family alerted the Marine Corps and military officials opened an investigation.
Beth Lynch:We were told, my friend and I, in the beginning of the case by the magistrate this type of behavior is not tolerated in Okinawa or anywhere overseas for the Marine Corps, end of story. And so I tried to have faith in the system, but then something was going awry.
Justin Pritchar…:Keep in mind, all of this was unfolding after Congress directed the military to change how it handled these cases. Those reforms included more accountability for offenders and opening support services to victims and their families. But Beth says for months, she got no help from the family advocacy program, the military’s equivalent of social services. Other times, Beth felt shut out when she tried to get details on the case.
Beth Lynch:I would walk in and have military members speak to me like I was trash on this, but they could not be bothered with me, that it was just so irrelevant and so ridiculous.
Justin Pritchar…:Beth eventually reached out to Adrian Perry, her husband was also a Marine based on Okinawa. Adrian had helped start a nonprofit support group called, Survivors United, after her own family’s experience with military sexual assault. She says Beth seemed almost broken.
Adrian Perry:She was at the point of, I just don’t feel like I have a chance in fighting for justice for my child and ensuring that this is handled appropriately.
Justin Pritchar…:Adrian has worked with dozens of military families. She’s a family services specialist and has testified before Congress. She says Beth’s case was alarming because the boy’s behavior appeared premeditated and persistent and he seemed to target vulnerable children. In spite of all this, Beth wasn’t getting the help she needed from the military. Adrian says this is a problem others have encountered, a lack of support services for children and their families.
Adrian Perry:It’s almost like every time one of these cases pops up, they are scrambling trying to figure out how to handle it depending on where it is in the world that it happens. Because the resources are limited and the reason why the resources are limited is because there is no system set up in place to handle these cases.
Justin Pritchar…:Often the only punishment is banning the offender from coming on base. To get word on the outcome of her case, Beth was told she had to file a formal public records act request. After an agonizing wait, she received a heavily redacted single page document. The magistrate had found the evidence against the colonel’s son credible and banned him from any Marine Corps base in Japan.
Beth Lynch:I have a sigh of relief. I was like, they did the right thing.
Justin Pritchar…:She continued reading in the words shocked her. The magistrate’s ruling had been set aside by a Marine Corps commander without any explanation. The boy could remain on base provided he was under adult supervision.
Beth Lynch:I had to read it over and over. I called my friend and I’m like, “I’m not understanding what’s going on here.”
Justin Pritchar…:Beth’s husband is an enlisted Marine. The boy’s father is a colonel. And she thinks that power dynamic was key to understanding why the top brass intervened.
Beth Lynch:There is zero other reason. This is all boiled down to rank.
Justin Pritchar…:Beth isn’t the first military parent who told me that a higher ranking officer got better treatment. It’s something we heard about on bases in the US and abroad and across other services too.
Adrian Perry:Rank matters. Rank matters in how these cases are handled.
Justin Pritchar…:Adrian Perry agrees that rank could have influenced the outcome in Beth’s case.
Adrian Perry:We know that this child offender, his father is a colonel and when you’ve been in the military that long, of course you have connections. You have friends. I can’t sit here and assume that that’s what occurred because it’s one of those, how do you prove that, but I do have concerns. It’s, I don’t know, very, very strange to me. Very strange.
Justin Pritchar…:Adrian says in the civilian world a judge could order a psychological assessment followed by treatment with a specialist and regular check-ins with the court to make sure the behaviors don’t persist. This kind of system, however imperfect, doesn’t exist in the military.
Justin Pritchar…:I reached out to the family of the accused boy, they declined to talk. The Marine Corps also wouldn’t give an interview. In a written statement, a spokesperson said, “The matter was adjudicated in full compliance with applicable policy and standard practice.” The spokesperson also said that rank wasn’t a factor, which is what commanders on Okinawa told Beth. Her family’s experience is not an isolated one according to two federal reports released last year. One came from the Pentagon’s Inspector General. It found that military leaders downplayed incidents and failed to cooperate with civilian law enforcement. And until recently, they also failed to provide support services to victims.
Justin Pritchar…:I can imagine how an experience like this would have the potential to really tear a family apart. How has your family weathered it?
Beth Lynch:When I see the family out in public or my children see their children, it’s stirs up all of this emotion and just is a constant reminder of what happened, but I always try to keep everything positive and up, but I think my husband has had a very, I think, a very difficult time, I don’t know how to put it, he kind of shut down so it’s hard to talk about.
Rob Levine:What she’s expressing there, I’ve seen with every single one of those families. One person is doing the advocating and the other is sort of dying on the inside.
Justin Pritchar…:Rob Levine hasn’t met Beth Lynch but she allowed me to share details about her case and the impact its had on her family. Rob says it’s all too familiar.
Rob Levine:She talked about the father becoming distant and you know that it’s eating him up inside. And I always wonder too, how is that impacting our readiness. Now the father has to go off or the status of the mother has to go off and go to Afghanistan, go wherever, fight in a war. But in the back of their head they are thinking about their family and what happened to them.
Justin Pritchar…:Rob feels a real connection to these families. As a fellow soldier, as a father and for something even more deeply personal. It goes back to when he was an eight year old kid and his family was living off base in San Antonio.
Rob Levine:I had a male babysitter and I was sexually assaulted several times. When that happens at that age, you know it’s not something you want, things you’re being made to do, but you really don’t have the language in your vocabulary to speak out on it.
Justin Pritchar…:And when did you first start talking about it?
Rob Levine:Didn’t actually put words to it until probably 21. There were so many times that I wanted to come forward with it. I wanted to tell my parents at different times. I just couldn’t, for whatever reason, you just feel frozen. You just can’t talk about it.
Justin Pritchar…:He never reported the abuse to the authorities or confronted the babysitter. There was no accountability.
Rob Levine:There was a point where, I’m going to come forward, I’m going to find this person and what they did and I’m going to do something. I think a lot of victims, they go out and do physical harm or later on I’m going to find a way through the law to hold them accountable. And you start researching statute of limitations and realize, it’s too late. Then you beat yourself up. Why didn’t you come forward? Were you scared? What was it? Part of the advocacy through this, I think, has helped me [inaudible] just forgive myself to say, I didn’t get justice for myself, I didn’t speak up at the time, but I’ve tried to fight since then for something within my control, not give up on it and try to make that aspect of the military better for all these other families.
Justin Pritchar…:Rob says he was always taught to make your foxhole better for the next soldier and that’s what he’s doing here. He eventually published his research paper in a university law journal with the Army’s permission. Still, speaking out publicly for the first time, even as a private citizen carries risks. As for Beth Lynch, last summer the Marines moved her family back to the US. She says their return has been bittersweet. They miss the people and natural beauty of Okinawa. Then again, distancing themselves from a military community were they felt so much pain is a step towards healing.
Al Letson:Justin Pritchard is an investigative editor and reporter at the Associated Press. Our story was produced by Michael Montgomery and edited by Jennifer Goren. Congress is keeping up pressure on the Department of Defense. Lawmakers have approved new requirements to improve how the Pentagon tracks and responds to serious incidents involving children living on military bases.
Al Letson:When we come back, young people use the power of social media and protest to bring about change in the way their school system handles allegations of sexual assault.
Ashley:It was kind of amazing, I guess, to see so many people supporting it and just being there to listen and to learn.
Al Letson:That story next on Reveal.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.
Al Letson:It’s February 2020 and in Berkeley, California the school board meeting is packed. This is a few weeks before the pandemic would shut down the schools and students are here to talk about another major problem.
Ashley:Hello, everyone.
Al Letson:A junior at Berkeley High who we’ll call Ashley seems nervous as she walks up to the mic. She’s wearing red in solidarity with her classmates. Ashley takes a deep breath as she addresses the room.
Ashley:I was wounded and I had no one to protect my rights as a survivor on our school campus.
Al Letson:We’re protecting Ashley’s identity and those of other students in this story because they are describing their experiences with sexual assault. At the board meeting, Ashley and her classmates demand that the district do more to protect them.
Ashley:For some, especially women of color, they’ve just realized their situation because the harassment and abuse started so young they normalized it to protect themselves. You need to protect us. Thank you.
Speaker 10:Thank you so much.
Al Letson:Another junior, Eliza, tells the board that there’s a culture on campus that allows athletes to get away with abuse. She says she never reported her own assault because she didn’t know how to.
Eliza:Sexual assault, harassment, and rape are prominent issues in our world. Just because Berkeley can hide behind the idea that it’s a progressive bubble doesn’t mean that Berkeley’s schools can avoid teaching us how to deal with or prevent something we are all aware happens.
Al Letson:Berkeley’s a college town that prides itself on being ground zero for progressive ideas. It also happens to be right next to Emeryville, where we are based in the San Francisco Bay area. My son graduated from Berkeley High and some of my colleagues send their kids to that school, which is how we heard about this story. The idea that the high school wasn’t doing enough to protect kids from sexual assault made people reexamine their assumptions about what Berkeley stands for. It was also a moment when the students found a voice, which is incredibly difficult for minors in general, but especially if they face this type of trauma.
Al Letson:Reporter Holly J. McDede works for our partner on this story, KQED, and she has a story of how students use the power of protest and social media to finally be heard.
Jamie McDede:It was around first or second period when Aisha Freeman saw the list.
Aisha:I used the bathroom and I went into the stall and I was like, “Wow, okay.”
Jamie McDede:In black ink were the words, “Boys to watch out for.”, followed by several names and the words, “rapist and abuser and sus AF.”, shorthand for suspicious. Next to the list, someone had written, “support each other always”, with a heart. They also wrote, “add names if you want”. Reading the list, Aisha felt angry and disappointed, but she also felt glad.
Aisha:Finally everybody should know their names. They should be, everybody should know.
Jamie McDede:She thought about her friend who’d been harassed and assaulted. She’d lost count of how many there were.
Aisha:I was always seeing somebody who had done something or experienced something or a hallway where something had been done. It’s always on your mind and it’s always breaking your heart.
Jamie McDede:Aisha says many of the boys named on the bathroom stall were popular at the school and had reputations for inappropriate behavior around young women. Whoever had written their names wanted to warn people.
Aisha:This was in my face. I know. And I was happy that everybody was going to know. There was not going to be, I think I heard this or I think I heard this. No, these people are horrible people and they are dangerous and they are hurting people in our community.
Jamie McDede:Half an hour later she saw a photo of the bathroom stall on Instagram and by the end of the day, it felt like the entire school had seen it and everyone had something to say.
Aisha:And that goes both ways. That goes people who were defending these women, who were saying, I believe you. I am here for you. And then people on the other side who were like, anybody could have written this and this is a lie.
Jamie McDede:Tension had already been building on campus over how the school responded to reports of sexual abuse. Days before the list went up, a student had sued the school district alleging her sexual assault case had been mishandled.
Faith:I am tired of them sugarcoating everything and caring more about their reputation than the students. It just sucks and so just filing this lawsuit, I want there to be a change at that school.
Jamie McDede:We’re going to call her Faith. She was worried that being identified would put her safety at risk. According to the lawsuit, another student sexually assaulted Faith on campus in 2019. She says her assailant continued to sexually harass her. She’d already reported the assault and asked administrators for support. But she says it didn’t come quickly enough and she had to keep asking for help. Faith says going to school was awful. She was depressed and anxious.
Faith:Pretty much I had meltdowns for months. Usually I’m a pretty happy, goofy person and my teachers were just worried and they would always just look at me and they were like, “You just look so sad.” They would try and help me get back to how I used to be and it was just hard.
Jamie McDede:Eventually it became too much. By January of 2020, she and her decided that she should leave the school.
Faith:They were just like, we’re done. We need to go.
Jamie McDede:But before she left, she sued. She’s identified as Jane Doe. In the suit, attorneys for the district said the school did work with Faith to make sure she was safe and reported the incident to police. They also said they disciplined the alleged perpetrator and tried to limit the potential for contact between the two students and that district personnel were responsive to Faith’s complaints. While the case proceeded, word got out.
Faith:The first article that came out, everybody was reading it and they were trying to figure out who is Jane Doe. I felt like, I don’t know, like I was Hannah Montana or something, like they didn’t know who I was.
Jamie McDede:Some students already thought Berkeley High had a culture where harassment and assault were swept under the rug, but the lawsuit seemed to break something open. Students wanted to get the district’s attention and force it to act so they started writing those lists on bathroom stalls and then they decided to organize a walk-out.
Jamie McDede:Mia Redman was a junior at the time. She’d reported her own sexual assault about a week before the walk-out. Soon she was making posters and plans with the other organizers. She wasn’t sure how many students would join them until the day she walked out of class. She was stunned.
Mia Redman:Just the minute that we got up there to start it, I was just looking out at this crowd and it was the entire courtyard was filled with students and staff and admin.
Jamie McDede:She specifically remembers seeing adults in the administration there.
Mia Redman:It was kind of amazing, I guess, to see so many people supporting it and just being there to listen and to learn.
crowd:We want change. We want change. We want change. We want change. We want change.
Jamie McDede:That was the first day. Aisha says on the second day, she and hundreds of students walked out of class and stormed the district offices.
crowd:We want change. We want change.
Mia Redman:We knew somebody in the district who opened the door for us, the back door, and we all ran in. Once we were in there, they agreed to meet us in the board room and talk to us.
Jamie McDede:Soon, Superintendent Brent Stevens came out.
Mia Redman:Thank you. The superintendent is here. He is here to listen to us. We have gotten to the top of the city of Berkeley. We are doing our job. We are being heard right now.
Brent Stevens:What’s going to happen? Do you want me to listen, do you want me to talk?
Mia Redman:You can respond.
Brent Stevens:Okay.
Jamie McDede:Students presented a list of demands. They asked for more resources and staff for the office handling misconduct complaints. Consent training for athletes, for perpetrators to be suspended from school sanctioned events and for posters in every classroom telling students how to report an assault. And at the protest, they urged the school to make sure this conversation continued long after they were gone.
Mia Redman:Creating a culture that no longer protects rapists, but in fact heals survivors.
Jamie McDede:Faith, she’s the student who filed the lawsuit spent her last week at Berkeley walking out of class with her peers. She saw that she’d sparked a reckoning and she felt resilient.
Faith:I just want there to be a change, especially for being a person of color, our voices are always not heard.
Jamie McDede:Change wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. Past generations of students had tried to change the culture too. But the students approach made a different. Brent Stevens had been appointed district superintendent less than a year before the walk-out. When we spoke a few weeks ago, he said the walk-out organizers had done their homework. They’d researched district policies and Title IX regulations. That’s the law that prohibits discrimination in schools based on someone’s sex. And they met with teachers, administrators, and adult advocates.
Brent Stevens:So when they came with a set of demands, they were both philosophical in nature, but they were very pragmatic as well.
Jamie McDede:The students had good ideas and he was ready to listen.
Brent Stevens:It was both, I think, a political moment, but it resonated with what I and many others saw as legitimate needs of the district.
Jamie McDede:Mia Redman, the protest organizer, says during the walk-out she and other students finally felt heard.
Mia Redman:This walk-out in specific, we’ve done a lot of walk-outs, but I think this walk-out in specific was one of the first times that there was a walk-out directly challenging the Berkeley High administration in a way and I think that’s why they did take it pretty seriously.
Jamie McDede:But just weeks after the walk-out, school shut down because of COVID-19. And as everyone focused on the pandemic, the momentum began to fade. Then in July, the conversation reignited, this time online. Mia remembers seeing dozens of stories of harassment and assault posted on an Instagram account called, BHS, or Berkeley High School Protectors. Soon other schools in the Bay area launched similar pages.
Mia Redman:It felt like everyone was coming together again and addressing the issue again that we had done in February. It was powerful to see not only so many people at Berkeley High being able to tell their stories that they couldn’t talk about before, but also other schools following that too.
Jamie McDede:By December of 2020 administrators announced that they had hired a full time Title IX coordinator as well as a full time Title IX investigator. The district has also set up a committee, mostly of students to lead some of the changes. They’ll help pick a facilitator to design consent education and determine the next steps the school needs to take after that. Superintendent Stevens says that the way it should be.
Brent Stevens:I am optimistic that it will be student leadership moving forward yet also really conveys to students a sense of our commitment both to them and to this topic just like it was the student leadership a year ago that led us to make some very meaningful additional investments.
Jamie McDede:Like other students, Mia Redman is waiting to see how the district’s changes play out when schools finally reopen. But she says she’s already noticed a change in culture. She’s talked openly about experiencing sexual assault and students aren’t doubting or questioning her like they once did.
Mia Redman:I definitely got my justice, I guess you could say, less I think by the school, more by the student body who ended up I think, majority, being in support of me.
Jamie McDede:It’s too soon to tell whether the shift is permanent, but Mia says no matter what, future students will have a blueprint to make change and to get the attention they deserve.
Al Letson:That story was reported by KQED’s Holly J. McDede with support from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism Impact Fund. It also featured additional reporting from KQED educational reporter, Vanessa Rancano and was edited by Casey Minor. Michael Montgomery was our lead producer this week. Special thanks to Maud Beelman, Brian Barrett, Leez Dunklin and Ron Nixon. Victoria Baranetski is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa. Score and sound design by the dynamic duo, J. Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, My Man, Arruda. They had help this week from Brad Simpson and [inaudible]. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Sumi Aggarwal is our acting editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Kamardo Lightning.
Al Letson:Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the In As Much Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Al Letson:I’m Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 18:From PRX.

Kevin Sullivan is the executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Sullivan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is the sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. A composer and multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the scoring, recording, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He co-founded a film scoring boutique called Manhattan Composers Collective and worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio geared toward media and ad spots. Arruda worked with clients such as Marvel and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck + Company, Buck and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles such as Krychek, Dark Inc., the New York Arabic Orchestra and Art&Sax. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker.” Arruda has scored extensively for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which have premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. Arruda is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa is the production manager for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree in journalism with a focus on audio and data at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is a Dean’s Merit Fellow and an Islamic Scholarship Fund scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on KALW and KALX.  Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office. 

Michael Montgomery

Michael Montgomery is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. He reports on the criminal justice system, vulnerable populations, and the underground economy. Montgomery has led collaborations with the Associated Press, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Frontline, KQED and others. After completing a Fulbright fellowship in Eastern Europe, Montgomery covered the fall of communism and wars in former Yugoslavia for The Daily Telegraph and Los Angeles Times. He also worked as an associate producer for "60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley and was a senior reporter for American RadioWorks. His investigations into human rights abuses in the Balkans led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and the creation of a new war crimes court in The Hague. As a reporter and producer, Montgomery has garnered national and international prizes, including an Overseas Press Club Award, Investigative Reporters and Editors Certificate, Edward R. Murrow Award, Peabody Award and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University gold and silver batons. Montgomery is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Simpson (she/her) is an assistant producer for Reveal. She is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where she focuses on audio, print and investigative reporting. She has received fellowships from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the National Press Club, the White House Correspondents’ Association and the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center. She is also the graduate researcher at UC Berkeley's Investigative Reporting Program. Most recently, Simpson reported breaking news for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered the coronavirus outbreak in the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. She received a bachelor's degree in English at Princeton University, where she twice won the Ferris Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Projects in Journalism. Simpson is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Brett Myers is a senior radio editor for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.