This girl reported being sexually assaulted twice at her high school. Her principal told her to ‘toughen up’ and get over it
After her principal refused to discipline her assailants, Katlin Hoffman is speaking out
A ninth grader who reported being sexual assaulted twice on school grounds says she was told to “toughen up” by a staff member.
Katlin Hoffman, 15, told authorities at Ashbrook High School in North Carolina that a male classmate shoved her up against a locker and tried to kiss her in September 2017. Melissa Knick, her assistant principal, told her she would have to “deal with it” and that nothing would be done.
Activists who work on student sexual assault cases told babe the story is a "quintessential #MeTooK12 case,” referring to the growing #MeToo movement that is taking place within schools. They say what happened is too common across America’s school system, when girls say they have been assaulted and are not believed by their teachers, even if they allege repeated incidents.
After the initial incident Katlin reported being groped again by another boy in math class. Speaking to babe about her experiences, she told us how a boy reached under her dress and grabbed her vagina. She reported it to her teacher but the boy was never disciplined.
What followed, according to conversations babe had with Katlin and her family was a campaign of retaliation against Katlin in which staff members belittled her, yelled at her and tried to have her kicked out of school. The Hoffmans also allege that when four boys from Katlin’s math class broke into her home and attempted to rape her, the school told the family the incident was outside their area of responsibility.
Katlin reported her sexual assault and subsequent death threat in her first semester
Katlin’s story, first reported by Fox 46, began fall semester of her ninth grade. Katlin was a hardworking student with a place on her school’s cheer team, and had aspirations of attending med school to become a surgeon.
She said she was first sexually assaulted in the first week of September 2017 – when her classmate forced her against a locker and told her to kiss him. She went with her older sister to her assistant principal, Melissa Knick, to report it. There Knick told Katlin to “toughen up,” because she was in high school now. Nothing would be done about her sexual assault, Knick allegedly explained – something she would later repeat to Katlin’s dad, Roland Hoffman, who also spoke to babe.
According to Hoffman, Knick told him "[the accused] would not have done this kind of thing" because she knew him from middle school. She even told Hoffman that the boy was gay, and did not like girls. As Hoffman later found out for himself, the boy is not gay and had a girlfriend at the school. Knick saw our multiple requests for comment but did not respond.
The school’s attitude did not change after the family says the same boy appeared one night in late October outside Katlin’s home to shout death threats at her. "The boy had come to the house,” recalled Hoffman. “He was yelling, and saying that he wanted her to come outside, he wanted to kill her and see her in the graveyard across the street. He was shouting, ‘I’m going to kill you, I’m going to put you in a grave.'”
When Hoffman reported this to Dr Wilson, she allegedly told him she had “no concerns with anything that happens off campus.” Dr Wilson did not respond to our requests for comment.
Katlin said she was sexually assaulted again in class, but her school did nothing about it
After the incident Hoffman went to his local courthouse in Gaston County on November 3rd and took out a restraining order against the boy. It read: “The defendant has communicated threats to the plaintiff in that he would kill her, he has also touched the plaintiff without her consent, and also tried to kiss the plaintiff without her consent.”
Both Knick and Wilson refused Katlin’s repeated requests to move her assailant’s locker away from hers. She asked for months, and was finally told by Wilson that hers could be moved. Katlin was shown her new locker by Knick, who the teenager says yelled at her, and didn’t give her the code she needed for three days.
During this time, Katlin said she was sexually assaulted again, by another boy in her math class. Katlin reported that on October 10th, the boy reached under her dress and grabbed her vagina. She told this to her teacher, Jonathan Brett. Nothing came of the report, which was when the family began suspecting that the school was trying to cover up what was happening to Katlin.
After she had reported both sexual assaults, Katlin says some of her peers started to treat her differently. On October 24th, a different boy in Katlin's class threatened to "knock her out."
Katlin’s ordeal continued when on December 8th, four boys from her school came to her house and attempted to rape her, according to the family. Katlin says she was alone in her family home when a boy from her math class knocked on the door. He kept asking to come inside and out from the cold, so she allowed him in, saying he could stay for a minute. He then rushed in with three other boys, she said, who locked the door and turned off the lights.
Speaking for Katlin, Hoffman told us: “They grabbed my daughter by the neck, held her down and pulled down her pants.” The attempted rape was prevented, Hoffman said, because the boyfriend of Katlin’s older sister came home to a locked front door, which was normally left unlocked. “He couldn't get in, so he started banging on the door, which scared the boys away out the back door.”
Hoffman saw Katlin later, disheveled and in tears, with bruises on her head. They reported the incident to Gaston City Police, who sent a detective to take interviews with the family. Hoffman remembered a detective telling Katlin that she would make a great witness, because "she had a lot of details and was very credible."
But two weeks later, on December 21st, Hoffman said he received a call from the detective, who explained she was declining to prosecute the boys. Hoffman said the detective told him Katlin had a “bad reputation” at the school, despite her good grades. Gaston County District Attorney Locke Bell declined to press charges. Speaking to Fox 46, he said he could not comment on juvenile cases.
Her school then tried to have her expelled
When they told the school about the incident, and asked for the boy who knocked on their door to be moved out of Katlin’s math class, the school refused. “They told my daughter she can either stay in the class or she could move,” Hoffman said.
It was at this time that the school’s retaliation against the family reportedly took on a nastier edge. In late December, during winter break, Hoffman received a surprise call from an administrator at Ashbrook High, telling him his daughter had been expelled.
"They simply said that my daughter was no longer enrolled there,” he said. “They refused to let me speak with anyone." It was 12 days later that he was told because he owned another property in Dallas, North Carolina, it meant he lived outside Gaston County’s school district, and could not send Katlin to Ashbrook High. Hoffman told us that house is being renovated, is currently gutted, and is “completely unliveable,” but the school had used it as a technicality to kick out his daughter from the school.
It was only after Katlin’s older sister posted a Facebook status about the attempted rape that she was told she could return. The status, which was uploaded to a local Gaston County group, caused a stir among concerned parents, and according to a school staff member sparked a number of complaints to Ashbrook High.
It's the 'quintessential #MeTooK12 case'
Hoffman also alleges that the school’s police officer, Rodney Hamrick, tried to retaliate against Katlin, shouting at her and calling her a liar. Hamrick, according to Hoffman, called him up and said: "Everything Katlin said was a lie and that he was gonna arrest her for slander if she said anything about those boys that attacked her. He was gonna get her for harassment.” Hoffman says Hamrick told him he was “working hard” to get her out of the school.
When contacted by babe, Hamrick denied that he called the family liars. "When Mr Hoffman was making false claims about a suspect I told him that was not true,” he said. "I don't have the authority or ability to expel a student. That is left up to the county school office,” he added.
School Board Chairman Kevin Collier told Fox 46 last night: "It was very disturbing to hear the allegations. We will have a proper investigation from our staff and working with the police into this matter."
Civil rights activists working with the Hoffmans told babe that their experience is the “quintessential #MeTooK12 case.”
Esther Warkov, the Co-Founder of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, said:
"The school district is blatantly ignorant of its responsibilities under Title IX to provide an education free from sexual harassment and assault. Their ‘report card’ contains straight Ds: Delay (investigating), Deny (responsibility), Distort (the facts), Disparage (the victim), and Devalue (the victim’s right to an equal education). The district’s tactics to stonewall the family’s quest for accountability are abhorrent.
"SSAIS is so impressed by the Hoffmans’ unusual courage to speak out against the gender bias that is compromising their daughter’s education – and the entire school community. When more families follow their example, we’ll turn around the hidden epidemic of K12 sexual harassment and assault."
Katlin and her dad are now calling on Officer Hamrick to be removed for being a “predator” towards his daughter.
"We'd like the Principal, Dr Wilson and her staff to follow the procedures of Gaston County Schools, we would like Ashbrook High School not to be a hostile environment for my daughter, so that she can enjoy high school."
Babe is looking to expose more #MeTooK12 stories – get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org to share yours.