Over the coming days and weeks it will be interesting to see if what I call the wall of silence will prevail in the possible criminal case of sexual assault at a party of prep school students that occurred in late October at a private residence in Oakland Township, or whether students on their own, or at the urging of their parents, will finally help law enforcement authorities sort through the complaints filed by two female students.
As of this writing when were are getting ready to release our December issue of Downtown newsmagazine to the printer, here is what we know:
On October 28, according to conflicting accounts, somewhere between 50 and 130 students, mostly from Cranbrook Schools, showed up at a private residence in Oakland Township for a party organized by two female students of the school, one of whom was the daughter of the owner of the home.
The father of one of the student “hosts” was present and other parents had reportedly phoned in advance of the party to make sure that adult supervision would be present – pretty standard procedure when minors are attending a party.
Evidently there were reports of drinking at the party, no big surprise whether school officials and parents want to hear it or not.
The day after the party, one female student appeared at the Oakland County Sheriff substation in Oakland Township to file a complaint that she had been sexually assaulted at the party. A day later, a second girl filed a similar complaint at the sheriff’s substation.
Law enforcement officials have the name of a male senior at Cranbrook as a “person of interest” in the case but then investigators ran into the wall of silence.
The male student, we are led to believe, has “lawyered up” and won’t talk to police officials investigating the sex assault complaints.
We are told by sources that the homeowner/parent whose house was the site of the party has declined to talk to police officials.
Further, we hear that the site of the party was cleaned up, basically removing any chance that authorities could confirm first hand that alcohol was present at the party or if anyone may have altered drinks with drugs as part of the alleged sexual assaults.
A couple of sources have said they heard that one of the students at the party began texting other students asking everyone to keep a lid on details of the party and, if questioned, to stay with the corporate line that the parent present at the party had everything under control and nothing of note happened at the gathering.
On the flip side, we are told school officials have instructed faculty, members of the administration and various governing boards to refrain from discussing the party and related sexual assault charges. A classic case of circling the wagons.
So what we now have is two teenage girls, ages 16 and 17, who had the courage to seek police authorities for purposes of filing complaints that they had been sexually assaulted, but it appeared initially that no one was willing to come forward to support them or, frankly, refute the charges which basically left the male student hanging out to dry also.
Evidently, a couple of people, weeks later, have finally come forward with some information and the department has taken what they have at this point to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s office which will determine whether there is sufficient information to file charges or if added investigation needs to be done.
A sad state of affairs all around, and one that sends a clear message in this case and future ones that females should think twice before reporting sexual assaults and cooperating with law enforcement lest one wants to risk finding themselves isolated and ostracized in the school community.
Over at the Cranbrook Schools campus in Bloomfield Hills, we had heard that school officials were interviewing students and compiling reports but they were tight-lipped, no doubt in part because of student privacy concerns and possible concern over any impact on the school’s reputation, even though the alleged sexual assaults happened at a private residence, not at the school. Initially the only response anyone received was that Cranbrook would have no comment until the sheriff’s investigation was complete but that could not happen unless the Cranbrook community cooperates – a classic Catch 22 situation. More recently the school has said publicly that they have finished their investigation under Title IX requirements and would be taking “appropriate” action.
Law enforcement officials say they are still hoping others will come forward with information on what happened at the Oakland Township party.
The reputation of the school and that of the student/parent community at this or any public/private school is not served well by continued silence on allegations of sexual assault.
One would hope that Cranbrook students who attended the party, including we are told at least a few whose parents are connected to Cranbrook in one fashion or another, would see the importance of coming forward to share what they know with the Oakland County Sheriff’s office. Failing that, parents who know their child attended the party should insist that their student do the right thing and help sort through exactly what took place at the party by contacting law enforcement.
As a parent, I understand the natural inclination to shield your children from possible problems. It is one of your legitimate roles. But I would suggest the role of a parent also includes providing important life lessons, in this case showing that involvement is essential, especially since law enforcement officials have already announced that anyone who comes forward will not be charged with underage drinking at the party. They are also accepting completely anonymous tips at the township substation (248.652.4671) or at a hotline (800.SPEAK.UP). Remember – this is not a case of just underage drinking but a much more serious case of possible sexual assault.
I know first hand the quality of education provided at Cranbrook and the dedication of the administration and teaching staff, and I understand the sense of community that develops at this or any school. So I am counting on the student community, and if need be their parents, to step up and demonstrate the values that are held by many at the school. This lesson can do nothing but strengthen the reputation of Cranbrook and it’s one that will reverberate well beyond the confines of the campus in Bloomfield Hills.