CHICAGO (CBS) — Victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse told their stories to state lawmakers on Wednesday, as the Illinois House and Illinois Senate begin looking into the recent scandal at the Chicago Public Schools.
The joint hearing started around 10:15 a.m., and within minutes, lawmakers were shaking their heads and covering their mouths as two victims described not only how they were abused, but then how school administrators mistreated them when they reported what happened.
“I will never be the same as a result of what was done to me,” Tamara Reed said.
A recent Chicago Tribune investigation found police investigated more than 500 reports of rape and sexual abuse at CPS over a 10-year period. In some cases, CPS employees failed to notify authorities; and in others, staff conducted their own investigations before reporting the allegations.
State lawmakers say they want to know what went wrong, and figure out how to fix it.
Reed and another former student cried as they testified about incidents that happened years ago, but still haunt them today.
“I’m here to shed light on the re-traumatizing, intimidating interrogations; the questions of my dignity, of my intent, of my character after I’d been assaulted by my teacher,” Morgan Aranda said. “I was shuttered into the dark. I felt like I was the one under investigation.”
Reed and Aranda felt CPS administrators treated them unfairly after they came forward with allegations of sexual abuse.
State senators and representatives also will hear from the Illinois State Board of Education, investigators from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and representatives of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) placed a sign on a vacant chair to show the notable absences of Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark and CPS Chief Executive Officer Janice Jackson.
In response to the sex abuse scandal, CPS already has committed to a number of changes, including rechecking the backgrounds of all district employees, volunteers, and contractors who work with children. The district also is implementing a child abuse public awareness campaign, and retraining all employees on child abuse reporting requirements.
The district’s plan of action asks politicians for help. Among its legislative suggestions, CPS wants to make it easier to remove predators from the classroom. Current law often requires victims to testify in front of the alleged abuser, and sometimes that doesn’t happen.
Chicago aldermen also plan to call for a hearing with CPS leaders, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials, Chicago police brass, child welfare experts, and representatives of the mayor’s office ahead of next month’s City Council meeting.