A student in Fairfax County Public Schools is calling out administrators for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault claims against another student, saying they manipulated her into silence.
With a single tweet, Lake Braddock Secondary School senior Samar Rafiqzad set off a firestorm at the school. On Monday she wrote, “Long read but Lake Braddock Administration severely mishandles sexual harassment/assault & then manipulates their students into silence which they benefit from … it happened to me and I know I’m not alone so I’m sharing my story.”
“I wanted to bring awareness to it, not only to get like a sense of peace for myself, but just so that other people didn’t feel alone,” she said.
Rafiqzad says administrators at the school failed to investigate complaints of sexual harassment and assault from her and five other female students against the same male classmate last year.
"It wasn’t really handled by the administration," she said. "They never updated us of what was going on and they made it difficult for us to talk to them and see any results. They didn’t make us feel comfortable coming forward."
Instead of pressing charges against the teenage boy, she asked the school's associate principal to look into potential violations of Title IX — the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual harassment or sexual violence.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
“She told me that there was nothing that she could do,” Rafiqzad said. “She said that they already switched our seats and that I didn’t have evidence and that it was essentially just rumors.”
Rafiqzad says the girls then tried taking their complaints further up the chain of command but were shrugged off or ignored altogether.
"It was hard to keep coming back to these adults who were supposed to be on my side and who I was supposed to trust and just hear them tell me over and over that basically what I was saying wasn’t valid," Rafiqzad said. "It just felt like I didn’t matter, and I had to continually fight and advocate for myself."
“I have gone to every single administrator over and over, and no action was ever taken or proper action wasn’t taken, which is why I felt the need to share it on social media,” she said.
Since Monday current and former students have responded sharing similar experiences.
“I’m glad that more people can come forward, but it’s really sad to see how many people this has happened to and how deeply it has affected them,” Rafiqzad said.
"I wasn’t expecting it to blow up as much as it has but I'm grateful to see all the support," she said. "A lot of people are sharing their stories, and I think a lot more people are realizing what happened to them wasn’t handled correctly by the school, either."
In a letter to parents this week, the Lake Braddock principal acknowledged the post, saying the school takes the allegations seriously and students should go to FCPS if they feel their concerns haven’t been addressed.
In a statement to News4, FCPS said, "Any report, or allegation, of such a nature is of deep concern to FCPS. All students deserve to feel welcome and safe in their classrooms and learning spaces. In order to protect the confidentiality of our students, FCPS cannot comment on the specifics of these claims, although FCPS stresses that any allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault are taken very seriously."
As she heads towards graduation Rafiqzad says it’s been a difficult year.
“I was very anxious,” she said. “I felt unsupported, especially by the administration.”
"It's been really stressful," she said. "It's impacted my grades. It's impacted my mental health. It's taken a lot of energy and time advocating for myself and having to talk to these administrators over and over and make an effort to talk to them and try to get change while they're constantly telling me that they did nothing wrong and nothing can be done."
She says she’ll never get the resolution or outcome she wants, but if she’s raised awareness, it was worth it.
“I don’t think there’s anything that can make up for everything I had to go through and endure during my high school experience, but if this can make a lasting difference and if it can help other people, then I think it’s done some good,” she said.