New program to assist student sexual harassment, assault victims at Babylon High School

BABYLON, Long Island (WABC) -- A new pilot program has been announced to assist student sexual harassment and assault victims at a high school on Long Island.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Crime Victims Center Executive Director Laura Ahearn unveiled the program, which will provide students at Babylon Junior-Senior High school with a dedicated Crime Victims Center School Advocate.

"This is not an easy task after everything that's happened," Ahearn said. "What we're doing is actually mirroring what we do in the criminal justice system."

The arrest of a Babylon High School teacher on rape allegations and an internal attorney general investigation into decades of sexual abuse in the Babylon Union Free School District led to the new resource.

The advocate will provide support services to students and their parents looking to report alleged sexual misconduct. It's a pilot program, designed to make students and parents feel comfortable reporting sexual abuse.

"These are difficult things to talk about," Bellone said. "To the extent that we can break through that with education program like this and training, I think that is the right model."

The initiative comes after an explosive school board meeting last November, when current and former students told their stories.

"I am in awe of the courageous individuals who have come forward," Bellone said. "I can only imagine how challenging, how scary, and how painful it is."

Brittany Rohl was one of those former students who was a victim, and she said she only found out about the program through the media and is upset that she and others survivors aren't being looped in.

"At times, it can feel like we kind of gave them our trauma on a sliver platter, and they took it and said we know what's best for you," she said. "I hope for the students' sake that it's successful. I think if we are looking to this to be replicated in school districts across the state, it has to include survivors' perspectives."

In addition, the advocate will provide an array of training to both school district officials and students focused on disclosures and prevention programs, including cyber safety.

The advocate will present "Sexual Harassment Made Simple" prevention programs for adults working in the district, and a new program will be developed to provide prevention programs for students in grades 9-12.

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