In our continuing efforts to educate and expand awareness of commercial sexual exploitation, the CSE Institute periodically publishes Policy Papers that discuss issues relating to commercial sexual exploitation and the factors that increase vulnerability to being exploited. One factor that may increase the vulnerability of girls and women of color is the extent to which they are subjected to overpolicing from a young age.
Inspired by the recent events in Spring Valley, North Carolina, the CSE Institute has published an examination and critique of the “Schools to Prison Pipeline.”
Click here to read our most recent policy paper addressing the “Schools to Prison Pipeline.” The CSE Institute dedicates this policy paper to Niya Kenny, the 18-year-old young woman who in the face of injustice stood up for another classmate on October 26, 2015, against the power of a school resource officer who physically assaulted her classmate. Ms. Kenny a student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina was arrested that October day for speaking out when a classmate was assaulted by a school resource officer.
The story of that day is the story of a young woman – age 16, in a new school – whose teacher asked her to hand over her phone. When she refused, the school resource officer, Ben Fields, was called to the classroom and attempted to retrieve the phone from the student. When she again refused to give up the phone and refused to leave the classroom, Mr. Fields decided that the way to end the “disturbance” was to physically remove her from the room. He slammed the young woman and her desk to the ground and dragged her across the floor.
During the assault on her classmate by the school resource officer, Ms. Kenny bravely encouraged other classmates to record the incident, while also vocally protesting Mr. Fields’ actions. In an interview with local CBS television station Ms. Kenny talked about how she cried while she screamed, “…what the F, what the F, is this really happening. I was praying out loud for the girl.”
When the physical assault ended the school resource officer arrested both the unidentified victim and Ms. Kenny. As Ms. Kenny described to reporters, before Mr. Fields arrested her, he said, “Since you have so much to say, you coming, too…. You want some of this?”
As a consequence of her protest Ms. Kenny and the 16-year-old unidentified victim were arrested and charge with “disruption of school,” a misdemeanor offense as codified in S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-420.
Though Mr. Fields was fired from his job within a week of the incident due to his misuse of force, Ms. Kenny and the unidentified victim are still facing the charges bought against them.
Ms. Kenny made a decision in those moments to be vocal when others were silent, by protesting the school resource officer’s actions and encouraging other classmates to record the event. Ms. Kenny helped bring attention to an event that may have never made the local news, let alone the national news.
Her brave actions have helped spur a national conversation about the roles police play in our educational system and how these roles are shaping an epidemic known as the “School to Prison Pipeline.”
The Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law’s Institute To Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation has joined that discussion by releasing a policy paper entitled “The Spring Valley High Incident: The Impact Overpolicing in Schools has on Female Students of Color,” which examines how overpolicing in schools can lead to more young women of color entering the justice system for minor offenses.
At the time of this posting, charges against Ms. Kenny are pending, and her next court appearance is scheduled to occur after the current legislative session comes to an end. The CSE Institute joins those who urge the Richland prosecutor to drop all charges against Ms. Kenny.
Congratulations to CSE Institute extern, Shadia Combs (VLS 2017), who was the author of this policy paper.