Shocking Assault of Gay Student Captured on Video: How Do We Stop This?

Two days ago, the internet first saw the shocking cell phone video of a 15-year-old Ohio high school student being assaulted by another boy. At first identified only as “Zack,” the video is proof of at the very least a horrifically violent act that’s even more upsetting for happening in a school and with very young people. Some, including Zack’s mother, purport that it’s also video evidence of an anti-gay hate crime — one that no one in a room full of other students did anything to stop.

(Warning: video contains explicit depiction of assault.)

“Zack,” who doesn’t want to be identified, is reported by his mother to have two broken teeth and a possible concussion as a result of the beating. His attacker was given three days of suspension. The high school principal notes that the punishment, however, was given out before he was aware of the video, “which contradicted his investigation and appears to reveal premeditation.” The Chillicothe Gazette reports that the attacker told officials he wasn’t responsible for the attack because he’s mentally ill:

According to the initial report obtained Thursday by the Gazette, the two boys were on their way to a third-period class when they “bumped shoulders.” The 15-year-old suspect told deputies he has a mental illness, that he “just zoned out,” and didn’t know why he punched Collins’ son, according to the report.

The attacker’s explanation does not address why a cell phone camera was aimed at him as Zack approached.

“Zack” also identifies as gay, and his mother has been certain when speaking with the press that this was the reason for his attack. Zack reported cruel anti-gay comments left on his Facebook page a few days earlier. Initial responses from the school didn’t deal with Zack’s sexuality at all, but they are now investigating a connection between the online comments and the videotaped attack.

Unioto High School, where Zack and his attacker are both students, does not have a GSA. ABC reports that according to GLSEN, one in four queer Ohio students has experienced some form of assault in the last year. The school district does have an anti-bullying policy in place, but says it’s never dealt with anything like this before.

The high school had an assembly on cyberbullying three days after the fight that Osborne and Garrett said had already been scheduled before the fight.Staff is educated annually about reporting bullying, and the high school has at least one education assembly on bullying a year, Osborne said. While there have been reports of bullying before relating to sexuality, Osborne said he doesn’t get them often and has not had an assault on any other student who is out about his or her homosexuality.

There are those who feel like Zack’s story, and the outrageous statistics on violence against queer kids in Ohio, are proof that this approach isn’t enough. In a statement released on Thursday, GLSEN said:

“It is extremely frustrating for us at GLSEN to watch a student get bullied when there are tools and resources that are proven to reduce and prevent similar incidents from taking place in a classroom or hallway… School districts with comprehensive anti-bullying policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity are effective at curbing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. It is time for the Union-Scioto school district and every school in Ohio to protect students from the kind of torment that everyone has witnessed on video.”

Given the fact that the attack seems to have been clearly premeditated, the sheriff’s department is investigating whether to file a charge of assault or felonious assault. Depending on the course of the investigation of the attacker’s motives, it’s possible that the attack could fit the criteria for a hate crime. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be treated like one in court; Ohio’s laws don’t make that easy, as Ross County prosecutor Matt Schmidt explains:

“What people are failing to understand is there isn’t an Ohio law to enhance it (if the assault was motivated by the victim’s sexuality),” Schmidt said. There is a federal hate crime law, he added, but the federal district attorney would have to file the charge, and Collins could approach him about it. 

Aside from criminal prosecution, however, what can a school do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Zack’s mother wants a zero-tolerance policy in place, but it seems clear even to her that there’s a problem here that an anti-bullying policy might not solve. “To me, it’s not only the kids doing it. The teachers aren’t stepping in,” Collins said.” And it’s not just teachers — the cell phone video posted on the internet doesn’t end when someone, a student or a teacher, stepped in to help a student who was being assaulted on school property. Because no one did. Will an anti-bullying policy make students care about each other’s wellbeing, or just teach them that they’ll get in trouble if a teacher sees them fight?

“Zack” didn’t want to be identified, or (understandably) speak much to the press. But he did say this: “I covered myself, I shielded my body, and he just kept hitting me and nobody did anything.” In the wake of the tragedy that bullying of queer kids has brought to our community, we’ve thought a lot about ways to prevent kids from doing things — mocking their peers, hurting them, making their lives torturous. How do we help kids do something? How do we help them want to make a difference? This never should have happened to a child, in school, where they should be safe. But more than that, this should never have happened to any human being in a group of people, because someone should have stepped in before Zack had two broken teeth, a black eye and a potential concussion. How do we change that? How can queer kids — or any kids, really — ever be okay if the people around them don’t care? Because for all our efforts, violence against children or other relatively powerless groups is never going to end, as long as the people who watch it happen are willing to let it go.


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Rachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but sometimes when I read about this sort of thing I wish that I could encourage gay kids to just beat the shit out of people.

    But two wrongs don’t make a right and violence perpetuates violence and all that jazz…

    Still, it makes me so ridiculously angry.

    On a side note, the town in which this happened is a small town in midwest America. (My grandparents used to live there.) Not to perpetuate the stereotype that small towns breed small minds, but to some extent, the smaller the town, the more likely they are to be anti-gay.

    • i feel you. it may be wrong to think so but i really do hope the reptile brained little shits that did this to get what’s coming to them. i mean i hope they someday have to endure suffering comparable to what they put this boy through.

    • “I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but sometimes when I read about this sort of thing I wish that I could encourage gay kids to just beat the shit out of people.

      But two wrongs don’t make a right and violence perpetuates violence and all that jazz…”

      Nonsense, your feeling are entirely appropriate. A person defending themselves is not wrong, it is rationally the correct thing to do whenever it is possible (and of course it is not *always* possible). Moreover any institution worth a damn should have no problem differentiating justified from unjustified violence, and if it cannot, then that institution is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

      In the real world, a boy who responds to an assault by kicking the bastard in the balls is to be applauded, not told “violence never solves anything”, because there really are times when violence *needs* to be met by violence. On the most basic level, raising the ‘cost’ of being attacked makes it less likely that a person will get violent in the first place.

  2. This is so tragic. I was outraged when I read the “three day suspension” punishment, and I wonder whether it would have stayed at that had it not been for the video.

    I’m glad the attacker is going to be formally charged, but I really hope that Zack can move on from this. I hope his family and friends are there for him, and that he can get the support of a counselor.

    I feel so helpless right now. How do we make this stop?

  3. Part of the problem might be the economy. Yes, seriously. Lots of budget cuts have probably left schools understaffed.

    When I was in high school, there were adult monitors everywhere. There’d be someone sitting at a desk in the hallways when class was in session. You couldn’t walk through the halls during class without a hall pass. They were in the library and cafeteria all day watching students during their free period “study halls.” And they had the list of students that were scheduled for a study hall for that period, so you couldn’t skip a class to just hang out. And then there were at least five monitors in the cafeteria during lunch periods.

    That’s a lot of staff to have on hand just to watch students when they’re not in a classroom. There were still fights, but teachers jumped in. My only complaint is that they would always wait to jump in until it got physical.

    • Yeah, but all the monitors in the world don’t mean shit if the monitors think the kid gets what they deserve and will learn to shut up and be a nice little heterosexual after a few beatings. It may be a lack of adult presence, but its more likely a lack of adults who give a fuck. I mean, that video didn’t exactly seem quiet, if there were no adults in ear range of that they need to start checking the parking lots coz clearly all the adults are tanning on the playground or something.

      • Sorry but most teachers get paid shit, they work tons of hours outside of the normal school day, and spend a large portion of their income on supplies for the classroom.
        The reason they do this? Because they have a passion for educating young people and children. I refuse to believe any teacher (regardless of personal beliefs) would stand by and watch one student beat up another because they are getting “what they deserve”.
        I believe GrrlRomeo had a good point. Schools are understaffed. Also, in my experience students who want to fight or bully someone will choose a place where they are hidden from the school staff, such as the lockers or the bathroom.
        Don’t blame the teachers, is what I’m saying.

        • In general, I believe you. Teachers can be passionate, caring individuals who change children’s lives for the better. And most of them are. But I’ve seen two teachers stand by and do nothing while three of their students suffered horrifying verbal abuse during class.

          So no, we shouldn’t blame the teachers. But I don’t think L’s point is completely invalid.

          *This is said with the caveat that I have not watched the video because hello PTSD.

        • “I refuse to believe any teacher (regardless of personal beliefs) would stand by and watch one student beat up another because they are getting “what they deserve”.”

          You can believe that, but I can’t. I’m glad you’re able to (I feel) underestimate the sheer hatred some people, yes, including teachers and other adults in positions of power have towards queer children. I sincerely hope you’re right, but we’ve seen (and I know I’ve personally experienced), a lot of adults who act really shitty and be really hurtful towards queer kids.

        • To me it sounds pretty ignorant to “refuse to believe any teacher (regardless of personal beliefs) would stand by and watch one student beat up another because they are getting “what they deserve”.” Any person in any profession is capable of anything because of their personal beliefs. Haven’t you been keeping up with the news lately, and things that TEACHERS have been getting in trouble for saying or doing to their students? Based upon personal beliefs, no less. You can “refuse to believe” whatever you want, but it doesn’t change the facts. Just because a person becomes a teacher doesn’t mean they’re automatically morally pure and just. That’s why we have teachers in trouble for statutory rape and for verbal and physical abuse. No human being is above being flawed, especially not just because of what they get paid to do. A teacher is a human being just like any other person

      • Most reasonable adults wouldn’t stop to find out why exactly a student is punching the daylights out of another student before intervening. They’d break up the fight and ask questions later.

        Verbal abuse is a different story. In my experience, teachers had a wait and see approach. Teachers and even guidance counselors would just watch as other students called me dyke and what not. Even as I made eye contact with them. They would only intervene when the fights became physical.

        And unfortunately both students usually end up with suspensions when the fight turns physical regardless of who started it.

    • I think it depends on the kids attacking, really. One of my partners had a rough time at school, went to martial arts classes and was then able to put a bully down but not injure him. But after that, they all just came at him in a crowd instead of individually and he couldn’t fight them all off at once.

      On the other hand, my daughter, who has also been to MA classes, simply blocked the blows of the boy hitting at her. When he actually hurt himself on the arm she blocked with and she was still unhurt and apparently unfazed, he gave up on the physical bullying, and since he was the biggest bully, the others gave up too. But that hasn’t stopped them saying mean things to and about her.

      Flipping kids. They just can’t stand to see someone who doesn’t fit in. But if their parents won’t educate them that this is not OK, then the school *must*.

    • On some occasions, just causing a commotion works. Scream like a wild person.

      One time I was corned in the cafeteria. I was sitting at a table with my back against a wall. Three bullies came up to me and got right in my face. Their leader (there’s always a leader) did that finger pointing in the face thing, inches from my nose, while she was making some verbal threats.

      I actually made eye contact with one of the lunch monitors who also happened to be a guidance councilor. She just sat there watching, which pissed me off because I was honestly looking for a way out of the situation that wouldn’t result in me getting a three day suspension.

      I’m not a yeller. I’m soft spoken. But there I was, pinned, unable to even stand up without pushing her or making some sort of physical contact. And it was apparent no one was going to intervene. So, I just started screaming shit with a voice I didn’t even know I had. It’s like it came from my gut…or maybe hell.

      F-bombs, B-bombs, S-bombs, every kind of word bomb came out of my mouth. I may have actually roared. Everyone sitting at my table got up with their lunch trays and moved. The entire cafeteria went dead silent. Like holy shit, the shy honor roll nerd knows bad words?

      It worked. The bullies were stunned. They backed off. But the next part is really rich. One of the lunch monitors told us all to leave the cafeteria…including me. Brilliant, make the victim leave with the bullies. So, I stomped off…right to the principle’s office. I knew I’d be called there anyway. I told him what was going on, that these three girls were threatening me and my friends and no one was doing anything about it. And if no one is going to do anything about it, then I’ll be forced to defend myself.

      That did the trick. I think it was because I explained that I was running out of options.

    • I’m a little late to this comment stream, but I do martial arts (capoeira) and I would love to teach martial arts to gay kids. It’s not always about whether or not you can actually win a fight (I’m 5 ft tall and there are a ton of people I probably couldn’t take), but it may discourage some bullies from wanting to find out.

      Also, martial arts teach you how to fall safely, how to anticipate and avoid blows and how to use appropriate force for different situations. Also, you get used to getting hit, so it becomes less shocking if/when it happens at school or in the street. And the best part (in addition to health, emotional/physical strength and empowerment), is that you’ll have a bunch of martial arts friends you can mob around with – and NO ONE will want to mess with you then.

      Maybe this isn’t super PC, but I’m all for disciplined self-defense, and I’m not afraid to hurt someone if they mess with me. I feel tough and I think all gay kids should have opportunities to learn skills that make them feel tough. (Of course, there are some martial arts groups that will be more welcoming to gay/gender non-normative kids and women than others. The best way to tell is to observe a class and see if there are people of all genders and ages present.)

  4. Honestly I know violence is not the answer, but I swear if this happened in front of me I would’ve gotten up and started punching the s**t out of the other kid! I swear, how can other students sit there and watch this? Where are the teachers? If I was a teacher I would’ve lost my job for how my initial reaction would be. Sad the kid only got 3 days of suspenision… They should get the police involved now that there is a video of it… Hope the boy who got hurt is ok…

    • and by police involvment I meant don’t take bs from the cops and make sure that kid at least gets assault charges. Sadly, I’ve seen cases where the cops are homophobic themselves and don’t care to help the victim.

    • “Honestly I know violence is not the answer, but I swear if this happened in front of me I would’ve gotten up and started punching the s**t out of the other kid!”

      And you would have been right to do that because sometimes the nasty reality of life is that violence *is* the only answer on offer when it actually matters.

      Indeed it is a huge mistake, not just in a school setting but in life generally, to just stand back and wait for often deeply flawed institutions to ‘sort things out’. The *moral* choice of action is often not the easiest choice or the safest choice personally… and the moral choice in this case is the one that clearly your instincts are driving you to: i.e. to have “gotten up and started punching the s**t out of the other kid”.

      That boy was all alone and the message I got from that video was that at the end, he was *still* alone, because no one did what you felt like doing and actually said “screw this” and then stood by him physically. Standing back in horror is easy. Getting stuck in and putting yourself at risk, that is not so easy.

  5. Thanks, Ohio, for being so unbelievably ridiculous. Again. Wasn’t the exotic animal debaucle enough for this month??? Now we’re seeing blatant homophobia caught ON CAMERA. I’m gonna quit telling people I’m from Ohio, I’m gonna be from Tegansaraville. Where tigers don’t get shot and gays run thru fields of daisies.

  6. Ugh. I don’t know how to stop this.

    I feel like greater visibility is part of the solution. If more people know a gay person, they’re more likely to think of them as people.

    …and now I just feel shitty for not being out to my family.

    Oh, and harsher punishments would help too. At my school you probably would’ve gotten more than three days suspension for a fight that wasn’t motivated by hate.

    • ‘…and now I just feel shitty for not being out to my family.’

      Don’t feel bad about it. It’s not always safe physically, emotionally or financially to be out. Wait until you feel strong, have plenty of reliable emotional support and are able to support yourself independently. Until all of those things are in place, leave it to the people who *can* safely be out. ((hugs))

  7. I don’t live in this town, but I do live in Ohio. Nothing this extreme has happened at my school (that I know of; I just transferred here this year) but there is the usual bullying, etc. Me and a few of my friends are starting a GSA this year, and I’m getting people I know at other schools to start them, too. I think that a GSA can help a lot of issues, especially if it’s run properly. It won’t stop everything, but a lot of people can be helped even by knowing other beautiful gay people attend the school. I know that I would’ve LOVED to have one, but my two other high schools don’t have any (although I am working to change that).
    Also, I feel the need to rant, because this makes me think of the other day in class. I’m taking health, even though I know more than the teacher I’m sure, because it’s required for graduation, and we started the reproductive system. And every few sentences she would mention how all us girls wanted to settle down with one perfect guy and have lots of babies with him. I hate how absolutely invisible I always feel in that class, because we NEVER talk about anything LGBT-related, and always talk about straight people stuff, and I just feel totally left out. Like, as if the class doesn’t even apply to me. (Although, again, I know more about health than my teacher. I’ve had to correct her answers more than once-it’s no surprise considering she’s an extreme right-winger. Nice lady, but I wish we had someone else teaching, who didn’t make me want to sink in a corner and die because I feel non-existent. /end rant

    • Not to mention that plenty of straight girls do not want children at all. Even before I realized I was into girls, assumptions like this set me on edge and I spent most of health class trying not to hit people. No one has the right to make you feel like you don’t matter or don’t exist. Your rant is 100% justified.

      • So true! Many of my straight friends who wanna date guys don’t want kids, ever. It’s just insulting. I don’t understand why health is a graduation requirement when the information is useless to a good chunk of the students. Learning about smoking and cancer and whatever, great, but when it comes to all this anti-bc, pro-lifer stuff, I just don’t think that has any place in a school, let alone a class every single student must take in order to graduate.

    • Dear flowerchan,
      Your comments are so valuable and can help to open your teachers and other students minds about this subject. It is important for you to share your feelings in an environment where you feel safe to do so.
      Unfortunately your teacher is not doing her job properly if she is sharing her own conservative and backward views with the class and excluding any other kind of conversation that allows for different points of views. Hang in there you are not alone or invisible, as you continue in your life and education you will have greater experience and wisdom to share with the world how you feel .

      • Yeah, I don’t exactly feel comfortable talking about this stuff in my health class, partly because I’m a huge teacher’s pet and will do anything to keep my grades up, and partly because I don’t know anybody in my class that would back me up. Which is part of why I want to start the GSA, to get to know more people and maybe start a protest or something to get the curriculum changed.
        Although I did do one of my health projects on a gay-related subject (a painting based on the fact that LGB-identified teens have like a 75% or something chance of abusing alcohol) and presented it in front of the class. I though I’d puke I was so nervous.

  8. One way we will stop this kind of harassment and violence is to demand that schools take serious action against anyone inflicting this kind of hate on another human being. Parents and schools need to take this bullying and show students and parents what kind of emotional and physical pain this causes. How do we educate our population about these kinds of issues? First the responsibility is squarely on the parents, educate! educate! educate! your children so they are sensitive to any kind of harassment. Second wether you support gay rights or not teach your children respect . The socially conservative population unwilling to open up their minds and pay attention to these issues should start paying attention. Our conservative media unintentionally sends out the hate message when they argue against gay rights . I am heart broken and disgusted when I see this violence!

  9. Pretty much the rule in US schools is zero tolerance which basically means in order to not get suspended just take the ass whoopin. If you do fight back then you get in trouble as well. More gay kids need to learn how to fight and take the suspension. Because the abuse will not stop until they start fighting back and hurting their bullies.

    • Never were truer words written.

      Why is it important to avoid suspension from an institution incapable of differentiating between an attacker and their victim? The correct thing to do is surely fight back whenever possible and make no apology for doing so… and if they suspend you, tell them scornfully and in no uncertain terms what you think of their ludicrous policies.

  10. Shame on the Ohio high school and the principal as well. I am a Chinese and a gay (queer, or poof or whatsoever), I deeply know and suffer from the discrimination against gaymen. But, being gay is not my fault because I have no any interest in women, and I want to be myself. Why the principal didn’t tell his students that gay men are human beings and as normal as any type of people and because there are different types of people, our world as well as our lives are enriched. this message is sent from mainland of China

  11. I am a gay too and I am a Chinese living in China where many many many gay men feel grateful for the USA’s efforts to accept homosexuality. Shame on the Ohio high school and the principal as well. I totally emphathize with the victim’s situation and deeply understand how hard he has gone through his daily life. being gay is not my fault because it is in may nature, i once tried to change it but failed, I now just want to be myself. Why the principal didn’t tell his students that gay men are human beings and as normal as any type of people and because there are different types of people, our world as well as our lives are enriched. this message is sent from mainland of China

  12. A lot of school districts do not allow teachers to interfere with physical fights. If certain teachers try to break up fights, they can lose their job and face legal action. It has to do with the idea that teachers might hurt students trying to stop them from hurting each other. Usually the procedure is to call for certain teachers (usually men) who are trained to break up fights.

    However, by the time those teachers could come along, the damage has already been done.

    I think this policy makes sense on paper, but not in real life. It obviously needs revised and this is the reason why.

    If you have kids, you should probably call their school right now to be aware if they have a similar policy.

    • “I think this policy makes sense on paper, but not in real life. It obviously needs revised and this is the reason why.”

      Yeah, isn’t that the truth! It reminds me of an old saying: “When seconds count, the police are minutes away”

      It is things like that that make me sure that if I had children, I do whatever it took to home-school them. People should defend themselves when they can, including children, but realistically not everyone can.

      So if an adult will not come to the rescue of a child being assaulted because the institution they work for might fire then, I would want nothing to do with either that adult or that institution.

      • “So if an adult will not come to the rescue of a child being assaulted because the institution they work for might fire then, I would want nothing to do with either that adult or that institution.”

        Just to be clear- I didn’t say it was acceptable that no one jumped in to help. I was just saying that I can see why no one did. It scares me that this happened.

  13. Three days suspension after he assaulted a kid? An adult who did that to another adult would be in jail. This makes me so mad especially after working with a little boy with bipolar disorder who was suspended for half the year in freaking kindergarten because he has fits and destroys classrooms. Where is the sense in people and the compassion? How is property destruction punished more harshly than assault of a child? Also, there should have been at least some teachers who were CPI certified in the school who are trained to restrain a dangerous child without hurting them or themselves. That’s the case in my school and if it isn’t a national law to have at least one certified teacher per grade level than it should be.

  14. I got bullied in school not because I was gay but the sake of bulling and i was smaller then them , but my brother got beat up and my father put us in martial arts and the next several times i kick some ass pretty bad. and when they wanted a rematch my father came out with a switch blade knife and chased them across a field . last kid in school tried some shit and i walked right up to him and told him i have a little surprise for him in my pocket after school and he got real friendly after that. I have talked to many gay friends about taking personal responsibility for there own well being and invest time in self defense. I have since then gone to some schools and taken 8 week courses in close quarters combat training , got proficient with improvised weapons and guns. I am a transwoman and refuse to be a victim. and carry lets say party toys with me . as well as my training. its time the lgbt community rises up and says we are no longer victim , but victors and maybe those bullies might think twice.

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