By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — A civil trial brought by a former Pendleton Heights High School student against the school district began Tuesday in Madison Circuit Court 3.
The woman alleged that the school mishandled, or neglected to handle, the fallout of an instance of extreme bullying in 2008.
According to court documents, when the woman, 15 years old at the time, went to school on March 11, 2008, she found out there were pictures of her Photoshopped in a sexual suggestive manner posted all around the school. The fliers also included her real phone number.
The case files indicate school officials determined who the culprit was and immediately suspended him from school. He was also charged as a minor for distribution of child pornography and child exploitation, and was later placed on juvenile detention.
The woman and her family claimed that South Madison Community School Corp. was negligent in their handling of the matter, that proper counseling wasn't offered to the victim after the incident and that the family has struggled to recover since.
One key witness Tuesday was Dr. Pamela Porter, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder who counseled the victim and her family after the incident. Porter said the woman now suffers symptoms of PTSD. The victim reported having symptoms of a panic attack the day of the incident, Porter said, and still has difficulty interacting with people without feeling anxious.
The incident has also affected the victim's focus, Porter said, to the point that she needs to constantly stay busy to take her mind off the bullying incident. Porter also said the label of PTSD could keep the woman from buying life insurance in the future.
"It's had long-lasting effects," Porter said.
Porter, who also has experience in crisis management, said the school could have done more to deal with the incident. According to Porter, school officials did little to acknowledge the incident, did little to offer the teenager a support system afterward and didn't provide her with proper counseling.
According to case file documents, South Madison denied negligence and contended it acted with reasonable care in the matter. Attorney Eric Brodt, who is representing SMCSC in the case, said he intends to prove that the school did nothing wrong, but declined to comment further.
Attorney Steven Smith, who is representing the victim, said the family is seeking monetary damages but there's been no discussion about a specific amount. He said the case will likely last the rest of the week.
The case was brought against the school in September 2009, but out-of-court delays and extensions have pushed back the trial. In 2011, Brodt requested a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by Judge Thomas Newman, allowing the case to continue.
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