Serena Evans remembers exactly what she wore to school that day nearly five years ago.
Patterned joggers with a tie at the waist. The tie had a tight knot — one she was forced to undo for a senior football player, nearly twice her size. She says he cornered her and forced her into a boy’s bathroom in the Myers Park High School gym, where he sexually assaulted her in a locked stall.
At around 2:40 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, Evans, a freshman tennis player at Myers Park High School was getting ready for a regional playoff match when she was allegedly raped on campus and forced to perform oral sex on the male student.
Evans believes what happened that day could have been prevented if officials in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools — primarily administrators at Myers Park — would have ensured the procedures and safeguards for students that Title IX law demands are in place would have been followed.
“If people had listened,” she said. “I might not have been assaulted.”
Two students — one in 2014 and another in 2015 — were reportedly sexually assaulted on campus, police reports and lawsuits filed years later showed. The early case resulted in a federal investigation into whether the district had violated Title IX. An Office of Civil Rights letter of findings prompted the district to implement a Title IX office, liaisons at each school and procedures.
Those were all supposed to be in place roughly six months before Evans’ assault.
Myers Park Principal Mark Bosco, who was the principal at the school in 2016, did not return an email requesting comment.
‘I just eventually gave up’
Evans waited three days before she told mom Kay Mayes what happened. She was on the way to the doctor because she was in incredible pain. Later, she would find out she had a ruptured ovarian cyst — mother and daughter strongly believe the sexual assault was the cause.
“I knew something was off,” Mayes, 63, said. “Serena was always full of life, just a typical teenager. She had so much energy. Before she told me what happened, I remember we were at a restaurant and I looked over at her and she was coloring. But she was just so lifeless.”
What ensued was, how Evans and Mayes described it, months of being ignored and yet, bullied. Evans said administrators told her “I would be the one who’s in trouble.”
Mayes sent countless emails to Myers Park school leaders - they were told Assistant Principal Tyson Jeffus would be handling Evans’ case. They received few updates and still don’t know if school officials investigated her alleged sexual assault.
They never knew if her alleged attacker faced any sort of consequence.
“I tried hard to be strong and not let all this stuff get to me, but I failed,” Evans penned in her written statement officials asked for in February 2017. “So now I am at eLearning Academy to be away from all this. I am also in trauma counseling at Pat’s Place. I also see my regular counselor. I also have to take self-defense classes. I have to do all this stuff. So Many Things.
“We still haven’t been told what (my alleged attacker) has to do because of all this. What will he have to do?”
Mayes said she ended up selling her house so Evans wouldn’t have to go to Myers Park High.
“I tried for weeks to go back to school at Myers Park, because I really wanted to go back, but it felt very overwhelming and upsetting, and I just couldn’t make it work,” Evans said. “I felt really anxious, scared, and depressed. Finally my mom and me talked and we both said enough.”
Toward the end of the nearly seven-month ordeal of unanswered emails and no communication from Bosco, Mayes, a psychotherapist for more than 20 years in Texas, let out her frustration in an email.
“I have grown to believe that (Bosco) has purposely completely avoided any contact with me, and made you responsible for dealing with this whole situation all by yourself so that you are the fallguy in case anything goes wrong with this whole situation, make you dispensible,” Mayes wrote to Jeffus in an email dated March 10, 2017.
“Instead of experiencing any significant, productive progress, I continued to be met with superficial, sabotaging, judgmental … and dead-end responses from Myers Park High School administration,” Mayes said.
“I just eventually gave up.”
Mayes told the Observer: “Every single thing that was accomplished for Serena’s welfare and care was initiated by me, not the school. At every turn, I had to try and stay on top of the situation to make sure things got done, and sometimes even with this they didn’t get done for weeks and it was only after my constant reminders. It was stressful and exhausting.
“Serena and I were not allowed to mention, in any way, shape or form, that Serena was raped at school. There was this unspoken understanding I felt that if I slipped and said anything about the rape and it became known, that Jeffus and Bosco and the school would find a way to retaliate and not cooperate with what Serena’s needs were at the time.”
Evans, who will turn 20 in September, said she didn’t hear from Bosco until June 2020, more than four years after her alleged attack on campus.
On June 6, 2020, Evans sent an email to Bosco and other school leaders with concerns after a video emerged of two Myers Park students “disrespecting an entire race.” In that email, Evans wrote: “MP is known for being unresponsive and dismissive to topics such as racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and bullying.”
She continued: “I have seen a countless number of videos and have even endured the topics I have said up above at your school. I was raped on MP campus (in the gym) in 2016 by a senior football player and nothing was done by administration except telling me I could leave the school.”
Bosco, like all of the CMS principals at the time, was the Title IX liaison for the school in 2016, in an email replied: “Serena, thank you for sharing this information with us and I assure you that we are dealing with it accordingly. Please know that I am willing to discuss the 2016 incident with you at any time.”
Evans graduated from Charlotte Catholic High School in 2020.
Forced hugs and illicit gestures
Evans, like many former and current students at Myers Park High, said sexual harassment on campus is widespread. It’s one of the reasons students have led protests, spoken out at a school board meeting this month and prompted questions about whether the district needs to launch an investigation into the school.
She said during her time at Myers Park, boys would “grab her butt, forced hugs and make illicit gestures when walking behind” her. She said teachers would see it “and do nothing.”
Diana Levitt, a board certified tele-mental health provider from Family Oak Counseling in Charlotte provided Love and Logic courses to parents and faculty at Myers Park High between 2012 and 2018.
Through what parents have shared with her while attending those courses, and her own interactions with Myers Park High faculty, Levitt said Evans’ is not alone in her experiences.
“I have heard the following: ‘I never heard back from them,’ ‘what’s the point they don’t do anything,’ to ‘I heard someone got in trouble for reporting, so if that were to happen to me I know who I wouldn’t tell,’” Levitt said. “This administration has sent a clear message that it does not want to hear from its students as they avoid communication and stick their heads in the sand.
“Unfortunately, this has created a toxic culture on campus as students are aware rape and sexual assault does happen with no consequences to the perpetrator and even if it is reported, not only will no one do anything about it, but they will attempt to silence you so they do not have to deal with it.”
Evans’ road to healing includes her dog Luka and four guinea pigs Luna, Ginny, Sterling and Cali. Once a promising tennis player, she’s been sidelined with injuries. She has a lot of friends, a restaurant job she loves and will be a sophomore at UNC-Charlotte, where she’s has a double major in psychology and criminal justice, and she’s pre-law.
For years after the assault, she tried to be normal and forget about what happened. But she still has trust issues, flashbacks, anxiety and depression and mood swings. She participated and spoke at a student-led protest in front of Myers Park High at the end of June.
“It’s getting better,” she said. “Going to the protest was the first time I had been back, near where it happened. It was surreal.”
Her mom is her biggest support system. The pair are close. Evans is Mayes’ only child.
“I have attempted to take all that I’ve learned over my lifetime and share it with her, and feed all of this into her life,” Mayes said. “...I have worked hard for her to come through (this) to become an even stronger, wiser and more confident and compassionate person.”
Evans and Mayes are watching closely what happens at Myers Park and whether an investigation is conducted not only into her case, but the dozens of other female students who have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault this summer.
“To the board (of education),” Evans said. “Have you all not heard enough?”