The overwhelming majority of America’s educators are true professionals,
and the majority of schools are safe places.
However, students, parents and educators must address the ever-present danger of
educator misconduct, or sexual abuse in our schools.
- Children who have been molested will live with the profound effects the rest of their lives. Sexual abuse can determine what kind of a marriage partner they will be, what kind of a parent, and even what kind of a citizen.
- Many states require background checks on teachers, fingerprinting and mandatory reporting of abuse.
- Schools have contributed to the problem. Schools have avoided this sensitive subject in the past by allowing offenders to resign, or helping offenders get jobs in other schools. Educators even have a term for this, called “passing the trash.” Teachers have been protected at the expense of children.
- Many school districts try to hide these offenses to prevent costly law suits from both victims and the alleged abusers. Employees will sue for defamation, for violation of due process rights, and for even suspending them to do an investigation.
Many school districts allow teachers to resign without losing their credentials. Those teachers then find their way back into the classroom by moving to another state, to another school district, or coming back after a suspension.
The U.S. Dept. of Education Research
- At the request of Congress, the U.S. Dept. of Education hired Charol Shakesshaft, a leading expert in educator sex abuse, to research “Educator Sexual Misconduct.”
- This report examines the prevalence of abuse, ages of adults, how they select and groom children, where and how the abuse takes place, how they maintain secrecy, reporting of allegations, effects of the abuse on the victims, effect on other students, awareness of school officials and their responses, investigative practices, criminal background checks, false accusations, federal and state child sexual abuse laws, consequences for abusers, patterns of misconduct, and prevention strategies.
- Following are some of the results of Dr. Shakeshaft’s 2004 study:
“…parents and taxpayers have a right to be informed…releasing the report is clearly in the public’s interest…We must all expand our efforts to ensure that children have safe and secure learning communities that engender public confidence.” (Preface)
“Analysis of Washington state school district records identified 159 coaches
that had been reprimanded or fired for sexual misconduct between 1993 and 2003. Washington state teachers who coach were three times more likely to be investigated by the state for sexual misconduct than non-coaching teachers.” (p. 15, 22)“Only about 6% of all children report sexual abuse by an adult
to someone who can do something about it…few students, families, or school districts report incidents to the police or other law enforcement agencies…Only 5 to 6% of child sexual abuse cases become known to social services or the police.” (p. 34, 35, 16)“More than 4.5 million students are subject to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school
sometime between kindergarten and 12th grade….nearly 9.6% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career. (p. 18, 20) “…grooming patterns must be better understood
if educator sexual misconduct is to be prevented or detected.” (p. 32) “I found (at the time of this 2004 study) no studies of state criminal statutes that cover educators
who sexually abuse students…No state specifically listed educator sexual misconduct (or language that was similar) as a reason for terminating or dismissing an employee.” (p. 39, 41)
“Volunteers, student teachers, employees in private schools, and bus drivers are also not required to be fingerprinted.” (p. 41)Dr. Shakeshaft provided a list of 15 practices which may create a climate
in which educator sexual misconduct is reduced or eliminated. (p. 47) For more information, you may view the entire 147 page report “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature”
. The report’s author, Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, can be reached at (631) 351-1190.
Who are the Abusers?
- Accused educators have consisted of teachers, janitors, bus drivers, librarians, school psychologists, principals, superintendents and volunteers. Teachers are reported most often, followed by coaches.
- Many educators who abuse, work at being recognized as good professionals and outstanding teachers in order to avoid suspicion and to gain a path to children. They are often popular and recognized for excellence.
- Perpetrators use powerful incentives to keep many victims silent, from vows of love to threats of violence from abusers.
- Sometimes the abuse is a result of bad judgment. Other abusers who prey on children often take jobs where children are easily accessible.
- Sexual abusers in schools use various strategies to trap students, such as isolating them, lying, and manipulating them into sexual contact. Often teachers target vulnerable or marginal students who are grateful for the attention.
- Most teachers who abuse students have a history of harming children, but do not have recorded criminal backgrounds.
- One of the more common findings is that women tend to have fairly severe sexual abuse histories themselves. They also tend to have mental health difficulties, not generally severe mental illnesses, but things along the lines of depression, anxiety, sometimes drug or alcohol problems, or personality problems. Nevertheless, these professionals know what they are doing is inappropriate and wrong.
Warning Signs of Educator Sexual Abuse
- Predators work hard to groom children so they will not tell anyone. Experts suggest that parents talk to their child, and be a good listener.
- Watch for the following inappropriate behavior:
- Time together. Be aware of time spent with a teacher. There should be no out-of-school, one-on-one meetings.
- Teachers who are too close to kids—touching them in an inappropriate manner, inviting them over to their homes, calling them at their homes at night.
- Gifts or car rides. Most experts say teachers should not be giving gifts to individual students or car rides, except for emergencies.
- How your child and their friends talk about teachers. If they say a teacher is a “friend,” find out more. If they joke about a teacher’s crush, or that a teacher is a “perv,” don’t dismiss it.
- Teachers who bring up sexual material or personal disclosures into conversations with kids.
Finally, do NOT keep it to yourself. If you are suspicious, talk to school officials. If the behavior indicates a crime, or school authorities don’t take you seriously, contact the police.
These warning signs do not prove the teacher is a sex offender, but the progression can go in that direction from the mild to more increasingly inappropriate interactions.
Impact of Sexual Abuse on Students
Whatever justification or rationalization a teacher claims,
the hurt, the harm, and the devastation to the child is the same.
- Male or Female Victims. Sexual abuse of a child is the same whether the offender or victim is a male or female. The impact on boys is just as harmful and serious as it is on girls, because both will have lifetime issues.
- We need to correct the wrongful thinking that boys have not been harmed. It is against the law, and morally indefensible. Teachers who have abused boys put them in high-risk situations and at high-risk for emotional difficulty, including suicide. Sexually victimized boys experience later difficulty in developing age-appropriate relationships and gravitate toward pornography and one-night stands.
- If boys do not receive counseling, when they age into sexual maturity they will realize that this experience was not pleasurable and it was simply sexual abuse. At that point society must deal with the resulting problems including depression, crime, suicide, drug addiction and more sexual abuse. Studies have shown that 33% of juvenile delinquents, 40% of sexual offenders, and 76% of serial rapists report they were sexually abused as youngsters.
- When male or female sexually-abused children reach sexual maturity and adulthood, they will suffer from issues such as depression, and loss of self-esteem. The damage is caused by the exploitation, the abuse of power, and the abuse of trust from a teacher or other adult in a position of authority using and exploiting either a male or a female. These victims will then lose trust in adults and authority figures.
- Victims are often labeled liars by both classmates and sometimes by staff. They may also be blamed for “bringing down” popular educators. Ironically, the characteristics that make a good teacher are the same characteristics that make educators successful in getting close enough to kids to abuse them.
(Some of these statements also came from Dr. Charol Shakeshaft)
- 10-15% of students in the
U.S. will be sexually abused by a school employee at some time during
their school career. (Dr. Shakeshaft, U.S. Dept. of Education)
- Based on the above statistics, 10,600 of Spokane’s children (10%)
may become victims of educator sexual misconduct at some time during
their school career. (25% of Spokane County’s 425,000 population are
children ages 1 to 17 = 106,000, and 10% of that figure is 10,600
- 90% of all child molestation is done by people who already know the child—a teacher, friend, trusted family member, or relative. That is significant—adults must remember that.
- One in 4 girls and one in 7 boys will be sexually abused before age 18, according to a 2005 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Nearly 7% of students have experienced unwanted sexual contact from an educator
(from inappropriate touching to long-term sexual relationships and
serial rape.) Victims range in age from kindergarten to high school
- Only about 6% of all children report sexual abuse by an adult
to someone who can do something about it. Fear of not being believed
is the #1 reason kids don’t report their sexual victimization at the
hands of an adult. When it is reported, teachers, administrators, and
some parents frequently do not (or will not) recognize the signs that a
crime has taken place.
- Washington State investigates about 7 or 8 teachers per year for sexual misconduct. A
2003 study reported that 159 Washington state coaches were
“reprimanded, warned, or let go in the past decade because of sexual
misconduct—and yet, at least 98 of them continued coaching or teaching
- Unreported Abuse. Educator
sexual abuse is a widespread problem in American schools. Although more
than 2,500 educators were punished over 5 years, most of the abuse
never gets reported, and very few abusers get caught.
- If you are being sexually abused by anyone, find one person you trust, and tell them.
- Help correct the wrongful thinking that boys have not been harmed, and teach them this is a crime. It is against the law, and morally indefensible.
- Parents and school officials must keep a closer eye on educators.
- Parents should discuss with their children school activities and avoiding sex abuse,
and include some specific positions—teachers, coaches, bus drivers,
camp directors, neighbors…so children are not naïve in only being
cautious of strangers.
- Unsupervised time before and after school may put children at risk for many undesirable behaviors.
- Teach children that they must tell,
in spite of the fact that abusers offer powerful incentives to keep
many victims silent, from vows of love to threats of violence from the
- Do not minimize comments from children, as it is very difficult for children to report sexual abuse.
- Be aware and read signals. Watch for undue favoritism and friendships that seem out of the ordinary.
- Help make schools safer for our children.
The law requires parents to take their children to schools—help make
sure it is a safe place and a place both students and parents can trust.
- Request that schools teach all students about the definition of sexual harassment (between student and teacher, or among students) and the reporting procedures in the event it happens.
- Ask the law enforcement detectives over sex crimes what laws need to be changed, and then advise our legislators.
- Help establish and enforce a “Community Standard of Decency.” Pornography drives sexual deviancy, violence against women, and child sexual abuse. (See “Addictions/Pornography—Understanding the Laws and Your Rights” on this website.)
- President Barack H. Obama
January 16, 2013
"And so what we should be thinking about, is our responsibility to care for (children), and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up, and do everything that they're capable of doing. This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change.
"…we must do something to protect our communities and our kids…We have to examine ourselves in our hearts, and ask yourselves what is important? This will not happen, unless the American people demand it. If parents and teachers, police officers, and pastors, if hunters and sportsman, if responsible gun owners, if
Americans of every background stand up and say, enough. We've suffered
too much pain, and care too much about our children to allow this to
continue, then change will -- change will come.
"Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will, comes an obligation to allow others to do the same. We don't live in isolation. We live in a society, a government for and by the people. We are responsible for each other.
" …when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now,
for Grace, for the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who
had so much left to give; for the men and women in big cities and small
towns who fall victims to senseless violence each and every day; for all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm.
"Let's do the right thing. Let's do the right thing for (our children) and for this country that we love so much."