Teachers who take sexual liberties with students are increasingly featured in the news media. The cases that seem to attract the most attention involve oung, pretty, female teachers who seduce pubescent boys. And of course, when NBC Dateline airs one of the To Catch a Predator series, it always is very shocking to see them catch male sixth grade or high school teachers, or others who work with young people by profession.
How do schools protect our children from abuse by trusted professionals? And how does this happen, anyway?
In many states, teachers who have been convicted of any sex crime then become ineligible to teach in public schools. Certifications are revoked. The crime may not have involved a child, but any convicted sexual predator may not obtain or keep a teaching certification. In some cases, convictions for public lewdness or soliciting a prostitute are enough grounds for dismissal.
Criminal background checks are often required before hiring, but they only turn up convictions. They do not reveal allegations that were dismissed, or expunged records. According to psychologist Julie Medlin, who works with survivors of teacher sexual abuse in Atlanta, the average predator has committed 24 acts of sexual abuse before they are caught.
Skilled predators can not only cover their tracks, they groom children and teens before molesting them. The grooming can take a long time, sometimes a year or more. A highly skilled predator can not only convince their victim to not tell, but can make their victim believe that the incident is their fault, or that the child seduced them. Children and adolescents want to take control of traumatizing situations as a defense, so they often take on responsibility. Psychologists often see this with children going through parents’ divorce and taking responsibility for getting mom and dad back together, and children surviving the death of a parent or sibling who take on survivor guilt Children who survive sex abuse sometimes take responsibility for the situation in a deluded attempt to take control.
Old fashioned accountability is very important in protecting our children and teens. School administrators, superintendents, and department heads all need to be personally involved and visible in the day to day supervision of instructional staff. Schools should have a clear and well know procedure for reporting suspected abuse. Parental involvement and visibility is vital also. Predators often spot the child who appears to need adult attention as an easy mark. While pretending to the child (and often to themselves) that they are boosting the child’s self esteem, they are actually exploiting a young person’s vulnerability.
Teachers who are mandated reporters must report their observations and suspicions to the proper authority. When fellow teachers are blind or silent to this problem, the student truly feels that they have no where to turn and the incident must be their fault.
Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME) offers support for survivors, and is an excellent resource for scholarly research on the frequency of sex abuse in schools and the effects on children.