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Sexual Misconduct by School Teachers

Experienced Lawyer

Sexual misconduct committed by teachers includes having physical contact with a student’s intimate parts, bullying or cajoling a student into touching the teacher’s intimate parts, and having sexual intercourse with a student. Showing pornographic images to a student or discussing sexual practices in graphic terms is often a way of grooming students so that they will be receptive to sexual contact.

Unfortunately, most instances of sexual abuse are never reported to the police. Children who are made to feel ashamed or bullied don’t tell their parents, and school administrators often prefer to believe a teacher’s denials rather than the word of the student.

Predatory Teachers

Only a small percentage of teachers sexually abuse their students, but those who do typically have many victims over a period of many years. One study suggests that almost 7% of students in grades 8 to 11 have been sexually abused in a way that involves physical contact with a teacher, coach, bus driver, or other school employee. Other studies suggest that, while sexual abuse is more common in middle and high school, 38% of educator-abusers target students in elementary school.

One researcher reports that “educators who target elementary school children are often high achievers in the profession and, compared to their non-abusing counterparts, hold a disproportionate number of awards and teaching recognitions.” The fact that a teacher is trusted and respected does not assure that the teacher will not sexually abuse a student. Gaining the trust of younger students is the key to an abuser’s ability to continue abusing students. Abused students are reluctant to accuse a popular teacher, and school boards have difficulty believing that a respected teacher could be abusing students.

Emotional Harm to Students

The long-term impact of sexual abuse on a student can be devastating. Students who generalize their fear of a specific teacher may begin to fear all teachers, impairing their ability to do well in school.

Sexual abuse affects self-esteem and self-confidence. Students often blame themselves when they become sexually involved with a teacher, leading to lasting feelings of guilt. Students may also feel guilty about making an accusation that could harm a teacher’s career.

Students who have been sexually abused by a teacher may have difficulty engaging in loving sexual relationships with age-appropriate peers after they leave school and begin an adult life. While no stigma should attach to being a sexual assault victim, children can carry the damage inflicted by a teacher’s sexual abuse well into adulthood.

Warning Signs of Sexual Misconduct by Teachers

Children are reluctant to report sexual abuse by teachers. Sexually abusive teachers convince students that they will be in trouble if they report sexual contact or that they are responsible for what happened. In some cases, however, parents might notice warning signs that will alert them to the possibility of sexual abuse at school. They include:

  • Frequent contact with teacher outside of school. Teachers may have good reasons to give extra attention to a student during school hours, but when teachers start texting a student after school or encouraging a student to hang out together on Saturdays, parents should ask whether the contact is necessary and appropriate.
  • Inappropriate compliments. Praising a student’s excellent academic work is part of a teacher’s job. Complimenting a student on his or her appearance may be a sign of grooming behavior, particularly when the compliments are delivered every day.
  •  A teacher who acts like a student. The behavior of a teacher should be more mature than the behavior of students. When a teacher seems to be trying hard to fit in with students and begins to gossip with them about other students, the teacher might have an ulterior reason for seeking the social acceptance of students.
  • Behavioral changes. Changes in a student’s typical behavior might have any number of explanations — change is the norm as kids grow up — but certain changes can raise a red flag. A sudden desire to avoid school, mood swings, sexualized behavior, nightmares, and a sudden aversion to being touched are the kinds of behaviors that should be explored.

To avoid “coaching” a child to make false accusations, it is important to ask open-ended questions (“Is there a reason you want to stay home from school?”) rather than suggestive questions (“Has your teacher been touching you?”). If you are worried that something inappropriate is happening at school, it can be helpful to get professional advice from a therapist who has been trained to interview children in ways that encourage children to open up without putting words in their mouths.

What to Do If a Child Has Been Abused

When a child has been sexually abused by a teacher, speaking to the police and to school authorities are important steps to protect other children from abuse. Since schools sometimes try to sweep abuse under the rug, it is also wise to obtain legal advice.

A sexually abused student may need to obtain therapy for years, and might want to transfer to a private school. Compensation can cover those costs, and can give an abused child a head start on building a better future. A law firm with an attorney, like a personal injury lawyer, that handles cases involving teacher sexual misconduct can advise parents about the compensation that their abused child may be entitled to receive.

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