According to a report by the American Association of University Women, around one in 10 students in grades eight through eleven said they had been the victim of more sexual abuse from a teacher or other school employee. Two-thirds of the reported incidents involved physical contact.
When it comes to sexual abuse in schools, teachers are among the most common perpetrators of rape and sexual assault of students. They have the opportunity to work alone with children, and are in a position of authority that allows them to prey on their victims more easily. Sadly, many sexual predators seek out professions, like teaching, that allow them to meet, groom, and abuse new victims.
The law classifies school officials as mandated reporters. This means if they suspect or know of sexual abuse, they have a responsibility to report it to law enforcement or to a child welfare agency as soon as they hear about it. They are immune from liability if they turn out to be wrong. Therefore, if a school administrator hears a rumor of sexual abuse, or sees behavior that he or she finds problematic, that administrator has to report it. The same is true of other teachers, school aides, counselors, etc.
Sexual Abuse and “Passing the Trash”
When someone reports sexual abuse in a school, it is absolutely essential that administrators relay this information to authorities. What is not required under law, however, is for schools that have placed a teacher on leave while they investigate a claim, or who have let a teacher go for suspected sexual abuse, to disclose this information to other schools in their state. This is known as “passing the trash.”
Furthermore, if the goal of reporting an accused teacher is to revoke his or her teaching license, the school subjects the teacher to a review, and may appeal. This process can sometimes take a very long time.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – license revocation in one state does not apply to all states. If a teacher accused of molesting a student in North Carolina moves to Virginia (or vice versa), there is no guarantee that he or she won’t be granted a new teaching license in the new state.
A 2016 investigation by USA TODAY revealed “fundamental defects in the teacher screening systems used to ensure the safety of children in the nation’s more than 13,000 school districts”. Investigators said, “states fail to report the names of thousands of disciplined teachers to a privately run database that is the nation’s only centralized system for tracking teacher discipline, many of which were acknowledged by several states’ education officials and the database’s non-profit operator”.
Recognizing the Signs of Sexual Abuse in Students
Child sexual abuse can be difficult to identify. Physical signs – such as bruising, difficulty walking or sitting; and/or pain when using the bathroom – can indicate abuse at any age, but behaviors can change depending on the age of the child, too.
- Regression to earlier behaviors, like thumb-sucking or bed-wetting
- Sexually aggressive play, with dolls or other children
- Agitation or resistance at bed time or bath time, when clothes need to be removed and changed
Older children and teens:
- Anxiety or depression, including suicidal thoughts
- Self-injury and harm, including cutting
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drug or alcohol abuse
- Either hiding as much or their bodies as possible, or wearing clothing that exposes an excessive amount of skin
- Changes in personal hygiene and grooming
Children of any age:
- Nightmares or other sleep disruptions
- Sudden changes in eating habits
- Changes in behavior or mood
- Creating sexually explicit or violent art (writing, drawing, etc.)
What to Do if You Suspect Sexual Abuse
If your child is exhibiting signs of sexual abuse, and you believe a teacher may be molesting him or her:
- Speak with your child first. If your child tells you he or she has been abused, immediately call your local law enforcement and file a report.
- Go to the local hospital. Request a rape kit immediately.
- With permission, ask to photograph the injuries. If your child has sustained bruising, ask if it is okay if you take pictures. Then, give those photos to the police. It is likely that the police and/or the hospital will take pictures as well.
- Encourage your child while he or she speaks with the police. Talking to law enforcement can be terrifying. Your child may or may not want you in the room when describing the events. If he or she chooses not to disclose the details in front of you, make sure there is an advocate for your child in the room during the process.
- Ask the police about contacting the school. We understand the primal urge to look for the teacher, or to confront the school. Do not do this. Police have training to deal with these horrific situations.
- Call an attorney. You are going to need representation: period. After you have taken care of your child’s health and spoken to the police, call us. Our child abuse attorneys have handled numerous cases of sexual abuse by teachers and school staff, including cases involving sexual touching, sexual grabbing, locker room transgressions, and inappropriate relationships.
Representation for Sexual Abuse Claims
Maginnis Law’s lead sexual abuse attorney, T. Shawn Howard, has vast experience in representing survivors of sexual abuse. Recently, Mr. Howard recovered over $1 million for a child who was sexually abused at a daycare center operated by a church.
If your or a loved one have any questions about this blog or an individual case, feel free to reach out to Maginnis Law at 919.526.0450. You can message us through our contact page and a member of our staff will reach out to you.