Sexual Misconduct in the Schools
Court cases help shape educational misconduct policy and news grabbing headlines bring public attention to this educational problem. The most notorious type is sexual misconduct of teachers with students. Sexual misconduct occurs about equally among male and female teachers. Ultimately, this behavior seriously hurts children. This article presents an overview of sexual misconduct in school, with viewpoints on how to prevent such educator misconduct and how to track and fire the individuals who commit the crimes.
Educator misconduct covers a variety of offenses. The most publicized type in the media and the High Court system are ones where school employees make poor judgments in their relationships with their students and sexual misconduct occurs. Public school educators can include but are not limited to administrators, counselors, secretaries, teachers, substitute teachers, teacher's aides, coaches, custodians, security guards, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, volunteers or others who may encounter a student in a school-based setting (Sutton, 2004).
Examples of Misconduct in the Media
* In 1997, Alaskan teachers had disciplinary action taken for the following types of misconduct: sexual misconduct; conviction of theft; theft of Ritalin from student supplies and use of fraudulent transcript (Green, 1998).
* In 1997, a Pennsylvania teacher surrendered his license because he was showing pornographic movies and giving alcohol to eighth and ninth graders (Zemel, 1999). * In 2007, 167 Ohio bus drivers were found to have (DUI) Driving Under the Influence or other drug related license suspensions (Marshall, 2007).
* The tight-knit Pennsylvania State University community was shaken by the 2011 child sexual abuse scandal involving Gerald "Jerry" Sandusky, the university football team's former defensive coordinator. In 2012, Sandusky was convicted of forty-five out of forty-eight counts of sexual abuse involving ten underage boys over a fifteen-year period. Sandusky had met the boys through Second Mile, a charity that he and his wife had founded in 1972 (Chappell, 2012; Gladwell, 2012).
* In 2013, a California elementary school teacher was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for lewd conduct against 23 Los Angeles school children at Miramonte Elementary School (Winton & Ceasar, 2013).
Types of Sexual Misconduct
In Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, Carol Shakeshaft (2004) defines sexual misconduct as behavior by an educator that is directed at a student and intended to sexually arouse or titillate the educator or the child. The behaviors are "physical, verbal, or visual. Examples include touching breasts or genitals of students; oral, anal, and vaginal penetration; showing students pictures of a sexual nature; and sexually-related conversations, jokes, or questions directed at students" (Shakeshaft, 2004, p. 9).
Goorian (1999) describes two types of sexual misconduct recognized by the law:
Quid pro quo (this for that) occurs when a school employee explicitly or implicitly grants a student a favor in exchange for sexual gratification. The employee may, as a condition for a student's participation in an educational activity or in return for an educational decision, request that the student submit to unwelcome sexual advances, grant sexual favors, or agree to engage in other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Hostile environment means unwanted and unwelcome verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student's ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity (Goorian, 1999, p. 2).
Goorian also explains that sexual misconduct behavior can be classified in three levels that include contact and non-contact behavior:
* Level I includes non-contact behavior such as exhibitionism and sharing sexual photos. Contact behavior includes fondling, touching, kissing, and sexual hugging.
* Level II is non-contact actions that include sexual comments, taunting, and asking about sexual activity. * Level III is contact behavior that includes all types of sexual or genital contact (Goorian, 1999).
Legitimate Nonsexual Touching
The US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) offers examples of legitimate nonsexual touching: a coach hugs a student who makes a goal or a kindergarten teacher hugs a student who skinned a knee. However, repeated hugs under inappropriate circumstances can make for a hostile environment (Goorian, 1999).
Teachers Who Abuse
Studies have shown that almost 43 percent of all educator sex offenders are women. Because claims involving female misconduct may be underreported, this number may be low (Sutton, 2004). The idea that a woman could sexually assault a young man would have been dismissed a decade ago; however, if a person in a position of trust or authority has consensual or nonconsensual sex with a student before he or she is 18, it is a crime. Psychological profiles show female teachers who are involved in sexual misconduct with students are generally socially immature rather than sexually deviant (Driedger, 2003).
While teachers and coaches tend to be under media scrutiny most often, sexual misconduct exists in all educator categories. Music teachers or coaches often spend one-on-one time with individual students, and as a result they are more likely to sexually abuse. Between 1995 and 2003, 25 percent of the educators in Texas who were coaches or music teachers were disciplined for sexual infractions involving students. Washington state teachers who coach were "three times more likely to be investigated by the state for sexual misconduct than non-coaching teachers" (Shakeshaft, 2004, p. 22).
Table 1 Percent of Student Targets by Job Title of Offender
Job Title Percent Teacher 18 Coach 15 Substitute Teachers 13 Bus Driver 12 Teacher's Aide 11 Other School Employee 10 Security Guard 10 Principal 6 Counselor 5 Total 100 (Shakeshaft, 2004, p. 24)
How Sexual Abusers Manipulate
Students are taught to trust their instructors and leaders, but sexual abusers in schools manipulate students into sexual contact by lying, controlling and exercising their authority over them. Often predators victimize students who are vulnerable or marginalized and often needy for attention. These marginal students are also more likely to be unaccepted as plausible and trustworthy complainants. In elementary schools, the abuser is often a favorite teacher and is often professionally accomplished. Successful educators are most likely to connect quickly and easily with children. At the later levels of education, namely middle and high schools, abusers are not necessarily always wonderful educators. Initially, the acts are more often open opportunities, a result of poor choices or a misguided sense of authority (Shakeshaft, 2004).
Most abuse occurs with "grooming" and enticement. Abusers try to spend additional time with students, and they may send invites to non-education based activities like trips, movies, and parties that occur during after-school hours. Abusers may also buy students gifts, tell sexual jokes, and tease them sexually. This form of verbal abuse is a method of "grooming" victims. As such joking continues without being reprimanded, abusers may advance their intimate play by touching and making other sexual advances that probably will not be reported (Goorian, 2004).
Offenders work hard at maintaining secrecy and silence. Many children have been abused by others, or they fear punishment. Some children do not realize that they are being abused. However, they may be able to understand the inappropriate relationship as shameful, unwanted, wrong, or frightening. Oftentimes, children will assume that such behavior is "love," as this is what is explained to them by their abusers. Offenders use intimidation, exploitation of power and manipulation of child's affection to keep the misconduct a secret (Shakeshaft, 2004).
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was an amendment to the Section 5414 mandate of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) that called for a deeper exploration into the issue of sexual misconduct in school systems. This mandate required the US Department of Education to administer a literature review study of sexual abuse in US schools. This review is called Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature (Shakeshaft, 2004).
In addition, court cases help shape and define education policy on employee misconduct in public schools. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is used by many victims who were sexually abused by educators to plead their cases. Though this amendment avoids dealing directly with educator sexual harassment, it restricts all forms of sex discrimination in any organization that collects federal money (Sutton, 2004). Stein (2000) explains the relationship of Title IX
According to the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights' guidelines, schools are required by the Title IX regulations to adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of all sex discrimination complaints, including complaints of sexual harassment. Students should be notified of the procedures which should be written in language appropriate to the age of the school's students. Without a widely understood grievance procedure in place, a school (or school district) is held liable regardless of whether or not sexual harassment has occurred. (Stein, 2000 p. 1)
In the 1992 court case Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, Christine Franklin sued for $6 million in a civil suit against her school district. Franklin claimed that she was continually sexually harassed beginning the fall of 1986. Originally, the Title IX statutes did not authorize damages as a Way to solve the problem legally. But, they allowed back pay and prospective relief for school...
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