Sexual abuse or harassment of students of all ages has reached epidemic proportions across the country. Parents enroll their children in schools programs in the hopes of keeping them safe from sexual predators and any serious harm. Often, children who have been sexually abused don't think that what was done to them is serious, and they almost always do not realize the impact that a teacher or any other staff member might have on them. It is critical to put an end to and eliminate sexual abuse or harassment in schools, as well as make school districts liable for recruiting members of staff who prey on students.
If you or your child is a victim of school sexual abuse, an experienced attorney can help you navigate the judicial system and bring the perpetrators to justice. We at the Sex Crimes Attorney are dedicated to assisting all survivors of school sexual abuse in California, regardless of their circumstances. So get in touch with us so that we can help you as well.
An Overview of School Sexual Abuse
There are numerous interpretations of sexual assault and abuse in schools, but researchers commonly define school sexual abuse as an instance whereby a K-12 school staff member sexually assaults or abuses a child while looking after the child within a school environment, whether it's through contact or non-contact. These would include the following activities:
Inappropriate physical contact (regardless of whether the child is dressed or undressed)
Having a romantic relationship with a child student
Having sexual intercourse with a minor student
Forcing a minor to engage in any sexual acts
The following are examples of non-contact sexual abuse:
Putting a child in a situation where he or she is exposed to sexual activity
Masturbating in the presence of a child
Exposing private parts in front of a youngster
Capturing a child's sexual videos or images
Coercing a minor to masturbate
Harassment of a minor
Sexual abuse comprises any sexual act performed on a minor that is illegal under the law. Sexual impropriety is a broad phrase that encompasses both criminal and non-criminal activities that may infringe ethical rules. Although it is not unlawful to have sexual relations with a student above the age of 16 (the legal age of consent throughout many jurisdictions), it is against school regulations. Many surveys group "sexual harassment" with "school sexual abuse."
Common Perpetrators of School Sexual Abuse
A perpetrator could be an employee of a school who engages in sexual activity with a student. These are some of them:
Members of staff
School bus drivers
School staff are usually well-liked by students and are frequently noticed for their skills. Sexual abuse of children in schools might happen in public schools, charter schools, religious schools, independent schools, private schools, boarding schools, secondary schools, colleges, and universities due to the hierarchical dynamic that exists in every school setting. Sexual abuse by school staff is distressing for students, their families, friends, relatives, and classmates.
How Common are Cases of School Sexual Abuse?
According to the Department of Education, sexual abuse in K-12 schools soared by over 50% from the 2015 -2016 academic year through the 2017-2018 academic year. There were about 9,600 allegations in 2015-2016 and roughly 15,000 complaints from 2017-2018.
In that report, they stated that the Office for Civil Rights got approximately fifteen times the number of K-12 sexual assault accusations in 2019 as it did in 2009.
The figures demonstrate a surge in the prevalence of abuse reports but not a rise in the level of harassment. Specialists feel that regardless of the increase in reports, most incidences have gone undetected in the past and continue to do so today, implying that statistics may not accurately reflect the extent of school sexual abuse.
The American Association of University Women conducted a study of 2,064 children in grades 8 to 11 in 2000, and the results were as follows:
81 percent of the children surveyed said they experienced sexual harassment while in school
Sexual harassment has been reported by 83% of female students
Sexual harassment has been reported by 78 percent of male students
38% of students polled have been sexually abused by teachers or school personnel
These figures reveal the harsh reality of frequent harassment and abuse in the educational system. Sexual abuse in schools can occur in any form of the school environment and to anyone, despite their ethnicity, culture, or gender.
According to research, low-income teenage female learners are more likely to be sexually harassed by school staff. Survivors who are harassed, come from unstable homes, are special-needs students, or appear dependent are frequently targeted by offenders, who see them as weak and easy to abuse.
Liability in School Sexual Abuse Cases
Aside from the perpetrators, academic institutions and establishments may be held responsible for school sexual assault. Often, schools do not perform thorough background screenings on school workers or volunteers, and they are not properly vetted. Predators can wander the corridors of schools with students who will become their sexual abuse victims as a result of this.
When the school neglected to thoroughly vet the culprit, they could be held accountable. Additionally, in many situations, other school staff are aware of the perpetrators but do nothing about it. Most colleges have a culture of concealment that allows perpetrators to assault students without fear of repercussions. In some circumstances, students may report cases of harassment, but the allegation is covered up due to insufficient record-keeping and flawed reporting procedures.
In 2017, in an incident at Chula Vista, California's Sweetwater Union High School, a male schoolteacher was probed and eventually offered an easy arrangement to discreetly leave the school and transfer to another public high school. The arrangement essentially enabled the offender to simply go to a different school, where he could potentially harm other children and still keep his reputation intact.
In other cases of abuse, children may assume that nobody will believe them and that the investigative process will be too difficult or humiliating for them to get justice. This exemplifies the serious, systemic problems that are present in schools, which regularly encourage concealment and cover-ups.
Why Do Schools Cover-Up Cases of Sexual Abuse?
Even though most states regard educators and school staff as mandated reporters, most teachers fail to obey the law and disclose cases of school child abuse. Teachers have been held liable for refusing to report possible sexual abuse in the past. This brings up the question: why wouldn't teachers report when they believe a colleague is sexually abusing a student?
Offenders frequently have a history of being abusers, although their actions are usually kept hidden. They are frequently skilled puppeteers who manipulate the students, their families, and other members of the staff to perpetrate sexual assault. Even though other employees are aware of the sexual abuse, they are hesitant to report it for several reasons. These are some of the possible reasons:
Placing a colleague's reputation in jeopardy
Economic damage liabilities
Fear of potential consequences
Fear of jeopardizing the school's or district's reputation
Additionally, most schools have regulations in their guidebooks or websites, and the majority of the school staff are oblivious to what school staff sexual impropriety is, how to recognize the warning indicators, as well as how to notify the school or the authorities of the abuse so that a criminal inquiry can be initiated.
Preventing Sexual Abuse in Schools
To help combat sexual abuse cases in schools, parents, school districts, staff, and academic institutions can adopt different steps. These actions should be regarded as a professional degree of responsibility as well as an ethical commitment. Each adult should take individual steps to
Learn About Sexual Abuse
Most people believe that sexual abuse occurs at random and is done by total strangers. However, statistics suggest that the majority of children are aware of their sexual abusers. Sexual abuse can happen within children’s families, schools, sports clubs, religious communities, or anywhere else where a minor is expected to be safeguarded and shielded by a trustworthy adult.
Adults must recognize that abuse can be taking place right under their noses, and they need to be aware of the telltale signs.
Be Conscious of the Warning Signs
Adults, as previously said, must be aware of any warning indicators of child sexual abuse. These indicators can be behavioral, physical, or emotional. Physical symptoms might include unusual bleeding or bruises on a minor's body. Additional indications might include genital discomfort, bleeding, or even sexually transmitted diseases. However, because most school staff are oblivious to those indicators, they should also be mindful of emotional and behavioral indicators.
If the minor has an abnormal amount of information about sexual content, speaks extensively about sexual matters, or participates in premature sexual activity, if the child hides secrets or isn't as outgoing as usual, if he or she is extremely submissive or spends an abnormal number of hours alone, or if he or she is terrified to be all alone with certain people, these are all behavioral markers to watch for.
Emotional indicators include abnormal eating patterns, shifts in the minor's attitude or character, aggressive behaviors, increased anxiety, an increase in medical issues, or self-harming acts. To avoid and eliminate sexual abuse of children, all school workers must be conscious of such warning indicators.
Identifying Age-Related Sexual Growth
Staff at the school, as well as other grownups in a child's environment, should be aware of what constitutes appropriate or healthy sexual maturity for every age bracket. Adults will be better able to spot warning flags in children with this knowledge.
Policy Support for Schools
Although most schools have regulations in place to prevent sexual harassment among students as well as between students and their teachers, these regulations are only beneficial when the school climate proactively encourages and implements them. Encourage students and employees to have a productive dialogue about these regulations, and make sure that the students realize how important they are.
Students must know that they have the right to be respected and that it is their responsibility to do the same. If they do not already have them, urge the schools to develop and execute these rules.
Invite parents to participate in educating their children.
As a school teacher or any other school official, it is critical to urge parents to talk with their children about age-appropriate subjects, including sexual abuse. Parents must realize that they play a critical part in their children's learning, especially if their school district lacks sexual education initiatives. Parents need to openly discuss their children's bodies, including what their private parts are and also why they are considered private, as well as the reality that nobody has the authority to touch their private parts without their consent.
It's also critical that parents teach their children how to communicate assertively when they don't wish to be touched. Grown-ups should also urge children to communicate openly and honestly. Children should feel free to communicate about whatever has happened to them and to learn to say "no" when they are in an uncomfortable environment. When it pertains to their bodies, they should know what's appropriate and what's not.
Trust Your Instincts
If you notice a coworker or student displaying signs of sexual abuse, you must come out and urge them to speak about it. If you notice anything, you need to speak up, whether it's to openly speak to another colleague, bring a child aside and ask if they're okay, or report directly to the management. For decades, being silent has encouraged child sexual abuse, therefore we need to all act together to put an end to it.
Don't Be Scared to File a Complaint
This directly correlates with following your instincts: never be scared to report things that don't feel right. By exposing any possible abuse, you could be able to protect a child's life from the consequences that often accompany child sexual abuse.
Create a Secure Atmosphere for Students
Always aim to build a secure atmosphere in which learners can feel at ease. Child sexual abuse can happen to any child, regardless of their background. It is critical to be a trustworthy person in the lives of children so they'll have someone to turn to for assistance.
Explain to the children that their classroom or institution is a secure environment, and they should always come to you when they are having problems. Remind them that harboring secrets won't help them feel safe or secure.
Other than individual actions, school systems must make efforts to safeguard the safety of their students, like adopting and implementing a sexual impropriety policy for teachers. This policy must be distinct from existing sexual harassment policies or mandatory reporting procedures.
Rather, it should emphasize the specific activities that are unacceptable for teachers, as well as information on how to stop, identify, and report sexual impropriety by teachers. Every member of the school staff should be mandated to have, read, and be cognizant of this policy.
Educational institutions must verify that each employee or volunteer has been properly screened through comprehensive background checks. The background checks should involve criminal background screenings as well as a detailed investigation into the past of a new hire or volunteer.
Institutions that fire staff members for practicing sexual abuse often conceal the reasons for the termination to avoid tarnishing the perpetrator's record. Regulations should be put into effect that prohibit concealing the perpetrator's history, enable future schools to dig into those backgrounds, establish communication with previous coworkers, and provide access to any prospective employee's whole record. The following are some measures to take:
Educational institutions can help make this system easier by mandating all prospective employees to fill out a form that includes a declaration that inaccurate or missing information would lead to employment termination
In addition, the form should ask for the contact details of former employers, and also recommendations from previous jobs, volunteer groups, as well as any additional type of involvement where a record could disclose a history of abuse
Add questions in the form concerning past charges, arrests, and other criminal activities
All prospective hires, members of staff, and volunteers, including substitute instructors and coaches, should be thoroughly screened
Use fingerprint authentication as well as social security numbers to perform state and federal criminal background checks
Investigate the backgrounds of prospective employees using internet search engines, networking websites, or sex offender registries
In addition to the employee policies, all teachers and administrators who have actual interactions with pupils should undergo annual training programs. This includes instructors, supervisors, trainers, volunteers, substitute teachers, as well as staff employees. Make sure that everyone receives training on the subjects below:
Meanings of sexual impropriety
Examples of sexual misconduct
Sexual harassment red flags and warning signs in both adults and children
The effects of sexual abuse on children
Guidelines for reporting suspicious behavior
Make sure that all members feel at ease when it comes to reporting cases of abuse
The significance of reporting
Procedures for dealing with allegations
Encourage victims to come forward and report the perpetrators
Suing Your School for Sexual Abuse
Victims can bring legal action against the perpetrator as well as the institution that facilitated the sexual abuse for compensation under federal and state statutes. When it comes to exposing sexual assault in school systems, Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 is the most commonly invoked piece of legislation.
Victims of sexual abuse or harassment can pursue Title IX cases if they can demonstrate that their school was irresponsible, by either letting the perpetrator work at the institution or by refusing to act after the sexual abuse case or impropriety was presented to the school.
Additionally, many states have enacted their variations of the Child Victims Act, which often mandates public announcements of the affirmative responsibility to report cases of abuse, as well as processes and protocols for reporting criminal activity and consequences for failure to do so.
Sexual abuse victims in schools may initiate criminal and civil cases against their abusers regardless of their age or when the abuse occurred. Thanks to the social movements against all forms of sexual abuse, countless previously silent former learners have spoken out to reveal their perpetrators and the institutions that neglected to safeguard them.
You could be eligible to claim compensatory damages if your school did nothing to shield you and you're a survivor of sex abuse and your perpetrator was a school worker, member of staff, a volunteer, or even a fellow student. These laws might be difficult to understand. However, skilled sexual abuse attorneys are familiar with these complications and can assist you in understanding your rights as you begin your healing process. You might also be eligible to file a lawsuit.
What Happens If the Abuse Takes Place Online?
When a student sexually abuses or harrases another child online, the school could be held partially responsible. It can be determined by several circumstances, including whether or not the school was aware of the abuse but declined to report the case under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act's obligatory reporter rules. The school also may be held liable if it established a zero-tolerance rule that it has failed to enforce, or if the harassment, assault, or abuse occurred on school property or while using school computers.
Was the Student a Legal Adult?
Although we often consider K-12 kids to be minors, most high school grads are usually 18 when they graduate. If your child was abused after he or she reached the legal age, he or she will have to file a case. If your child was abused as a minor, you may be eligible to launch a case for them.
California has seen its fair share of sexual assault incidents in college institutions. When you or someone you know has been sexually abused while on campus by a member of staff, a fellow student, or anybody associated with the university or college in any way, the university or college could be held accountable for damages.
Find a School Sexual Abuse Attorney Near Me
We at Sex Crimes Attorney have skillfully litigated several high-profile lawsuits that involve sexual abuse in learning institutions, assisting victims in getting justice and safeguarding other students from sexual predators. Our legal firm has brought both the perpetrators of abuse and the schools, colleges, and universities that harbored them to justice. If you or a student you know has been sexually abused at a school in California, contact Sex Crimes Attorney. Call us at 888-666-8480 to speak with us today.