CLAIM TREND ALERT: Sexual Abuse, Molestation and Sexual Harassment
CharterSAFE continually reviews claim and litigation trends to help members identify, manage, and pre-empt school risks. Disturbingly, we must report that we have noticed an increase in the number of claims related to sexual abuse, molestation, and sexual harassment at California charter schools. Examples include staff/student and student/student incidents.
These cases cause great harm to students, families, staff, and to the broader school community. In addition to the high cost of human suffering, litigation costs deprive schools of important funding for education. It is in the best interest of each of us to take this problem very seriously and to learn how to deter and detect this type of behavior.
Toward this goal, CharterSAFE will be offering various types of training and information to educate you about the problem. This will take many forms, including podcasts, webinars, regional training, and newsletter articles. We urge you and your staff members to participate in these critically important learning opportunities.
We also urge you to foster a more informed student population.
The information below is excerpted and adapted from a Community Matters
bulletin. Community Matters is an innovative organization that is dedicated to improving the social-emotional climate of schools and communities. Their focus is to empower students to be “up-standing.” These students learn to be fearless leaders who, despite peer pressure, call attention to wrongdoing and foster a safe community. Under the Community Matters program, these students are called Safe Schools Ambassadors.
Sexual Misconduct: Students Know When Employees “Cross the Line”
One of the foundations of Community Matters is that students are the most aware of what is happening in their schools. Students and peers are often the first to know when an employee is becoming inappropriately involved with a student:
- The student is often lost to their friends as they enter an “adult” world.
- The student is “groomed” by the adult to spend less time with their peers who care about them.
- Students notice a private language of glances, close proximity, and exclusivity between the student and a staff member.
- Students may be seen sitting on the back of the employee’s motorcycle, in the employee’s car, or together in secluded parts of the school grounds.
Friends have a high degree of discomfort in the presence of this illicit coupling. Rumors spread as the student appears less able to function well in school and becomes more reliant on the employee.
The level of sexual misconduct taking place in our schools is frightening. We hear about cases almost weekly or daily in the news. The research suggests that only about 25% of the students that become involved in these improper relationships tell their parents. The research also indicates that approximately 10% of students experience behavior or comments that are inappropriate. The access to intimate photographs, the exclusivity, and the privacy of texting and emails has made secret communication easier - thus facilitating inappropriate liaisons.
The emphasis in our culture on a couple’s romance and intimacy fuel the desire to foster physical relationships. Everyone wants to be loved and often sex is mistaken for a heartfelt relationship. It is never appropriate for a school employee to become involved with the student. These relationships are emotionally damaging and, in the extreme, can lead to problems including drug abuse and suicide.
Many organizations, including Community Matters, have been working in schools to prevent educator sexual misconduct from taking place. By tapping into student awareness that misconduct is taking place, bad conduct can be prevented. When they are part of a compassionate community, confident and aware students will speak up when there is something wrong.
In compassionate communities, meaningful connections take away the loneliness and isolation that may be exploited by some employees or students with an intent to do harm. Up-standers feel more comfortable saying something if they see something. Parents need to listen to how their children refer to school employees and notice if they have become estranged from their friends. There are many signs that sexual misconduct might be taking place, and even if it’s not raising concerns, trusting your intuition will prevent potential misunderstandings and future problems.
CharterSafe urges you to explore methods to achieve this type of transparent campus. Please consider:
- Engaging the services of an organization such as Community Matters
- Addressing the subject in assemblies, health classes, and student council
- Offering an anonymous crime reporting hotline, such as WeTip
- Supporting your staff with policies and information that explains the legal, career-ending ramifications of flirting, touching, and sexual relationships with minors
- Providing information to parents about the importance of screening the online communications of their children on a regular basis.
We urge you to share this communication with Principals and staff throughout your organization. Your Risk Management Department at CharterSAFE is available for further information, advice, and assistance. WeTip, an anonymous crime reporting hotline, is also available to CharterSAFE member schools at no cost.
CharterSafe thanks Community Matters, Dr. Glenn Lipson, and Steve Sonnich for sharing their expertise with the CharterSAFE community. For further information about Community Matters, go to: Community-Matters.org