FIVE MILLION CHILDREN ARE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT IN US SCHOOLS – WHAT’S BEING DONE ABOUT IT?
Summary: Improper hiring methods, lack of training, failure of school leadership, and district cover-ups provide the backdrop into the collective failure of American schools to protect our children.
From Kindergarten to 12th grade, nearly 1 of every 10 students (9.6%) is subjected to sexual misconduct by employees in American schools. That’s an unacceptable number, considering that there are nearly 55 million children in US school districts. This roughly equates to 5.3 million children are exposed to varying forms of sexual misconduct in school. Represented in other terms, it means that nearly 40 children are victims of sexual misconduct per school district in the U.S. It also means that on average, almost 290 children are abused daily in each US state. Unfortunately, only 10% of sexual abuse cases are reported, according to the FBI. More from RAINN – only 1 in every 25 accused molesters brought to the courts result in a guilty verdict. The numbers ultimately boil down to this: of the 5.3 million victims in our schools, only around 211,000 will see their abuser brought to justice.
A report conducted by the US Government Accountability Office shed light onto the systemic issues in the schools that lead to their failure to protect our children:
- Lack of an overarching system that educates school employees on preventing and reporting sexual abuse.
- Inadequate access to employee background checks or, when there is adequate access, the schools fail to thoroughly conduct background checks.
- Schools receive little guidance from the US Department of Education on Title IX procedures.
- Widespread cover-ups by school districts by way of cutting deals with teachers, “passing the trash,” or by simply suppressing victim testimony.
Ideally, if an abuse occurs in schools, it could get reported to the school’s leadership immediately with the understanding that the complaint will be adjudicated quickly and justly. Realistically, many principals and superintendents would rather hush the situation in the effort to keep the bad press away from their school and/or maintain the illusion that their schools are capable of protecting their students. Unlike a fine wine, lies do not get better with age. As we have seen in the Catholic Church and the Los Angeles United School District over the past decade, lying about sexual abuse can be very costly. The movements over the last decade to hold schools and churches accountable for institutional abuse has had a powerful effect; victims now have the resources to begin the healing process, and the leadership in these institutions must now place child safety at the forefront.
Fortunately, there are organizations developed specifically to promote awareness of the schools systemic failures to protect our children. Specifically, the Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct, and Exploitation (S.E.S.A.M.E.) and EdVoice organizations, which do a lot of work both at the California state level and the national level to integrate protection of our children into legislature, provide sexual misconduct training resources for educators, and to expose indecencies when abuses are reported.
Yet, organizations like S.E.S.A.M.E. and EdVoice cannot continue to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden. Individually and collectively, we need to do better as parents and as members in the community to hold our schools accountable. If you witness a possible sexual misconduct happening in your child’s school, report it immediately to the Police Department or the Sheriff – do not waste your time with the school leadership.
At Estey & Bomberger, we believe that no child should have to live through the horrors of sexual abuse at the hands of a teacher, educator, school administrator, or school employee. As readers of this blog know, Estey & Bomberger represents those who have suffered sexual abuse in schools in civil lawsuits against school districts and other parties responsible for the abuse. To learn more about how we help survivors of sexual abuse in schools, click here.