Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Schools
By Samuel J. Spitalli
They appear to be normal. It is not uncommon for them to be popular, well-liked -- even distinguished with commendations for exemplary performance in their field. Some are so well-regarded that their victims are afraid to stand up to them for fear of rejection or harassment from peers for getting a popular teacher in trouble.
With alarming regularity, we hear horrific reports of otherwise successful teachers facing criminal charges due to sexual misconduct with students. It’s hard to say which is more frightening: that we have yet to figure how to keep these teachers out of the classroom or that the occurrences are so frustratingly common.
A lack of consistency and coordination on many levels of government unwittingly enables abusive teachers to slip through the cracks and move remarkably easily to a neighboring school district or to another state with impunity. This common phenomenon allows a sexual predator to leave quietly and go elsewhere under the radar.
School officials face daunting issues when charging a teacher with sexual misconduct. It is inherently repugnant and, for some, something they would rather not have to address. Moreover, they fear possible backlash from parents and students when confronting a popular teacher. They also worry about potential litigation for making unfounded accusations against a teacher who may claim emotional distress or a damaged reputation.
While the school district may have suspicions over a teacher’s behavior, those suspicions can be problematic to prove when witnesses and victims themselves prove reluctant to go forward in the face of a perpetrator’s denial.