sexual abuse at school
What happens after sexual abuse at school is reported?

After abuse is reported, there will be an investigation by the police or social services. If abuse is found, criminal charges will be filed. This will trigger an arrest, bail proceedings, pleas, and eventually a trial if the abuser does not plead guilty. If found guilty by jury, the abuser will be sentenced, which can include any or all of the following: sex offender registration, jail time, fines, restitution, community service.

The abuser, and any liable parties, may also be sued in civil court. Civil court is where you may recover a settlement or award for any damages, including mental suffering, physical impairment, humiliation or emotional distress. The financial costs of these cases to school districts are staggering. LAUSD has paid more than $300 million to victims since 2012.

If your child is abused at school, they have a legal right to continue to attend school, be protected from the abuser, and from any repercussions or harassment by teachers or fellow students. This law is part of Title IX, and applies to every student attending a school that receives public funding.

Title IX even applies to non-sexual contact by a teacher that makes a student uncomfortable, such as frequent touching or hugging because this could create a hostile environment where the student finds it difficult to learn. The burden of fulfilling this duty is on the school, not the victim. They are responsible for reporting the abuse and protecting the student.

Many abuse victims can suffer PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, and other mental health issue after abuse. It’s imperative that they receive treatment and counseling to help deal with any issues that arise from the abuse. Some of these issues may not occur until many years after the abuse. For more about recovering from abuse, please see our series: Healing from Abuse.

Further Reading: Why Should I Sue My Abuser?


Adult bystanders have a moral and, in some cases, legal obligation to report any reasonable suspicion of abuse to the appropriate authorities, including police, and child protective services.¹

sexual abuse at school

Who is responsible for reporting sexual abuse at school?

Each state has a list of mandated reporters. People employed in these positions are required, by law, to report any reasonable suspicion of abuse.

California’s list of mandated reporters includes educators, officers, medical professionals, social workers, clergy, government employees, and other child care providers. In addition, positions like computer technicians and film processors are also required to report suspected abuse.²

In California, if you do not report abuse, you are legally responsible, and may receive up to six months in prison and/or up to a $1000 fine. You can also be included as a defendant in any civil lawsuits that are a result of the abuse. If damages are won by the victim, you may be responsible for a percentage of the damages.²

Be a Hero

One of the few heroes of the Miramonte Elementary scandal was a photo technician at CVS who reported potential abuse after processing photos taken by Mark Berndt. It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for investigating the abuse, only reporting it. It is often difficult for someone who would never hurt a child to understand the motivation, faulty logic, and criminality of an abuser. You may have fears about ruining the reputation of another adult with an unfounded abuse allegation. But protecting the child is more important than protecting the reputation of an adult.

In California, reporting to your supervisor does not satisfy the law. You must report directly and immediately to your county’s child welfare department or the police by phone, and then follow up within 36 hours by written report. You are protected by California law against any legal consequences if the report results in no abuse being found, as long as your report was done in “good faith.”²

If you are a teacher, and need more information on abuse prevention and reporting, please see this guide, The Role of Educators in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect created by HHS.

To see a complete list of California employees who are mandated reporters, please visit the Child Abuse Mandated Reporter Training website.


Sources:
¹Bender, A., & Coleman, M. What should you do when you suspect child abuse? Retrieved from Scholastic, http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/what-should-you-do-when-you-suspect-child-abuse
²Mandated Reporters: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from http://www.mandatedreporterca.com/faq/faq.htm


sexual abuse at school

What are the signs of sexual abuse at school?

If you are looking carefully, it is possible to see red flags before the abuse starts. Most abuse occurs in a, sadly, predictable process. The abuser starts by selecting a victim, builds trust with the victim and desensitizes them to sexual actions, and finally, the physical abuse starts.

Selection

The abuser starts by selecting a victim. They typically choose someone who is easy to manipulate. These are “good girls” or “good boys” who know how to keep secrets. The student may have a difficult relationship with their parents (making them less likely to confide in their parents). They can also be students with low self-esteem, who will quickly respond to attention and flattery. They may also pick troubled students who are already “problem students” with a history of acting out.

Building Trust

The abuser then starts to build trust with the victim. This can begin with special attention and frequent complimenting. It escalates as the student proves trustworthy to the abuser, by keeping secrets and responding to the attention. The relationship between the abuser and child builds into private conversations, sometimes via text or social media, and one-on-one sessions. The abuser may issue an invitation for “after hours” help at the school or in the abuser’s home.

Grooming

During this time, the abuser will also desensitize the victim to physical contact. There is usually frequent touching, which may include long hugs, resting hands on shoulders, neck or back rubs, and requests for the student to touch the abuser in the same way. At this point, the behavior is inappropriate, but not yet criminal in nature. Eventually, if the child keeps the relationship private and the abuser finds or creates the opportunity, the sexual abuse will start. This can be everything from fondling to rape.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

During these stages, the abuser will do everything in their power to silence and control the child. But there are often signs that a relationship isn’t quite appropriate. These are called “red flags” and should be reported and investigated.

Here are a few red flags that would need to be reported:

Rumors of past abuse that was not reported to the police
Inappropriate closeness to a student
Inappropriate comments on a child’s appearance
Physical injury or STDs in a child
Disclosure of abuse by the victim
Disclosure of suspected abuse by another student
Forced physical contact (required hugs, sitting on lap, etc.)
Harassing text messages or online contact

Report Until You Are Heard

If you witness actual abuse, as in the case of the assistant coach at Penn State, stay with the child, keep them safe, and immediately call the police. Report to your supervisor as soon as you can, and follow the mandated reporter process as required by California law.

We suggest a “report until you are heard” policy. If you are not a mandated reporter, and your supervisor fails to investigate or dismisses the claims, report until you are heard and the appropriate action is taken.


Any adult in any role that requires the supervision and care of children is morally responsible for preventing sexual abuse at school. This includes teachers, administrators, volunteers, and any other person employed in a position where the employee comes into contact with children.

In addition, because of Title IX, any school that receives public funding is legally responsible for preventing abuse and harassment. If officials do not take the necessary precautions to protect the children in their care, they can be held legally liable in criminal and civil courts.

sexual abuse at school

What can school officials do to prevent abuse at school?

When a parent drops a child off at school, there is an understanding that the school will do everything in their care to safely educate that child. Unfortunately, not every school adequately protects their students from abuse by school personnel. Here are a few ways school officials can prevent abuse at school.

Prevention Programs

The most important is to create and implement effective prevention programs that educate teachers, parents, and students. There are a number of established programs to prevent teacher misconduct.¹ Prevention programs are effective at making children more aware of sexual abuse and increasing their ability to prevent that abuse, especially if the program consists of multiple sessions, repeats information, and provides exercises where children can apply prevention strategies.²

Background Checks

Another vital step in preventing sexual abuse at school is conducting the appropriate background, reference, and previous employer checks. Many offenders have left a trail of previous issues and allegations at other schools. Often, a sexual abuser will have more than one victim. This is why it is so important to report suspected abuse or allegations that have merit to the police. The best way to prevent future abuse is to remove access to potential victims.

Classroom Design

Classroom design also plays a large part in the prevention of abuse. Windows on doors and in the classroom can provide visibility to supervisors and security personnel. Furniture arrangement can be changed to improve visibility and remove any blind spots. By staying aware of cases of abuse in other districts and taking the necessary steps to prevent the same situations in your own school or district. This is learning by example.

Data Collection

Federal agencies can help prevent sexual abuse at school by creating and measuring federal standards for reporting and training, improving coordination between state and federal agencies, and data collection and tracking of reported abuse and the resulting investigations.

Being Aware and Listening

We sincerely believe that most officials are blind to how widespread this issue has become in schools. Awareness of a problem often leads to change. Teachers spend all day with the children in their charge, and they are often the very first to spot and report suspected or witnessed abuse. Teachers can help prevent abuse by reporting any red flags to their administrators. Your school or district should have reporting guidelines and educational programs in place to help you recognize and report abuse.

There are a variety of ways school administrators and district officials can prevent sexual abuse at school. These methods include child safety guidelines, prevention programs and training, background and reference checks, as well as proper classroom design and supervision. In addition, clearly explaining the code of conduct and possible ramifications to teachers may prevent abuse as well. Predators thrive in schools where no proper supervision or oversight is provided.

Sources:
¹Sesame. (2006). Retrieved from Sesame, http://www.sesamenet.org/
²Collin-Vézina, D., Daigneault, I., & Hébert, M. (2013). Lessons learned from child sexual abuse research: Prevalence, outcomes, and preventive strategies. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 7(1), 22. doi:10.1186/1753-2000-7-22


sexual abuse at school

How do parents prevent sexual abuse at school?

There are a variety of steps you can take to protect your child from abuse. The first is to do basic research on the school your child is attending. Have there been previous allegations of abuse? Have background checks been processed on every adult who is employed by or volunteers at the school? Is there a reporting system in place for abuse? Are there abuse prevention programs in place? Are their windows in each classroom? Does the school have surveillance cameras in operation?

When using the public school system, parents often don’t have a choice where their child attends school, or the resources to move their child to a better school. Simply asking these questions may trigger the teachers and administrators at the school to put the necessary safety measures in place. If they don’t, use whatever resources are at your disposal to create change: petitions, meeting attendance, organizing parent groups, etc. Simply by becoming involved and making yourself present at your child’s school may prevent abuse. Predators are more likely to choose victims who have difficult relationships with their parents.

The second step is to educate your child. Abuse usually follows grooming, the process where an abuser selects and prepares the child for abuse.¹ This involves gaining the child’s trust and isolating the child. By educating your child, you can help stop potential abuse before it starts. This involves teaching your child about healthy boundaries. If you’re not sure how to start this conversation with your child, here is a great guide, Keeping Children Safe From Grooming.

The third step is to be aware. Do an internet search of the full legal name of your child’s teacher(s). Previous allegations or arrests will often show up online. If someone takes a special interest in your child at school, or is overly complimentary of that child, have a healthy level of skepticism. Listen for subtle hints your child may leave, including any changes in behavior or physical health or sexual knowledge that isn’t age appropriate. They may also talk about a teacher who gives them hugs or pays special attention. In other cases, they suddenly drop sports or extracurricular activities that they previously liked. Trust your instincts. If something feels “off” or odd about a relationship, investigate further.

By researching your school and its employees, educating your child, and being aware of possible warning signs, you may be able to prevent abuse in your community.

Sources:
¹Grooming dynamic of CSA. (2014). Retrieved from National Center for Victims of Crime, https://victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/grooming-dynamic-of-csa