With words like cyber-bullying and bully-cide now part of our vocabulary,
bullying prevention has become a focal point for school districts, staff,
parents and communities. Schools promote bullying prevention through
posters, district-wide assemblies, and even school concerts. Because kids
are taught so much and so often about bullying, it has become expected
and, perhaps more importantly, acceptable for kids to talk about it.
However, there is another serious issue facing schools that isn’t as widely
discussed: sexual abuse and molestation.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, so there is no better time to talk
about both the abuse taking place outside of school, and the abuse taking
place and originating in our schools. In fact, sexual abuse is now our
schools single biggest risk, costing schools tens of millions of dollars
each year, not to mention the incalculable human cost.
An estimated one out of ten K-12 students will experience school employee
sexual misconduct during their lifetime. Schools don’t intentionally hire
and knowingly allow predators to roam the halls, but they do. These
predators use deliberate tactics to condition their victims and other
staff over time prior to engaging in sexual abuse. This is described as
the grooming process. Sexual predators often identify vulnerable
children, especially those who are less able to tell others about the
abuse, or who are unhappy or needy. One child sex offender can have as
many as 73 victims in his or her lifetime.
So why isn’t sexual abuse in schools being talked about in the same
preventative light as bullying? Does it make us uncomfortable? Are we
embarrassed by it? Is it the dirty little secret we don’t want people to
know about? One thing we cannot allow ourselves to do is become
complacent. It is important to understand that silence is a fuel it
creates the ideal environment for sexual abusers to victimize students.
School personnel can prevent much of the sexual misconduct in schools if
they know how to recognize and respond to suspicious patterns and if
administrators enforce an environment of high expectations of behaviour.
In 2015, a California law went into effect requiring all school personnel
identified as “Mandatory Reporters” to undergo training about these
requirements and their responsibilities within six weeks of the start of
employment and/or the school year. This was a positive step, but it only
partially addresses the problem.
In order to truly attack this epidemic, we need more than just mandatory
reporters to be trained. We need to educate and engage our students.
Similar to the “stop bullying” message that has been so prevalent and
widely accepted, we need to make sexual abuse prevention part of the
safety culture for students. We need to empower students to take action
and report on any potential sexual abuse that takes place.
Every child has the right to be safe and every adult has the
responsibility to protect children.
It’s time to confront the issue of sexual abuse in our schools as openly as
we do bullying, and to engage our kids in the fight. We need to make it
safe and expected for kids to speak up.
John Stephens is a Senior Vice President and Property & Casualty Practice
Leader for Keenan. He is responsible for the Property & Casualty Practice
which includes over 600 public school districts, community colleges,
municipalities and joint powers authorities.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.