It's Time To Talk About Sexual Abuse In Our Schools

04/24/2017 05:58 pm ET Updated Apr 25, 2017

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.

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