Sex abuse in school?

As the back to school transition eases into a comfortable routine, this is a good time to consider  a finding published in a report by the U.S. Department of Education: Various studies show that as many as 5 percent of kids report a sexual contact with a school employee sometime during their school experience.

Section 5414 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended required a study of sexual abuse in U.S. schools and the United States Department of Education contracted with Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University to complete a literature review and analysis. You can — and should — read the entire report entitled  Educator Sexual Misconduct:  A Synthesis of Existing Literature .

Shakeshaft reviewed and critiqued dozens of studies on sexual abuse in schools and no matter how we slice and dice her results — even if she is off by a factor of 10 (which I totally doubt) her findings should make any parent stand up and take notice. Parents of young, prepubescent children need to be aware of the way pedophiles can ingratiate themselves into the life of your child and family, gaining trust then violating it in the most unimaginably devastating manner.

By the time  our kids become teens, we are less worried about pedophiles and more worried about stupid, manipulative adults of either gender. Many adolescents,  particularly girls, appear to be a sexually mature adult years before their  social, emotional and intellectual development catch up to their bodies. While  many of us know about school-girl crushes that teens develop on adults, it’s also true that adults develop crushes on kids. Whether it’s the male teacher  living out his mid-life crisis with a crush on a young girl, or the young, plain-jane teacher responding to her first experience of male adoration, there  is a surprisingly large number of possibilities for indiscretions. And most teachers are completely unprepared for this experience.

A smart social worker I know sought support from her supervisor to maintain a treatment relationship with a particularly handsome 17-year-old-boy. A teacher I met knew to make sure he was never alone with the student who fit his model of attraction. Not all professionals bother to do the work necessary to process their very human reaction to an attractive or charming person. Teens, with their still under-developed frontal lobes, lack the judgment to understand that  this type of adult attention is wholly inappropriate.

Parents of little ones need to know every adult who may have the opportunity to be alone with their child. Parents of teens need to pay close attention to all of the relationships their kids have with adults. All parents can do their best to make sure their kids have age-appropriate knowledge and language about sex and sexuality, and keep lines of communication wide open.

More information is coming!  Read my forthcoming  book The Sex-Wise Parent, on sale  April 2012 from Skyhorse Publishing

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