As the shock of the contents of the Freeh report settles in, this is a good time to remember that no single school has cornered the market on being a risk to the sexual health and safety of students. A report published by the U.S. Department of Education says that various studies show that as many as 5 percent of kids report a sexual contact with a school employee sometime during their school experience. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll keep writing about this until every single parent is prepared to consider and understand the sexual climate of their child’s school and every other institution where the child spends time.
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. Actually, now that we’ve read the Sandusky indictment and the Freeh report, it’s tragically not so unimaginable anymore.
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 too many teachers are completely unprepared for this experience.
I devote a great deal of time to this issue in The Sex-Wise Parent. I use Monica Lewinsky as an example since her experience with a predatory teacher seems to have played a role in her being sentenced to life as the punch line of a joke. Every person who enjoyed a laugh at her expense should know that Monica learned to trade sex for status from one of her high school teachers. Further, interviews aired on national TV make it clear that many people knew this teacher was a predator!
Whether we’re talking about Jerry Sandusky operating with impunity at Penn State or Monica’s teacher having his pick of the graduating seniors, the sexual climate is way off balance in many of the institutions serving our kids. Parents need the tools and skills to understand; to open the discussion, see my checklist and check this site often for more information.