What Is School Abuse?
School abuse refers to a person in a position of power sexually abusing a student. In many cases, the abuser is a teacher, coach or other school faculty member. In some cases, the abuser may also be another student.
Adult abusers misuse their authority to prey on vulnerable students in schools. When an adult abuses a minor in K-12 schools, it is considered an act of child sexual abuse. Sexual offenses against a minor often hold greater legal consequences for the abuser if the incident is reported. However, statistics show that most incidents of child sexual abuse go unreported.
The term “school abuse” often refers to sexual abuse. However, school abuse can also describe other forms of sexual misconduct perpetrated on school grounds or by a school employee.
Common Forms Of Sexual Misconduct
Sexual misconduct refers to unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that is committed against an unwilling victim.
Sexual Harassment – Any behavior of a sexual nature directed at an unwilling participant. Sexual harassment can be verbal, visual or physical. Unwanted sexual advances and requests for sexual favors are forms of sexual harassment.
Sexual Assault – Any sexual contact or behavior performed without explicit consent. Sexual assault can range from unwanted touching to rape. Attempted rape is also an act of sexual assault.
Sexual Abuse – Sexual abuse typically refers to sexual activity with a victim who is unable to give consent. Common victims of sexual abuse include minors, adults with disabilities and elderly adults.
For more information about these forms of sexual misconduct and other types of sexual violence, visit our sexual violence resource page.
Sexual Abuse In Schools By Teachers
Teacher sexual abuse cases have received less media coverage than child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. However, incidents of sexual abuse by a school faculty member are quite common.
For example, in 2014, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) investigated approximately 328 allegations of teacher sexual abuse. This was double the number of investigations opened in 2008–2009.
In some cases, school administrators have perpetuated abuse by ignoring or covering up the crimes.
Sexual Abuse Coverups By School Administrators
In 2016, USA Today published the results of a year-long investigation into school sex abuse. The investigation focused on how K-12 school administrators handled sexual misconduct by teachers.
The results of the investigation were alarming. USA Today found school administrators often protected abusive teachers. In many cases, these actions enabled future abuse.
Common actions that protected abusive teachers or enabled future abuse include:
- School administrators did not report abuse to local law enforcement.
- School administrators did not report abuse to state licensing officials.
- School administrators did not disclose abuse to the abuser’s future employers.
- School administrators did not run background checks on new hires.
Because of these actions, many teachers accused of abuse took new teaching jobs. Sometimes, educators who lost their teaching licenses found other positions working with minors.
USA Today found more than 100 teachers who lost their teaching license but were still working with children. In several instances, individuals continued abusing minors in their new roles.
Some survivors of child sexual abuse will never report their experiences. However, many survivors are filing lawsuits against teachers who abused them. If you were abused by a teacher or employee at your school, you may have legal rights to sue your abuser or the responsible administrative body. Our legal team can help determine if a lawsuit is right for you.
School abuse is not only perpetrated by teachers. Some students sexually harass, assault or abuse other students. The Associated Press conducted a year-long investigation into peer sexual assaults. The investigation found 17,000 reports of sexual assaults committed by students during a four-year span.
As part of the investigation, The Associated Press analyzed data gathered by the FBI. The data represented student-on-student sexual assaults. The analysis looked at more than 2,800 cases of peer sexual assault reported at elementary and secondary schools between 2013 and 2014. These cases involved more than 3,300 victims. The analysis found that for every case of school abuse perpetrated by an adult, there were seven cases committed by a student.
Despite studies and analyses looking at the issue, there is minimal information on school abuse. This is largely due to abuse being underreported. In the United States, only 32 states and the District of Columbia track sexual assaults in K-12 schools. These records aren’t always consistent or accurate.
Institutional Abuse In Schools
School abuse can occur in all types of K-12 schools and on college campuses. Cases of sexual harassment, assault and abuse have been reported in public schools, private schools and religious schools. Even with strict policies and enforcement, school abuse can happen anywhere.
Public School Sex Abuse
Sex abuse in public schools is very common. Unfortunately, not every state requires school districts to track sex abuse at schools. Even in states where reporting suspected abuse is required, school administrators and teachers often fail to report abuse to local authorities. In cases where school administrators have not responded properly to sexual abuse in public schools, students and their parents have had to seek legal action.
Catholic School Sexual Abuse
Parents may enroll their children in religious schools in an attempt to protect them from abuse. Unfortunately, religious schools aren’t free from sexual misconduct. Abuse occurs in Catholic schools and other religious-based schools. Many priests and clergy accused of abuse in the Catholic Church scandal were teachers in Catholic parish schools. They misused their authority to abuse students in these institutions.
Sexual Abuse In Private Schools
Some parents may choose to send their children to private schools with the idea these schools are safer. However, private school sex abuse is common. In 2016, The Boston Globe identified 67 private schools in New England that faced allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harassment.
Many of the private institutions identified in The Boston Globe report were boarding schools.
Although the majority of students on college campuses are not minors, they can still fall prey to sexual abuse by authority figures. News articles and court documents have identified cases where young adults were sexually abused by their college professors, campus medical staff, coaches or administrators. These abusive adults used their positions of authority to sexually abuse students in their care.
School Abuse Lawsuits
Former students are filing school sex abuse claims. These lawsuits name teachers, faculty, individual schools or universities, and responsible school administrators or districts. Many of these legal cases involve incidents that happened decades ago.
As states expand their statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims, more survivors of K-12 school abuse can file lawsuits.
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a legal deadline. SOLs are determined at the state level and vary based on the crime.
If you are a survivor of school abuse, you may have legal options. Our legal team can review your case and determine if legal action is right for you.
Reporting Child Abuse In Schools
If you or the suspected victim are in immediate danger, call the police.
There are several ways to report child sexual abuse in schools.
Report abuse to a school official – You can report sexual abuse or sexual assault to a teacher, coach or school faculty member. However, be advised these individuals are required to report abuse to school administrators.
File a Title IX complaint – This reporting method is only available to students who go to U.S. schools that receive federal funding. This includes K-12 schools and most universities. If your school receives federal funding and you experience sexual assault or sexual harassment, you can file a complaint under Title IX.
Under Title IX, sexual assault and sexual harassment are considered forms of sex discrimination. As a target of sexual misconduct, the victim is denied his or her civil rights to equal and free access to education. The provisions of Title IX work to correct discrimination experienced by a sexual assault victim.
A Title IX complaint will result in the school conducting a student misconduct investigation. This investigation is separate from a criminal investigation. Some school districts or colleges may have a Title IX coordinator to look into complaints.
Report abuse to your local enforcement agency – You can report an incident of sexual harassment, assault or abuse to your local law enforcement agency. Reporting abuse is not the same as filing a lawsuit. However, reporting abuse could lead to a criminal investigation, depending on the circumstances of the incident.
If you are unsure about reporting abuse, you can always contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline. You can use the online chat service or call 800-656-HOPE (4673). Hotline operators are available to talk 24/7. They can offer you support, information and advice. Additionally, they can provide referrals to useful victim resources.
Mandatory Reporting Of Child Sexual Abuse
In 47 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, certain school employees are required by state law to report suspected child abuse or neglect. This includes child sexual abuse. Depending on the state, these mandatory reporting laws apply to teachers, coaches and staff members. These laws apply to employees at public and private schools.
Indiana, New Jersey and Wyoming do not name school employees in their mandatory reporting laws. However, these states require any person in the state to report suspected abuse, regardless of their profession.
When mandatory reporters fail to report suspected sex abuse, they can be fined or face harsher legal ramifications. An experienced legal team may also use this neglect to build a school abuse case against an abuser or responsible school district.
If you are a survivor of school abuse, our legal team can help you build a strong legal case and seek the justice you deserve.
Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
Ron Meneo is the managing partner of The Meneo Law Group. With more than 40 years of experience, he represents clients across the country on a variety of complex legal matters, including personal injury due to institutional sexual abuse, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and other practice areas. He is a recipient of Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV® Preeminent Rating. He has also served as an editor and contributor for several legal journals.
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