Preventing Sexual Abuse in Our Schools
October is the 10th year of National Bullying Prevention Month. Bullying has evolved from physical intimidation and verbal abuse to more social platforms such as cyber-bullying with words like bully-cide now in our vocabulary. While bullying has not gone away, bullying prevention has become a focal point for school districts, staff, parents and communities. Schools promote bullying prevention through posters, district-wide assemblies, and school concerts. My daughters have been taught about it and it’s become expected — and equally important — acceptable for kids to talk about bullying.
However, there is another serious issue facing schools that isn’t widely talked about, sexual abuse and molestation. Not the abuse taking place outside of school, but the abuse taking place and originating in our schools. This is now our schools’ single biggest risk and is costing schools tens of millions of dollars each year.
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 can NOT allow ourselves to do is become complacent. It is important to understand that silence is a fuel and creates the ideal environment for sexual abusers allowing students to be victimized.
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. Effective January 1, 2015, AB1432 went into effect requiring all school personnel identified as “Mandatory Reporters” to undergo training within 6 weeks of the start of employment and/or the school year. This is a positive step, but it only partially identifies the problem.
In order to truly attack this epidemic, we need more than just mandatory reporters to be trained. We need to enlighten students, similar to the “stop bullying” message that has been so widely accepted. We need to make sexual abuse prevention part of the safety culture for students. We need to educate and 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.
Imagine if we included the kids. Imagine if we confronted the issue of sexual abuse in our schools like bullying. It’s time to confront this in the same manner as bullying. We need to make it safe and expected for kids to speak up. AB1432 was a step in the right direction, but this doesn’t include students. More is still needed.