Variables/Risk Factors Related to Child Sexual Abuse in Schools

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Exposures/variables and risk factors for school professionals sexually abusing children:

• Sex: As was detailed earlier, while male staff committed higher amounts of reported sexual offenses (57.2%), the percent of reported staff offenders who were female is higher than most would assume (42.8%).

• Position/Title: The table above summarized evidence from a study that provides insight into who's committing the sexual abuse: teachers committed 18% of reported offenses, followed by coaches who committed 15%, and substitute teachers who committed 12%.

• Work Location Chosen: Research on school staff who commit sexual offenses provides evidence that, in elementary schools, these are often the staff (usually the teachers) who the community and school view as the most popular, excellent and award-worthy educators (Shakeshaft, 2003). One reason for this might be that these educators work to build up a perfect façade/reputation in order to create a safe climate for themselves to start abusing children - an environment where other staff, parents, and students trust them completely, and where allegations against them of sexual abuse are unlikely to be believed (Shakeshaft and Cohan, 1994). Research by Shakeshaft (2003) suggests sexual abuse by staff in middle and high schools might initially be somewhat less pre-meditated and more opportunistic.

• Process Used: Robins (2000) suggests that the process of grooming is often used by sexual abusers (rather than initial overt force) because this decreases the likelihood the child will report the abuse to others.

Exposures/variables and risk factors for children being sexually abused in schools:

Race/ethnicity and sex: Data suggest females of color (particularly females of African descent, Latinas, and female American Indians) are at greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse than are white females (See table below: Shakeshaft, 2003). The table attached below details victims based on race.
Targets by Race.pdf

Disabilities: Data on child sexual abuse in general suggests much higher rates of sexual abuse for children with disabilities, though research needs to be done to confirm this finding in school settings specifically (Educator Sexual Misconduct, 2004). The table attached below details rates in institutional settings in general.
Sexual Abuse Reports by Disability Status.pdf

All children represent a vulnerable population, particularly in the setting of institutions such as schools, where adult staff are the ones who have all the power and are assumed to be benevolent. Research suggests that children who are perceived as more marginalized, less connected to their parents and peers, engaged in risky behavior or have parents who are commonly engaged in risky behavior, and are more unsure of themselves are at greater risk of being targeted by staff for sexual abuse (Robins, 2000; Shakeshaft and Cohan, 1994). These children might be more likely to respond positively to initial friendly grooming attempts and might be less likely to report the abuse. Additionally, children with disabilities and young females of color are often the least likely to receive justice in society for abuses; for this reason they might be seen by staff as being more vulnerable and thus more abuse-able without consequences.

Exposures/variables and risk factors for schools having high rates of professionals sexually abusing children

Research by the U.S. Department of Education (Educator Sexual Misconduct, 2004, pp. 34 - 36) found nine articles examining patterns seen in schools where sexual abuse has been reported. Because the data are not from randomized control studies published in peer-reviewed journals, caution must be made in interpreting the findings. However, until more research is done these studies provide a starting point for understanding the environments in which sexual abuse is occurring:

-Settings where students are not able/taught/encouraged to tell school officials about sexual abuse, be it physical, verbal, visual, etc.

-Students who do report sexual abuse in the school are disbelieved by school staff and school officials. Additionally, such students are often disbelieved and outcast by classmates. Other children see and this are influenced to not report their own experiences of abuse.

-School officials/staff who are told about the incident see it as being non-sexual (innocent pat on the back, innocent compliment about body, etc.), or see it as being bad judgment on the part of the accused staff member, but nothing warranting more than a warning or a long talk. This can occur even when the child and the staff member's story of what happened are the same; the difference is in the meaning attributed to the incident by school staff compared to the child's experience of the incident. The offending staff member often conveys a façade of innocence, and the child's point of view gets discounted.

-No formal investigations occur in response to reports of abuse, neither by the school nor by law enforcement. Incidents are not reported to law enforcement

-No action is taken to let go/remove the staff member, or to achieve justice, safety, and healing for the student. If the staff member is fired/let go, often no action is taken to help the student heal

Exposures/variables and risk factors for states/countries having high rates of child sexual abuse in schools (Educator Sexual Misconduct, 2004, pp. 39)

-Lack of liability to schools for damages caused to a student by a school staff member, particularly from sexual harassment and other non-physical forms of sexual abuse which are less often rewarded compensation

-States have varying ages of consent whereby some educators can legally engage in "consensual" sexual conduct with students who are of that age of consent or older

-Schools sometimes do confidential settlements with alleged abusers to keep it out of the courts and the news, preventing the child from getting justice and allowing the abuser to move to a different city and work at a new school. Similarly, judges sometimes impose settlements that let the staff member off easy and ignore the protection of children from future harm.

-The staff member and the school don't usually face legal consequences for failing to report the abuse to future institutions where the staff member is seeking work and to the state-licensing agency.

-States fail to collect annual data on educator sexual misconduct in schools

-The U.S. fails to have a national clearinghouse of data on educator sexual misconduct

-Many schools don't adequately perform background checks and regular interim employment career checks on school employees. Additionally, when hiring new school staff, schools often don't do check extensively enough (beyond a background check) into the individual's history by calling past employers, etc.

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This page contains a single entry by stee0279 published on April 22, 2011 6:42 PM.

Estimated Costs of Child Sexual Abuse in Schools was the previous entry in this blog.

Trends in Child Sexual Abuse in Schools is the next entry in this blog.

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