The Associated Press recently completed a seven month investigation into sexual harassment and abuse in U.S. schools. The AP investigation found that most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can’t be proven, and many abusers have several victims.
And no one — not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments — has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms…There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators — nearly three for every school day — speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.
The perpetrators that the AP found are everyday educators — teachers, school psychologists, principals and superintendents among them. They’re often popular and recognized for excellence and, in nearly nine out of 10 cases, they’re male. While some abused students in school, others were cited for sexual misconduct after hours that didn’t necessarily involve a kid from their classes, such as viewing or distributing child pornography.
School officials fear public embarrassment as much as the perpetrators do and they want to avoid the fallout from going up against a popular teacher. They also don’t want to get sued by teachers or victims, and they don’t want to face a challenge from a strong union. Meanwhile, the reasons given for punishing hundreds of educators, including many in California, were so vague there was no way to tell why they’d been punished, until further investigation by AP reporters revealed it was sexual misconduct.
The AP concluded that there is “a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse.” It starts in school hallways, where fellow teachers look away or feel powerless to help. School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals to avoid lawsuits and other trouble. The investigation also pointed out that lawmakers shy from tough state punishments or any cohesive national policy for fear of disparaging a vital profession.
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