Parents expect that when they send their children to a school that they are going to be safe. They don’t imagine that they will ever have to deal with the reality that sexual abuse in these settings does occur. It does not matter if the school is privately funded or publicly funded. The problem still exists.
The United States Department of Health & Human Services provides federal funding to public school systems. According to the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a child is protected from sexual abuse while attending school. If the school fails to protect that student, the perpetrator is liable, and so is the school.
A private school can be sued for breach of contract or negligence and make up a majority of the cases found on dockets at the present time. These schools are legally obligated to comply with federal and state laws on discrimination. In an interesting turn of events, many of these private schools turned to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Now, these schools are also under the obligation of Title IX and other applicable federal laws.
In 2019, Derek Michael Boyce was sentenced to serve eight years of a 13-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to ten counts of felony sex charges involving a 15-year old female student. Boyce was a teacher at Pine Tree Academy in Freeport, which is a Seventh-Day Adventist school. Boyce had been engaged in a relationship with the teen girl for months.
The complaint listed against Boyce stated that the sexual acts included sexual intercourse, touching of the genitals, and oral sex. The mother of the student stated that the grooming behavior of the school resulted in or led to sexual abuse by Boyce. The school denies that they have any implication in the matter and that because they are not incorporated, they cannot be sued.
PREVALENCE OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN SCHOOLS
In a Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME) study, it was determined that:
- Of the children who were surveyed in grades 8th through 11th (about 3.5 million students), 7% of them admitted to physical, sexual contact, ranging from unwanted touching all the way to sexual intercourse with a teacher or coach.
- The statistic increased to 10% when adding other types of sexual misconduct, like pornography, language, or exhibitionism.
- In a lot of the cases of school sexual abuse, other teachers suspected that there might be something happening but were afraid to report it in case they were wrong. The fear of ruining the teacher’s lives was greater than their suspicion.
Many believe that advances in technology might be part of the blame for increased sexual abuse in schools. Children are gaining access to social media at younger ages and have access to cell phones, making it a lot easier for these child predators to communicate with them. In fact, a 2015 Washington Post story was already stating statistics that showed 35% of school educators making inappropriate contact with their students through social media.
Two former Mound Fort Junior High School students filed a lawsuit against the Ogden School District in Utah. The lawsuit states that the school district failed to properly investigate Drew Tutt when they were made aware of his misconduct with students.
Between 2015 and 2016, Drew Tutt is reported to have had inappropriate conversations and sexually abused multiple students. In 2016, Tutt resigned from his teaching position when he was discovered in a car at a park with a 14-year-old student.
In 2018 Tutt pleaded guilty to two charges of third-degree felony sexual abuse of a minor student and was sentenced to serve up to five years in prison. The two students suing the school district are seeking at least $300,000 in damages, including emotional distress.
SIGNS OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN SCHOOLS
Some signs might direct you to the presence of sexual abuse occurring in the school setting. Although not completely indicative of a sexual abuse problem, seeing the signs should alert parents to ask their children questions.
In general, children may exhibit:
- Unexplained nightmares or problems sleeping
- A refusal to eat, loss of appetite, or problems swallowing
- Changes in mood, sudden insecurities, and complete withdrawal
- Unusual and unexplained fear of certain people or places
- Exhibits knowledge of sexual behavior and language only adults should know
- Draws, dreams, or writes about frightening images or sexual acts
- Considers themselves or their body as “dirty” or “bad”
- Refusing to be hugged or touched by anyone
In teens or adolescents, the signs might be different. Here is what you should look for:
- Urge to run away from home or attempt to run away from home
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Sexual promiscuity
- Stops caring about appearance or becomes obsessed with appearance
- Exhibits anxiety, depression, or both
- Attempts to take their own life
What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Was Sexually Abused at School
If your child comes to you and tells you that they are sexually abused at school, or if you suspect it, the reaction you have is crucial. Many children don’t come forward about sexual abuse in schools. They are often afraid or don’t understand that it is not normal. The majority of cases involve someone that the child trusted, making them unsure who they can trust at this moment.
- Don’t overreact, and above all else, don’t criticize or blame the child
- Don’t demand details, but listen if they are offering them
- Don’t downplay their disclosure in an effort to minimize their feelings
- Listen carefully to what they are saying and remember that children seldom lie about this kind of abuse
- Seek the appropriate medical and mental care for your child
- Notify law enforcement as well as appropriate child services organizations
- ChildHelp: 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453)
- RAINN: 1.800.656.HOPE (4673)
These same rules apply even if it is years after the incident that your child comes to you. There are things that may happen that a child doesn’t understand until they are older.
In 2018, a former elementary student of Oscar I. Perez came forward stating that the educator had sexually abused her when she was a third-grader at McWhirter Elementary. At that time, Perez had emailed the girl’s parents asking them to allow her to stay after school two days a week for tutoring so that she could pass the STAAR Test.
During those tutoring sessions, the girls explained that Perez would sit her on his lap, bounce her up and down, and had even touched her genitals on several occasions. This is not the only allegation against Perez for sexual abuse regarding a student.
Many of the sexual abuse cases seen in schools come from teachers who lure their students, often believing that there is a relationship going on. Alexandria Vera was an English teacher at Aldine Independent School District. According to the reports, she was involved with her 13-year-old student and was pregnant by him. Although the boy’s family was accepting, this case is still considered sexual abuse of a minor. The legal age of consent varies from state-to-state, but in most instances, it ranges from 16 to 18 years of age.
The 24-year old teacher was sentenced to ten years in prison after pleading guilty to the charges of sexual abuse with her student.
In situations like Alexandria Vera and her student, where they didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong – those waters have to be treated delicately. Based on the case proceedings, it looks as though Vera never truly admitted fault except for the plea deal. Additionally, the parents of the student stated that it was consensual and they were okay with it.
Luckily someone called the authorities to have it investigated. At no point is there an acceptable relationship between a teacher (person of power) and a student (vulnerable party). The child is not able to provide their own consent, making it against the law to engage in the relationship – in this case, sexual abuse of a minor.
In cases like this, it is important to look to professionals for help dealing with how the child handles everything mentally.
TorkLaw Protects Children In School Sexual Abuse Cases
Although most of the cases in school sexual abuse may be tried as a criminal case against the offender, there is also a chance that the school or district could be sued for negligence. TorkLaw is here to handle those cases of negligence against the schools that let your expectations down.
Children are supposed to be safe, no matter how old they are, in a professional teaching environment. If the school was aware that there was a problem and did nothing about it, they are just as liable for the sexual abuse as the perpetrator.
If you or a loved one have suffered at the hands of someone you were supposed to trust in an educational setting, call the lawyers of TorkLaw. We provide FREE and confidential case consultation. Call us at 888.845.9696 today.