Sexual violence in public schools

A 2004 report mandated by Congress found that 4.5 million public school students are sexually abused by teachers by the time they reach 12th grade. That is almost 10 percent of public school students. The report also found that 30 percent of those students are boys sexually abused by women:

A 2004 report mandated by Congress estimated that 4.5 million, or 9.6 percent, of America’s public-school students are victims of educator sexual misconduct by the time they reach 12th grade. Of those cases, 30 percent are boys abused by women working in schools, according report author and Virginia Commonwealth University professor Charol Shakeshaft, the nation’s leading researcher in what she calls “educator sexual misconduct.”

“That would indicate a fairly large group of female teachers have sexually abused their students,” Shakeshaft said. “We didn’t really realize that because very few of those are reported.”

“I can’t tell you if it is increasing because there is nothing to compare it to,” Shakeshaft said. “Studies take funding, and nobody seems willing to fund it,” she said.

The results are hardly surprising. Plenty of studies show that women commit more sexual violence than people suspect. However, because there is so little research about female sex offenders, we have no way of knowing how frequently it actually occurs. As Shakesshaft notes, we cannot even tell if we are seeing an increase in abuse or an increase in reporting because no one wants to fund or conduct the studies to find out.

This leaves us in total ignorance about this problem, and people do not help by the way they respond to news about female teachers raping their students. As Shakeshaft and Terri Miller state in the article, the media focuses on the attractive female teachers, turning the situation into a farce or a rite of passage. That undermines the trauma that boys feel as a result of the abuse, making them less likely to tell anyone.

Yet the other dynamic at play is likely worse, and unfortunately both Miller and Shakeshaft fall prey to it:

Boys who are abused are more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, drop out of school and commit suicide, Miller said. Male victims often overcompensate for being dominated by a woman at a very young age, Miller said, and can become violent toward women as adults.

[…]

Women who target high school boys tend to be emotionally immature, show bad judgment and exhibit a lack of boundary control, Shakeshaft said.
While many female predators are married and sometimes have children of their own, she said they are often recent college graduates who are in their 20s.

“They are reliving their high school experiences and more likely to think of it as a romance – not as a sexual act,” she said.

Saying that these women are emotionally immature and that abused boys will become abusers plays into the women as perpetual victims meme. Many people who abuse children are emotionally immature, but that does not stop them from understanding that their actions are wrong. We do not excuse men who are emotionally immature who prey on children, so we should not give women that excuse.

Likewise, most abused boys never abuse anyone. To focus on the off-chance that a few of them might abuse women implies that the reason we should help these boys is so that they do not hurt women, not that they do not hurt or kill themselves, which is far more likely.

Setting aside, Miller makes a broader point about the lack of social networking boundaries between teachers and students:

Miller thinks technology has helped blur the line of the relationship between student and teacher.

“It has given bad teachers access to their target 24-7,” Miller said of technological advancements in communication. “There is absolutely no reason to be exchanging cell phone numbers or friending on Facebook.”

She said teacher-student communications should be limited to school-district operated computer networks that can easily be monitored by administrators.

While it is likely that technology aids in abusers gaining greater contact with their victims, this is nothing new. Plenty of teachers have given out their phone numbers for decades. Sometimes it helps because a student in trouble might be more willing to call their teacher than call their parents.

It is not the technology that is the problem; it is the people who use it.

Limiting teacher-student communications to school-operated networks can help in some instances, but it is unlikely that it will stop teachers intent on abusing a kid from giving out their phone number or email address. There are easy ways to get around any school district restrictions. The focus should be on paying attention to the relationships teachers have with students.

It is impossible to prevent every case of abuse. However, it is not impossible to learn more about how frequently teacher abuse happens. We can study the rate women sexually abuse boys and girls… if we want to. If we can set aside the politics and just worry about preventing abuse, we can understand the extent of this problem. We can also change the social narrative about women’s sexual violence against boys by challenging people who make light of it. There is no reason to let people treat this problem as anything but serious. We just have to step up and do it.

On a side note, it is ironically unfortunate, yet nonetheless humorous, that the researcher talking about the sexual abuse of boys is named Shakeshaft.

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5 thoughts on “Sexual violence in public schools

  1. Absolutely guarantee that the sorts of cover-ups that have occurred in other institutions will have occurred in our school systems.

  2. CDC has the most accurate sats of all.
    @ gwallan, that goes without saying

  3. Read the report here:

    http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf

    What is striking to me is the difference between the results from public record searches, and the results from asking students:

    “Three studies examined public records. Jennings and Tharp (2003) searched educator sexual misconduct discipline proceedings of 606 teachers in Texas; 12.7 percent were females and 87.3 percent males. The Hendrie (1998) analysis of 244 cases in newspapers in a six month period reports a higher proportion of female offenders than the later Jennings and Tharp analysis; 20 percent were female offenders vs. 80 percent who were males. Gallagher (2000) reports 96 percent male and 4 percent female offenders.”

    “In studies that ask students about offenders, sex differences are less than in adult reports. The 2000 AAUW data indicate that 57.2 percent of all students report a male offender and 42.4 percent a female offender with the Cameron et al. study reporting nearly identical proportions as the 2000 AAUW data (57 percent male offenders vs. 43 percent female offenders)”

    Why are convicted offenders 13%/20%/4% female (three studies), but reported offenders are 43%/42% female (two studies)? Why are female offenders approximately 4 times less likely to be prosecuted, compared to male offenders?

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