Ignoring The Obvious Signs Of Sexual Abuse: What Counter Steps Should Adults Take?

Two school districts in Ohio, school officials, and a number of employees have been sued by a former student who fathered a child with his teacher during the sexual relationship he had with her for several years.

The former student, now 21, attended a school in Akron and one in Tallmadge. He alleges the school districts and their employees were aware his former teacher was sexually abusing him because there were "obvious signs" but did nothing to stop it.

He alleges that several administrators and employees of both school districts failed to prevent the former teacher from "sexually abusing, assaulting, and raping" the plaintiff over a period of seven years, from the time he was in sixth grade until his graduation from high school.

The accused was a former teacher in Akron and former volunteer, PTA member, and board member of Tallmadge City Schools.

The plaintiff alleges the former teacher started grooming him when he was twelve by giving him "special and inappropriate attention." She would bring him food from outside restaurants, take him swimming, bowling, and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. She also bought him expensive items such as signature shoes. The student would also spend the night at the teacher's house. The two of them would arrive at school together in the morning and then leave together most afternoons. They started having a sexual relationship when the alleged victim was in ninth grade.

By 2013, the student had moved in with the former teacher. This angered his father, who reported the teacher to school officials, but nothing was done. When the student's mother found "horrific" Twitter messages on her son's account from the teacher, she called police. In 2015, the teacher gave birth to the boy's baby, who was adopted at birth.

The plaintiff alleges he has "suffered severe and permanent physical, psychological and emotional damage as a result of these failures." Emily Mills "Former abused student sues teacher, Akron, Tallmadge schools" www.ohio.com (Apr. 16, 2019).

Commentary and Checklist
 

In the above matter, school officials either did not know or ignored the signs of possible sexual abuse. One obvious sign is that the teacher singled out the target for special attention and time. 

Child sexual abuse is a crime. Schools should make it clear that consensual relationships with students is still child sexual abuse. When the father reported the abuse, the school should have made inquiries and then reported the issue to the child protection authorities. Allow the child protection experts to investigate.

Schools should also consider the following steps to help prevent teacher-student sexual relationships:

  • Train staff that sexual abuse is a crime and will not be tolerated.
  • Everyone should be vigilant as to the behaviors of everyone in the school community.
  • Prohibit one-on-one, private interactions between adults and children. If private conversations must take place, they must be done in a location that would permit anyone to observe the conduct or interject themselves without notice.
  • Specify what types of communication are appropriate.
  • Prohibit employees from showing favoritism, including providing gifts to, or spending more time with, a student or certain students.
  • Train all administrators, teachers, volunteers, and parents on what constitutes child sexual abuse.
  • Do not allow teachers or other adults working in the classroom to lock the classroom door. If possible, install classroom doors with windows so that passersby can see into the classroom at all times. Consider an "open access" policy.
  • Landscape the school so that all areas are visible and there are no concealed places where perpetrators could carry out abuse.
  • Watch for inappropriate interactions between students and take immediate action to stop any peer-to-peer sexual abuse or harassment.
  • Document all monitoring activities, any inappropriate behavior witnessed, and follow-up actions.
  • Report suspicions of child sexual abuse to child protection agencies or other law enforcement and then to your school administration.
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