Sexual harassment may seem like a joke to many college students, especially to those who have heard about Oberlin College’s policy: All sexual interactions between students must be verbally consented to by its participants or else the intimate situation could be considered sexual harassment.
On the other hand, when children are sexually solicited by their educators in the public school system, it’s no laughing matter. The epidemic of child sexual abuse rampant in public schools must be addressed, and it is wrong if it continues to be ignored and uncorrected.
A report by the Associated Press on Sunday revealed a few disturbing facts regarding sexual harassment and sexual abuse in American public schools. The investigation reports more than 2,500 incidences over five years of educators being punished for sexual misconduct.
The same study stated that only one in 10 cases of sexual abuse is reported. Clearly, the true magnitude of sexual abuse is too high, considering only a fraction come to light.
The consequences of sexual abuse as a child can cause severe emotional trauma far into adulthood. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), effects of sexual abuse can include “depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, withdrawal and acting out.” Also, the residual anxiety in the individual can lead to “self-destructive behaviors, such as alcoholism or drug abuse, anxiety attacks, situation-specific anxiety disorders, and insomnia” as an adult.
Further research by APA revealed that “child sexual abuse victims are more likely to be the victims of rape or to be involved in physically abusive relationships as adults.”
What keeps child sexual abuse elusive and abstract is the problem of properly defining and preventing harassment, and discerning problems of sexual abuse in children.
There are two definitions of sexual harassment acknowledged by both Federal courts and the Office for Civil Rights, according to Nan Stein, Ph. D, of the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center at Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.
The first is “quid pro quo,” defined as when “a school employee explicitly or implicitly conditions a student’s participation in an educational program or activity, or bases an educational decision on the student’s submission to unwelcome sex advances or requests for sexual favors …. “
The second is “hostile-environment harassment,” or “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature by an employee, another student or a third party. This form of harassment requires that the harassing behavior be sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive so as to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity, or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment.” This is the more commonly reported case of sexual harassment.
The problem with these definitions is that they are exceedingly broad. Also, the actual reporting of an instance of sexual harassment depends on the child’s ability to identify and cope with harassment and to have the nerve to report someone who is his or her superior.
Efforts to prevent sexual harassment of children in the public school system are definitely lacking, and are generally addressed on the wrong end of the equation.
In “Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse,” a document by Deborah Daro, director of the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, child sexual abuse prevention involves “group-based instruction for children on personal safety.”
Teaching children about sexual harassment may be considered important as a prevention method, but it also places too much pressure on an innocent child. It is not fair to expose children to the concepts of sex – much less sexual abuse – until they are emotionally and intellectually mature enough to handle the implications.
Prevention needs to start at the institutional level, with more rigid screenings before an educator is hired. Also, once a teacher has been identified as a perpetrator, it should be the school’s job to keep that individual from continuing in the education system.
The AP report about sexual abuse in public schools reported that not all states require background checks on teachers and “because teachers are often allowed to resign without
losing their credentials,” there is a phenomenon called “passing the trash” or the “mobile molester.”
If this is such a common occurrence that it has its own nickname, that means there are educators in the school systems who are turning their heads to wrongdoings and administrators actively working to cover up would-be scandals. Allowing victims to accept “settlement deals and sign confidentiality agreements” only serves to keep the problem hush-hush – the school system is not performing its assigned service of providing a safe educational institution in which students can learn.
Children are required by law to attend school, so it only makes sense that it’s the government’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for education. The problem of child sexual abuse has been brought to the public’s attention, and now the people elected to protect the nation’s citizens need to find a proper solution and protect the future of America.
Jaclyn DeVore is a junior majoring in mass communications.