Sex Abuse in Schools: An All Too Common Occurrence

Recently, the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has been the focus of much media attention. But as shocking and disturbing as this problem is, it is not nearly as widespread as sex abuse in our nation’s schools. One university researcher has concluded that sexual abuse of students at school is 100 times more likely than sex abuse by a priest. In the U.S., many more children are enrolled in public schools than religious schools and too many students are at risk of school sex abuse.

Troubling Statistics

In general, nearly a third of all forcible rapes in America occur against children younger than 11. An estimated 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are victimized by unwanted sexual contact. It is very difficult to pinpoint how often school sex abuse occurs. Many instances go unreported because children are too frightened or embarrassed to speak out. A Department of Education report suggests that 6 to 10 percent of all public school students will suffer sex abuse before they graduate. Another study estimates that 10 percent of U.S. students will experience unwanted sexual contact at school, acts which may include exposure to pornography, lewd comments, peeping in locker rooms, and sexual touching and groping. At this rate, millions of students currently enrolled in grades K-12 will suffer some form of sexual misconduct by an educator.

Private Schools Too

In Los Angeles, the Miramonte public elementary school grabbed recent headlines when a teacher was accused of sex acts with more than 20 students, including blindfolding and photographing them. Two other workers at the school were also allegedly involved. The Los Angeles school superintendent was so outraged by the school’s culture of silence on student sex abuse that he removed and transferred the entire staff-teachers, administrators, janitors and cafeteria workers-so that the matter could be properly investigated. But school sex abuse also occurs at some of the country’s most elite institutions. At the exclusive Horace Mann School in Riverdale, N.Y., students were sexually abused by faculty members from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. More than 25 victims, men now in their 40s and 50s, came forward in 2012 to accuse 12 suspected abusers. Although the cases were investigated, the Bronx District Attorney’s office was unable to prosecute because the statute of limitations (see below) had expired. At the Groton School, whose alumni include admirals, generals, senators and former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one student reported numerous instances of sex abuse by other students. School administrators responded to his report by questioning his credibility and downplaying his accusations. The student has filed a lawsuit against the Groton School for failing to provide him with a safe environment.

Statute of Limitations

Under New York’s statute of limitations, child victims of sex abuse must commence a lawsuit or pursue criminal charges within 5 years after their 18th birthday. A new bill has been proposed in the New York State legislature to eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse.

Disclosure Equals Prevention

There are more than 3 million teachers in America. The great majority of them are dedicated, caring professionals who are repelled by child sex abuse. At the same time, unless school sex abuse victims come forward and tell their stories, it is impossible to identify and keep track of abusers, making sure they stay away from schools and children. Keeping quiet about school sex abuse is one of the surest ways to expose other students to the risk of harm.

Prompt reporting of school sex abuse is the best way to preserve evidence, seek treatment, and comply with the statute of limitations. The attorneys at the Orlow firm understand that child sex abuse is a delicate matter and that victims often hesitate to speak out. If you or a loved one has been a victim of school sex abuse, our knowledgeable and sensitive attorneys are available to assist you.