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.

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Sex Abuse in Foster Care: Why Does It Happen?

One in five children in the U.S. is a victim of sex abuse. Children in foster care face an even higher probability of being sexually abused. In fact, in some states, the rate of sex abuse in foster care may be as much as 28 times higher than in the general population. With nearly a third of all foster children experiencing some type of abuse or neglect, many experts question whether removing children from their own homes actually protects them. Unfortunately, even with intense services and close supervision, some of these homes are still unsafe. It is a sad fact that a child already victimized by sex abuse when he or she enters foster care is all too likely to be targeted again.

Increased Risk

Children do not have the psychological maturity to cope with sexual stimulation. When they are exposed to sex too early in their lives, children may develop certain behaviors that make them vulnerable to further sexual abuse. Although this may sound like blaming the victim, it does seem that children hurt by sex abuse can be easy prey for abusive foster parents as well as for other children in the home. Some of the factors that increase a victim’s risk of further sex abuse are:

  • Sex abuse conditions children to behave in ways that are often interpreted as inviting sexual activity.
  • Sexually abused children might expect adults to behave sexually with them.
  • Victims of child sex abuse may develop an early sexual awareness. As a result, physical pleasure may be associated with sex.
  • Sexually abused children may lack age-appropriate socialization skills, exposing them to rejection or victimization by their peers.
  • Abused and neglected children placed in foster care may have been subjected to serious emotional deprivation. These unmet needs may cause them to seek affection in inappropriate ways.

Foster Parent Abusers

A foster parent who sexually abuses one child in the home may repeat the behavior with other children. Risk factors for sex abuse by foster parents include:

  • Foster parents with no history of abusing their own children may feel less inhibited about sexual activity with non-biological children. Removal of the “incest taboo” may create an opportunity for sexual abuse.
  • Foster parents are in close, intimate contact with the children in their care, bathing and dressing them, disciplining them, and putting them to bed. This intimacy may stimulate sexual arousal in those who would not normally act on these feelings with their own children.
  • Foster fathers who resent their wives’ devotion to the children in their care may sexually abuse a child out of anger or for emotional and sexual gratification.
  • A foster parent may rationalize taking advantage of a sexually abused child by saying that the child has already had sex with at least one adult. These foster parents may convince themselves that further sexual activity will not harm the child.

Preventing Further Abuse

Many cases of sex abuse in foster care go unreported and uninvestigated, making prevention difficult. There are, however, certain measures that may help to curb further victimization of sexually abused children:

  • Thorough background checks and screening of foster parent applicants.
  • Special foster parent training in child sex abuse focusing on
  1. Normal childhood gender and sexual development.
  2. Behavior of sexually abused children.
  3. Causes of child sexual abuse.
  4. Management of sexual behaviors in children.

One of the long-term effects of sexual abuse in children is the risk of repeated abuse. But foster parents and the agencies that recruit, train and supervise them, still have a duty to keep these children safe from further harm.

If you or a loved one has been sexually abused in foster care, contact the attorneys at The Orlow Firm for a free initial consultation. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City. Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.

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Sex Abuse and the Clergy

Sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy has, by now, become impossible to ignore and increasingly difficult to conceal. That the scope of the problem is enormous is illustrated by the following statistics:

  • Since 1950, there have been 17,000 victims of clergy sex abuse.
  • Nearly 7,000 priests have been accused of sex abuse since 1950.
  • Sex abuse by clergy has affected more than 95 percent of the dioceses and 60 percent of religious communities.
  • Settlements of clergy sex abuse cases from 1950 to 2007 total as much as $3 billion.
  • The Los Angeles Archdiocese alone accounts for more than 500 victims of clergy abuse and $660 million in settlements.

The Abused

It has taken decades to uncover information about those who suffered abuse by members of the Catholic Church. Some of the facts that have come to light regarding the victims of clergy sex abuse are:

  • The overwhelming majority of victims, 81 percent, were males.
  • Among the most vulnerable were boys between the ages of 11 and 14. Most victims were post-pubescent adolescents, although a small percentage of priests were accused of molesting children who had not yet reached puberty.
  • The majority of the allegations involved touching, either over or under clothing.
  • In 27 percent of cases, a cleric was alleged to have performed oral sex. Another 25 percent were accused of penile penetration or attempted penile penetration.

The Abusers

Characteristics of the abusing clergy members have also been shrouded in secrecy and include the following:

  • Many of the accused clerics engaged in a variety of sexual offenses with minor victims.
  • Most often, the context for the abuse was a social event. In fact, many of the accused priests socialized with families of the victims.
  • The residence of the priest frequently served as the location for the abuse.
  • About one-third of the accused priests had a history of substance abuse as well as behavioral problems that made their fitness for the ministry questionable.
  • Almost 7 percent of abusing clerics reported having been abused as children.
  • About 3 percent of accused clerics have been criminally convicted, with about 2 percent receiving prison sentences.

The Cover-Up

In the 1950s, the founder of a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests accused of molesting children concluded that abusers were not likely to change. He further urged that offenders not be returned to the ministry. These concerns were related to several bishops as well as Pope Paul VI, who served until 1978. Still, even after the clergy sex abuse scandal became public knowledge, abusing priests were allowed to remain in settings where they had contact with children. The Church claimed this was not so, but it was not until 2001 that it began requiring the reporting of sex abuse cases to the Vatican. Attitudes in the Church have been slow to change. As late as 2006, a prominent member of the Church who counseled troubled priests declared that most of the clergy’s victims had brought the abuse upon themselves. He also recommended that sexually abusive priests not be jailed for a first offense. Pope Francis, stating his intentions to protect minors and restore credibility to the Catholic Church, has instructed the Vatican to act quickly and decisively in punishing pedophile priests. Advocates for the Church’s many abuse victims are not yet convinced that the Pope’s actions will speak as loudly as his words.

It’s Not Just the Catholics

Although the Catholic clergy has been the most visible target of sex abuse allegations, this problem affects other religious communities too. In Brooklyn, home to the largest ultra-Orthodox population outside of Israel, District Attorney Charles Hynes seeks to require rabbis and other religious leaders to report allegations of sex abuse to the authorities. Protestant churches receive 260 reports a year of minors being sexually abused by clergy, congregants, church staff members, and volunteers. Because Protestant establishments are often independent and not as centralized as the Catholic Church, reporting sex abuse allegations is a much more difficult process.

If you or a loved one has been sexually abused by a member of the clergy, contact the attorneys at The Orlow Firm for a free initial consultation. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City. Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.


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Are Sexually Abusive Teachers Remaining In New York Schools?

Anyone with school-aged children would like to believe that the era when sexually abusive teachers went unpunished is over. In recent years, allegations have surfaced that one of New York’s most prestigious private schools allowed a pattern of sexual abuse to occur for decades, but the abuse was alleged to have occurred from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

It can be easy to think that teachers who are caught displaying inappropriate behavior in this day and age are swiftly punished and kept away from students. Unfortunately, an advocacy group says that’s not the case in New York City public schools.

The Parents’ Transparency Project, headed by a former network anchor, alleges that the schools have a disciplinary system that could allow abusive staff members to keep their jobs. Data that the group obtained show that since 2007, New York City school officials tried to fire 128 school employees for inappropriate relationships with students or sexual misconduct at school. They succeeded in terminating just 33 of those employees.

Questionable Behavior

According to the New York Daily News, teachers were allowed to continue in the classroom despite the following conduct:

  • A teacher told a student that he loved her and had dreamed about her. He showed up at her house. After a hearing, an arbitrator found that the teacher was too friendly, but had not crossed a line.
  • A gym teacher bent a student over a chair and thrust at him from behind. An arbitrator said the gym teacher had committed misconduct, but that the offense was not fireable.

Situations like these arise because of New York’s law regarding educator misconduct. Under state law, an educator who is believed to have committed misconduct has the right to a hearing before an independent officer to determine the punishment. This hearing is called a 3020-a. Both the teacher and the school usually have attorneys who argue before an arbitrator hired by the state. The arbitrator, rather than the school, decides the consequences, according to the New York Daily News.

Teachers convicted of sex crimes with children can be immediately terminated, but teachers whose conduct does not rise to the level of a crime have the right to a hearing. This right means that in some cases, teachers could be in New York classrooms with questionable past conduct.

Regardless of where a child goes to school, parents should be aware of the signs of sexual abuse and can take steps to help protect their kids. Psychology Today recommends that parents encourage their kids to talk to them regularly about their day. That way, children may feel more comfortable reporting unacceptable behaviors to their parents. Watch for red flags with sexual abusers who may be grooming children.

New York’s Statute Of Limitations

If you suspect sexual abuse, call the police and report your suspicions to the school. You may want to consider contacting an attorney right away. New York has a strict statute of limitations that prevents many sexual abuse victims from moving forward with lawsuits because too much time has passed. Currently, the statute of limitation allows sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits until the child turns 18 plus an additional five years. Essentially, that means until the victim turns 23.

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New York Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations

Child Sex Abuse: Filing Your Claim in Time

If you or someone you love has been a victim of child sex abuse, you can file a civil lawsuit against the abuser and seek compensation for the harm you suffered. You can also file a civil lawsuit against a third party, such as a church or school, that was responsible for employing and/or supervising the abuser. But before you consider legal action, it is important that you know the statute of limitations. This is a term for a legal time frame in which a lawsuit must be filed. If you fail to file your lawsuit within the specified period, you will lose the right to do so.

In New York, if you were sexually abused as a minor, you must file your lawsuit within 5 years of reaching the age of 18. If you wait until after age 23 you will not be permitted to sue your abuser and seek compensation. The statute of limitations for filing a sex abuse or negligence claim against a third party such as a school or a church is three years However, if the acts of negligence occurred when you were a minor, the time period expires 3 years after your 18th birthday, at age 21.

In matters of child sex abuse, New York has one of the shortest statutes of limitations in the U.S. Some states have eliminated statutes of limitation in criminal and civil child sex abuse actions. A bill to do away with child sex abuse statutes of limitation in both civil and criminal actions in New York has passed in the Assembly but failed in the Senate four times. The bill would also provide for a one-year, one-time window, beginning 60 days after the governor signs the bill, in which people can bring civil lawsuits against individual abusers or institutions in older cases of abuse. Queens Democrat Margaret Markey sponsored the bill in reaction to allegations of child sex abuse in some of New York’s exclusive high schools and a Yeshiva University high school in Manhattan. The proposed legislation has been vigorously opposed by a Republican-controlled Senate as well as by the Catholic Church.

Experts on child sex abuse say that victims often feel guilty or ashamed to come forward to say they have been abused. It is especially difficult for victims to confront their abusers. Many people believe that individuals abused as children should be given as much time as they need to deal with the trauma and decide whether to file a civil claim or criminal charges against the abuser. Under current New York law, a child sex abuser can evade prosecution or a lawsuit merely because the statute of limitations has expired. Meanwhile, the victim suffers a lifetime of emotional harm.

Contact the Orlow Firm

A sensitive, experienced New York sexual abuse attorney can help you decide whether and when to file a lawsuit in cases of child sex abuse. If you or a loved one was victimized by sex abuse as a child, contact The Orlow Firm for a free initial consultation. For your convenience, we maintain four offices throughout New York City.

Call (646) 647-3398 or contact us online.

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