How to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse within Your School
Around 10 percent of students will be victims of educator sexual abuse. Here are several ways to ensure your school doesn’t contribute to this statistic.
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Educators are often the most trusted people in a child’s life. The majority of school-aged children spend more time with their teachers than they do their parents. While a large portion of child sexual abuse is committed by family members, child sexual abuse by educators or school employees does happen.
Although extensive research on educator sexual abuse has not been conducted, data collected by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation estimates that around 10% of students will report educator sexual abuse at some point during their school career.
In this final part of our four-part series surrounding child sexual abuse, we’ll discuss ways in which educational institutions can help lower this statistic.
It is the duty of educators and campus protection professionals to ensure schools are doing everything in their power to prevent child sexual abuse from happening inside their own institutions or at the hands of an employee. Strong background checks are a good place to start.
Thorough Background Checks for All Employees, Volunteers
Thoroughly vetting campus staff and volunteers is your institution’s first line of defense against internal child sexual abuse. Conducting background checks on both current staff and those applying to be teachers, coaches, or volunteers is vital.
This past June, Chicago Public Schools were prompted to redo all background checks after the Tribune reported that some district employees who abused students had arrest records.
The report also found more than 500 allegations of sexual abuse and rape at CPS schools from 2008 to 2018. The publication closely examined 108 of those cases and identified 72 alleged perpetrators who were accused of sexual misconduct within the CPS system.
Of the 72 alleged perpetrators, 39 were teachers and the rest consisted of coaches, security staff, custodians, bus drivers and school administrators.
The report detailed systemic issues within the school district, including failure to correct “obvious child-protection mistakes.” In some cases, the report found teachers and principals failed to notify police or child welfare services when students disclosed their alleged abuse to them.
Furthermore, in cases where school employees acted quickly, the report claims students were subjected to repeated interrogations. Parents, peers and even the accused were often interviewed before experts were called.
When CPS ran all background checks again, 250 employees came up as flagged and required additional screening. This emphasizes the importance of reassessing your background check system regularly and ensuring the program meets all state mandates and laws. This should include regular audits to help identify any employees who may have slipped through the cracks without a completed background check.
In addition to criminal records, thorough background checks can uncover lies on resumes or applications and if an employee is in the country illegally.
Some additional best practices for background checks include:
- Establish a standard background screening policy for every employee in your institution
- Require complete, accurate and consistent data
- Verify education, credentials, references and employment — it is estimated that one-third of all resumes contain some kind of misrepresentation regarding employment history, education or experience
- If allowed by your state, require proof of earning from potential employees — salary is one of the most frequently misrepresented facts during the interview process
- Order motor vehicle reports for all candidates if your state allows it — this is especially critical for school bus drivers
- Conduct international background checks
- Check vendors, contractors and temporary workers/volunteers — these individuals often have access to institutional information systems
- Consider more in-depth written applications and personal interviews for applicants who will have more autonomy with students
- Let applicants know about your policies and procedures and that your institution is serious about protecting its students — this might deter some at-risk individuals from applying
Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs in Your School
Another way schools can help mitigate child sexual abuse, both inside and outside of educational institutions, is to implement school-based child abuse prevention programs.
As of July 30, 2018, 20 states passed legislation mandating instruction within schools on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention, nine states passed legislation allowing or recommending this instruction, and 21 states had no laws in place.
The Enough Abuse Campaign, a child sexual abuse prevention program started in Massachusetts, has assembled an interactive map that provides details for each state’s laws regarding child sexual abuse education.
An effective child sexual abuse prevention program often includes:
- Training to help school leaders assess their current child protection policies, procedures and practices
- Training to help staff report and recognize child abuse in children and staff violations of child protection policies
- Training to help students recognize, respond to and report unsafe or abusive situations
Implementing Child Protection Policies and Procedures
School policies and procedures should be followed daily and be clearly communicated to all employees. The Children’s Trust, a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization aimed at stopping child abuse, recommends school policies and procedures do the following:
- Control access to school buildings by keeping outside doors locked
- Establish which door visitors must use and monitor it during school hours
- Establish policies about who will be allowed access to campus and how that must occur (i.e. sign-in procedures, photo ID, visitor badges)
- Establish schedules for school staff and faculty to monitor and supervise bus stops, playgrounds, lunchrooms and hallways
- Create entry and release procedures for students
- Establish procedures for the use of bathrooms, shower facilities and changing rooms by students
- Prohibit adults from using the same facilities as students
- Encourage staff and volunteers to avoid being alone with a single student behind closed doors
- Ensure that vendors and other maintenance providers are restricted to the area in which their service is being provided and are being monitored/escorted if they leave that area
Schools should also establish a Code of Conduct for employees that clearly identifies what is acceptable and expected of adults in terms of behavior, risk, sensitivity to the appearance of impropriety and interpersonal communications with children. A Code of Conduct policy should include:
- Awareness of the power differential between adults and children and the adult’s responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries
- Use of discretion when touching a child — including examples of what is appropriate and what is not
- How to handle one-on-one meetings — i.e. door should be left ajar; another adult should be notified of the meeting
- Prohibition of drinking, smoking, drug use or profanity around children
- Use of social media, text, or email with minors restricted to use within the role of the professional or volunteer relationship and subject to periodic monitoring by administration