There are no simple rules for determining if a child is the subject of inappropriate sexual attention from a teacher. It is not always easy to distinguish between an encouraging teacher and someone who is pushing the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Predators work hard to groom children so they don’t tell anyone.
While most educators are dedicated professionals, investigators and academic experts who have studied teacher sexual misconduct say there are some warning signs that should make parents pay more attention and take action.
Their main suggestion to parents: Talk to your child. Make sure your child feels comfortable telling you if a teacher, or anyone, has said or done something that makes him or her uncomfortable. Be a good listener. Other suggestions:
• Communication between teacher and student. Monitor e-mails, text messages, phone calls, Internet social networking and blogs, greeting cards, and yearbooks. A teacher's communications should be about school, not the child's personal life.
• Time together. After-school activities should be encouraged, but be aware of time spent with a teacher and what goes on. If it’s a pizza party with a teacher and a dozen kids, a parent should be there, one expert says. There should be no out-of-school, one-on-one meetings.
• Gifts or car rides. Most experts say teachers should not be giving gifts to individual students or car rides, except for emergencies.
• How your child and their friends talk about teachers. If they say a teacher is a “friend,” find out more. If they joke or mention rumors about a teacher’s crush, or that a teacher is a “perv,” don’t dismiss it. Ask why they say that.
• Abusive or sexual behavior. If your child tells you that a teacher made a sexual joke, brushed up against her, discussed sex, or requested a kiss or a date, find out more. Bring it to the attention of school authorities and the police.
Read more about this series, “A Lingering Shame: Sexual Abuse of Students by School Employees.” The collection includes a new Associated Press series on the issue, as well as special Education Week coverage.
• Question your child if you suspect abuse. Try to stay calm. Children have a hard time differentiating between your disapproval of an adult’s behavior and your disapproval of them. Try not to ask leading questions like “Did he touch your thigh?”
• Don’t keep it to yourself. If you’re suspicious, talk to school authorities. They can question other teachers and students. Follow up and make sure school officials take action. If the behavior indicates a crime or school authorities don’t take you seriously, contact police.
SOURCES: Education attorney Mary Jo McGrath; Professor Charol Shakeshaft, Virginia Commonwealth University; Professor Robert J. Shoop, Kansas State University
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