What Can We Do About Educator Sexual Abuse?
Here is an unpopular opinion. Teachers need to participate in a full psychological examination as a pre-employment requirement.
We try to protect children and adolescents from sexual predators, and for the most part, we as a society have shown steady improvement. However, one area that has been consistently difficult has been in the schools. There persists unchecked bullying, gang presence, lack of adult supervision, and indifferent teaching, to name a few. However, one area that has received little attention for improvement is the elimination of sexual contact by teachers and/or administrators with adolescent students.
The news headlines are consistent in showing that female teachers are just as common in being, as Charol Shakeshaft of Hosftra Univeristy (1) calls "educator sexual abusers." She cites in a 2003 article that her studies have shown that little is done to educator sexual abusers, if they are even reported. When they are reported to legal authorities, there has been growing action and prosecution. Just today, an article was published about a Texas female teacher who was sentenced to six-years in prison for having sex with a 15-year old student while the teacher was PREGNANT. But prosecution is not enough.
The behavior is not limited to teachers, but to school administrators as well. Take the case of an Assistant Principle from Queens, NY, who had sex with four teachers and "at least one student" and made threats if the information was revealed. This is an abuse of power, as well as an abuse of a minor. (2) A second, and less discussed factor in this case, is the way "friends" who were knowledgeable of the behavior ignored it. Harassment is often tolerated because of fear of losing their job. The friend is often just moved to another school.
Despite the clearly immoral nature of the sexual actions of certain teachers and administrators, the sexual contact continues to happen between the adults in charge and the adolescents under their supervision. The implications include loss of respect for the profession, scrutiny by parents of the school district, decreases in academic performance, and social withdrawal of the student. While there has been improvements since Dr. Shakeshaft's article, there needs to be more.
There are many challenges to overcoming the problem, as the simple job interview is insufficient to filter out the impulsive, immature, and emotionally needy prospective employees. Further, the belief that simply instructing someone on the nature of professionalism and self-control will adequately curb a buried impulse is unfounded but prevalent. Are there any measures administered to prospective teachers that cover ethics (i.e. good habits) or morality or impulse control that is part of the educator's training program? I am confident that there is very limited discussion on the subject. Heck, the importance of classroom management - a process that is used daily - is often only given only cursory focus.
Keep in mind that other careers require a set of pre-employment examinations before being given full employment as an attempt to protect the public. Police candidates for academies require a psychological evaluation to ensure appropriateness for the profession, and they also receive a follow up psychological evaluation and Lie Detector Test when hired with a police department. Border Patrol requires a psychological evaluation to clear a prospective candidate who has a history of mental health treatment in order to be hired. Granted, despite these efforts, these two professions continue to carry problems of abuse and mistreatment of the public, but only among a distinct minority of law enforcement. In education, there are background checks, which filters out the convicted pedophile or criminal. However, those people who ultimately have sexual contact with a minor largely had no criminal history. Other methods are needed.
A semester of internship is often considered enough to filter out the unfocused from an education program, while decisions to hire at individual schools is often left up to the principals, who arguably have less experience with predicting adult human behavior. Yes, a person's history, if honest, will tell us a lot; however, it is not a definitive method to determine poor decision making tendencies. Other methods are required. For example, how about the prospective teacher had been charged and convicted of a risk-taking offense, such as the benign traffic offense of multiple speeding tickets (I incidentally have had none in my 35-years of driving in several states and Mexico), which shows a tendency toward impulsivity, to DUI's, which shows a tendency toward poor decision making, but, despite this, are they professional and ethical candidates? I believe most parents believe that the teacher's responsibility is not simply to teach academic subjects, but to model the sense of fairness, the importance in following rules, and the importance of success as respect for others. Character is as important as qualifications.
As with pre-employment psychological examinations for employment in law enforcement, there is also the benefit to our community to conduct pre-employment psychological examinations of prospective teachers and/or administrators, with the latter the more likely to benefit, as they are the leaders of our individual schools. A good psychological examination can give insights into suppressed aggression, infantile sexual impulses, distorted perceptions, and substance abuse tendencies, in addition to the standard depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues. It can also provide recommendations for support and growth.
As in all professions, there are the furtive cocaine and amphetamine users, but with our youth, the potential problems are greater. The argument will be that the expense is too much. This is true, but one needs to consider the cost/benefit to the examinations, as these examination's expense compare to the expense of litigation and loss of revenue from departing students who feel unsafe. It may not be the perfect way to filter out the abuser, but it definitely serves as a good start.