As a grandparent of four school-age children and a professional, who has thirty-three years experience in sexual child abuse prevention and recovery, and author, “If I’d Only Known….Sexual Abuse In or Out of The Family: A Guide To Prevention,” I am angry and disappointed that the news report, “Teacher-Student Sex Scandals Investigated, Districts Should Limit Off-Campus Contact Between Teachers, Students, Experts Say,” on CBS Channel 5, Phoenix, AZ, May 20, 2009 reported the standard laundry list of misinformation and distortion of sex offender modus operandi. Furthermore, there were NO concrete strategies offered to parents and teachers to protect children from this heinous crime that is all too often committed against children.
My grandchildren are a few of the prepared ones, because they have been educated about protecting themselves from would-be sex offenders. Who better to protect him/herself than the would-be target of this crime, since it is perpetrated in secret? Children, as young as two-years-old, can be taught techniques to ward off a sex offender. There are seven compelling parent-approved and child-tested techniques parents, teachers and children can learn to thwart the majority of would-be sex offenders. Teaching children the techniques of sexual abuse prevention does not require sex education or details about how they might be harmed.
The opening statement of this report began a litany of misinformation-“Dozens of Arizona teachers are accused of having inappropriate or illegal relationships with students each year,…” Using the quantifying term, ‘Dozens,’ implies, the total count is low, when, in fact, 104 cases of teacher sexual abuse were reported in Phoenix metro in the past four years. Not to mention that many teacher sexual child abuse incidents go unreported every year.
Such terms as: ‘relationship,’ ‘dating,’ [a fifteen-year-old child “…was allegedly dating one of her teachers,”] ‘romance’ and ‘romantic,’ implies the student and teacher have equal say in negotiating the terms of a ‘relationship.’ The opposite is true. Teacher sex offenders rely on their easy access to children and a trusting bond of authority to get what they want-sexual contact with children. Children are taught and rewarded for being respectful of teachers and authority. This fact, alone, disarms the child and gives the child a false sense of security with a would-be sex offender teacher-‘Respect your teacher, my teacher is nice-he/she would never harm me.’ Thus, the child is easily conned, duped, tricked, seduced, coerced and threatened if she/he tells. “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” Stephen King
Even more disturbing is the statement by Superior Court Judge Paul Katz, “A teacher should never become romantically involved with a student, period … Even if it ultimately works out, that is crappy judgment.” The philosophy that ‘…even if it ultimately works out…,’ not only minimizes the damage the child endured and the egregious act of the teacher, the child’s life has been altered immeasurably. And without effective and specific sexual abuse recovery, the child comes into adulthood with severe emotional and mental damage and often times suffer from the aftereffects their entire life. More often than not, the dots between the sexual child abuse and their emotional and physical symptoms are not connected.
As to possible strategies to prevent teacher sexual child abuse the only suggestion offered was presented by State Superintendent Tom Horne, “Some school districts, such as Paradise Valley School District, already have specific guidelines regarding contact between teachers and students outside the classroom.” This measure will no doubt prevent a few children from being victimized. However, is this what we want for our children-protection from a few of the would-be teacher sex offenders? What does ‘outside the classroom’ mean? What about in the hall, gym, or on the play ground? These areas are outside the classroom. What are the rules about these locations, where children are frequently sexually abused?
It is not uncommon for gym teachers to ‘cop a feel,’ in the gym while assisting a student. ‘Copping a feel,’ is as damaging as genital touching or caressing. If you disbelieve this statement come and sit in my office for a week and you will hear the pain and anguish from those, who were ‘only groped.’ Furthermore, many students are sexually abused IN the classroom or IN the utility closet IN the classroom.
Horne stated, even if he had the power, he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to make it more difficult for teachers to develop healthy relationships with students. Mr. Horne is being short sighted and irresponsible to children when he uses the flimsy rationale that it isn’t a good idea to make it more difficult for teachers to develop healthy relationships with students, because many children have been helped by teachers, who have taken interest in and become a role model for students.
There is a huge difference between developing a healthy relationship with students and grooming a child for sexual purposes. There are many behaviors and statements sex offenders make that telegraph their intention. The reasons sex offenders make veiled statements as to their intentions is to access the awareness of those, who could ‘report’ their unacceptable intent with a child. If their statements go unrecognized, they then feel confident their grooming actions will be undetected and never reported by anyone, including the child. Once the child has been desensitized and accepts the ‘special attention,’ the sex offender gradually escalates the intensity and nature of sexual activity.
If one knows the behaviors and the statements, it is relatively easy to identify a would-be sex offender. These behaviors are classic and consistent with sex offenders. All adults need to be educated on these behaviors and statements. Then, what?
It is appropriate then, for teachers and administrators to be alerted to this fact and everyone, as appropriate, shadows the teacher to prevent any opportunity for the teacher to target and groom a student. Surprisingly, the teacher may suspect or know he/she is being shadowed and as a result their suspicion or knowledge will compel the teacher to further telegraph their intention and thus, they are ‘caught’ before the damage can be done. Once their intentions and behavior has moved to a grooming stage, the behavior can be reported to authorities and processed accordingly. “Power is no blessing in itself, except when it is used to protect the innocent.” Jonathan Swift
If the protocol for being alert to sex offender behavior and their statements are followed, there is NO impingement on teachers, who have the intent to develop a healthy student/teacher relationship.
In the final analysis, all adults have a responsibility to protect our children so they can reach their greatest potential, free of adults, who may wish to exploit them for their own purposes and, thus, alter that divine gift-potential. “We are not only responsible for what we do, but also, for that what we don’t do.” -Voltaire
Dr. Dorothy Neddermeyer, an expert witness, is available for comment on physical and sexual abuse.