Child Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania Schools
While the vast majority of teachers in Pennsylvania do a fantastic job of educating our youth, the specter of child sexual abuse in schools is, unfortunately, still with us.
The problem extends beyond teachers abusing children to student-on-student sexual abuse, a fact which surprises many.
Victims of sexual abuse suffer the same devastating effects regardless of who their abuser is or where the abuse occurred. Many have chosen to remain silent and take the problems into adult life with them.
Fortunately, law changes in recent times make it easier for victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania schools to come forward and take the necessary steps to hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions.
At Anderozzi & Foote, we stand side by side with victims and are ready to help you claim the justice you deserve.
UPDATE: HB 963 to extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse
Sexual abuse in Pennsylvania schools by teachers and students
Creating greater awareness of the sexual abuse problem in Pennsylvania schools is the starting point for tackling this confronting topic.
Society in general is waking up to the fact that sexual abuse is more prevalent than previously thought. Inappropriate sexual behavior should not be tolerated anywhere in our societies – and certainly not in educational establishments entrusted with the development of our young people.
From an early age, children should be able to trust schools to provide a safe, nurturing, and protective environment.
Teachers and other employees in kindergartens, elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities are in positions of authority with a duty of care to students.
If this authority is abused, those responsible must be held accountable.
Unfortunately, perpetrators have gone unpunished for their crimes and the schools that harbored abusers have failed to act in the interests of the students, allowing the abuse to continue.
While abuse by teachers understandably gets more headlines, schools are also susceptible to the sexual abuse of students by other students. They have a duty to take adequate steps to prevent this.
An investigation by The Associated Press in 2016 found that 335 reported student-on-student sexual assaults occurred on public school property in Pennsylvania between 2011 and 2015, according to the state Department of Education data.
This includes only reported incidents. The actual numbers are likely to be far higher.
What are the signs of sexual abuse in schools?
Child sexual abuse is under-reported partly because parents, employees in schools, and friends of the victim fail to recognize the signs.
Abuse can happen to girls or boys and may be as serious as rape or include touching, groping or slapping. Most commonly, it occurs in school toilets, playgrounds, classrooms, on school transportation or on field trips.
Many of the tell-tale signs of sexual abuse are confused with bullying or other behavioral issues, which complicates matters and helps explain why it is under-reported. The age of the child also heavily influences the behavioral signs to look out for.
The typical warning signs may include:
- Uncharacteristic decline in academic performance
- Reluctance to come to school or attend classes
- Self-destructive or aggressive behavior
- Signs of withdrawal and fear
- Changes in eating habits
- Disciplinary issues
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Creating sexually explicit artwork
- Suicidal thoughts
Professional assistance may be required to confront the issue if you recognize these symptoms in your child.
What is “passing the trash” in Pennsylvania?
Known child abusers have not only got away with their actions in Pennsylvania schools. Some have been assisted in moving to other establishments to repeat their criminal behaviors.
This practice is known as “passing the trash”.
There are strict requirements for reporting sexual abuse in schools. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) says:
“All school employees now have a new reporting procedure and increased reporting obligations under the Child Protective Services Law. The Educator Discipline Act also establishes new reporting requirements for educators.”
However, schools are often lax in sharing the information that emerges from an investigation into child sexual abuse with other schools.
If a teacher is disciplined for abuse and dismissed from one school, other schools around the state and interstate may not be made aware of the information. The school quietly “passes the trash” without facing liability issues, the wrath of parents or a damaged reputation. The teacher can simply “move on” to the next victim.
Even if a teacher has his or her license revoked in one state, this does not necessarily prevent the issuance of a license in another state. Again, the “trash” is passed from one state to another, perpetuating the abuse problem.
Holding educational institutions in Pennsylvania liable
Generally speaking, if a public school acts in such a way that it creates danger of abuse for a student or increases the risk of danger, it may be held liable for the abuse.
A lawyer will need to show that the school’s actions “willfully disregarded” the health or safety of students.
Evidence must show that the school either created the risk or failed to take action, increasing the risk of harm. It must generally demonstrate a pattern of indifference to the dangers. This can be challenging and standards differ greatly according to the type of school, the age of the student, and other factors.
Fortunately, in cases where known abusers are given positions of authority or abuse complaints are not addressed, changes to legislation have made it more likely that educational establishments and their governing authorities (school districts, etc.) in Pennsylvania can be held liable.
What can you do if your child has been abused at school?
In Pennsylvania, laws have tightened for child sexual abusers in recent years. It is now easier for victims to come forward, report their cases, and help put a stop to it.
Whether your case involves a private or public school, school district, bus company, college, or university, the institution may be held liable as well as the employee or student responsible for the abuse.
Your first step should be to speak to one of the child abuse lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote.
Members of our team have been at the forefront of moves to help sexual abuse victims in Pennsylvania receive justice.
We will start with a free case evaluation that will help you answer questions such as:
- What legal steps can I take if my daughter reported that a teacher sexually assaulted her?
- What can I do if I reported the abuse to the school but no action has been taken?
- Should I address the issue of abuse with the teacher directly or with the school?
- What do I do if the school denies any wrongdoing?
- How do I handle an accusation against my child’s coach?
- What steps can I take if my child has been sexually abused by other students?
If you would like the lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote to evaluate your case, please call 1 (877)-214-3238 for a free consultation.
All the information you provide will be treated confidentially, including your identity.
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