Sexual Abuse by Teachers in Schools
Sexual abuse in any context is a dreadful thing to confront but when it happens to children under the supervision of teachers in school, it is particularly abhorrent.
Unfortunately, abuse is more common in U.S schools and universities than most parents know.
In many cases, the offender has a prior history of sexual abuse and the educational system has failed to put to a stop to their conduct.
Victims coming forward, reporting their abuse and holding the teachers, schools, and school districts accountable is not only an important part of protecting others from abuse. It can help in the healing process.
At Andreozzi + Foote, our sexual abuse lawyers are good listeners as well as seasoned litigators. We can walk you through the steps towards justice, regardless of whether the abuse occurred recently or in the more distant past.
How do you recognize the signs of sexual abuse by teachers?
Sexual abuse sometimes goes unnoticed or unaddressed by parents and school authorities because the signs are attributed to other reasons.
For instance, school authorities may put a child’s decline in performance and withdrawn behavior down to problems at home.
The signs of sexual abuse can be difficult to identify and vary from child to child but they are also sometimes brushed off without proper investigation. This can lead to claims of negligence.
It helps to understand some of the tell-tale physical and behavioral signs of sexual abuse in children:
Physical signs of sexual abuse in children
- Bruising around the genitals or anus
- Difficulty with walking or sitting
- Pain when using the bathroom
Behavioral signs of sexual abuse in young children
- Aggressive play with dolls or other children (often sexual in nature)
- Thumb-sucking or bed-wetting
- Agitation or resistance when clothes are removed (e.g. at bedtime or bath time)
- Sexually explicit drawings or artwork
Behavioral signs of sexual abuse in older children
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Self-injury and harm
- Changes in personal hygiene or grooming
- Wearing clothing to hide their bodies
- Wearing revealing clothing
In addition to the above signs of sexual abuse, children of any age may exhibit different eating habits, experience nightmares or other sleep disturbances, and have mood swings.
Again, these signs can often be difficult to interpret, especially in teens who may exhibit such behavioral changes for many reasons.
What should you do if you suspect sexual abuse by a teacher?
If, after talking to, examining, and observing your child’s behavior, you are concerned that he or she is being sexually abused by a teacher, there are a number of steps you can take to start preparing for legal action:
- File a report with local law enforcement as soon as possible so that the complaint is on record
- If the police decide to investigate, explain to your child what will happen, offer to be in the room during interviews, and authorize the police to take photos of any visible injuries
- Explain your suspicions at the local hospital and request a medical check-up for your child (authorize photos to be taken)
- Urge the police to contact the school – they are trained in handling such situations (your presence at the school may not help)
- Call a lawyer – if your suspicions are accurate, you will need representation from a lawyer experienced in dealing with sexual abuse cases involving teachers and educational institutions
Nowadays, if you are taking legal action, it may also be advisable to shut down your child’s multimedia profiles as this can harm legal cases.
How can you be successful with a sexual abuse claim against a teacher?
Successfully holding a teacher, school, university or local educational authority liable for sexual abuse is complex.
One of the main causes of sexual abuse by teachers is the negligent hiring, retention, training, and supervision of teachers.
The teacher, educational institution, and the school district itself can be held accountable for such negligence.
A claim for school district negligence requires the demonstration of duty, breach, causation and injury in order to be successful. Let’s take a quick look at what each of these means in the context of a sexual abuse case.
The duty of the school/district
School authorities have a common law duty to protect the safety of students. This is generally understood. Part of this duty of care is in the hiring and supervision of school staff.
For instance, the school is expected not to hire or retain employees who have a known propensity for sexually abusing students and to adequately supervise teacher-student interactions.
Breach of duty
To prove breach of duty in a sexual abuse case, we will need to show that the district failed to:
- Take due care in the hiring, retention, training and/or supervision of staff, or
- Adhere to statutory mandates or school policies regarding hiring or supervision of staff, or
- Adequately supervise student-teacher contacts
Most commonly, successful cases prove that the district failed to perform adequate background checks on new hires, failed to investigate the conduct of staff effectively or failed to take appropriate action when relevant information about their conduct became known.
Proof of causation
We need to show that there was a relationship between the district’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injuries.
For instance, proof that school authorities were aware of a teacher’s history of abusive conduct, making the sexual abuse of a student “foreseeable”, could be enough to satisfy the need for causation in a successful case.
Proof of injury
Injury, as we have seen, can be physical, mental or emotional in nature in sexual abuse cases. To demonstrate this usually requires the testimony of medical professionals.
Successful proof of all of the above elements in a sexual abuse claim can result in the following damages being awarded:
- Costs of medical treatment
- Psychotherapy costs
- Special schooling or housing costs
- Future disability
- Loss of future income
- Physical and mental pain and suffering
Note that damages may also be awarded to the parents of the victim against the school district for the emotional distress caused by the abuse to their child.
You can start the process with a free and confidential consultation with one of our sexual abuse attorneys.
Rest assured that the lawyers at Andreozzi & Foote will treat all information provided with the strictest confidentiality.