Since time immemorial, the school has been regarded as one of the safest havens on the surface of the earth. Not only do we learn a large chunk of how to live our lives successfully from school, but it has also proven to be filled with several people who encourage and advise us to be better. However, this is hardly the case today.
Over the years, what we’ve seen is a shocking rate of sexual abuse and other misconducts. Fresh in mind is the disturbing news of sexual abuse allegations that rocked The Thacher School, California. A report on the private school’s website detailed a series of sexual misconducts that included harassment, groping, and alleged rape. What is even more appalling is that these have gone on for four decades, almost unchecked.
How Rampant Are Sexual Abuse Cases?
The Ojai boarding school disclosure is not the first, even though we hope it spurs reactions that make it the last. We’ve had several other cases, some that shook the media and others that were underreported.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry also agrees with the seriousness of child sexual abuse. They state that around 25% of girls in the United States experience sexual abuse at least once in their childhood while the percentage for boys stands at 7.69%.
But what recourse do survivors of the Thacher School sexual abuse scandal have, and how can they obtain a semblance of justice on their own terms?
In 2020, California Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) took effect. The law offers survivors of childhood sexual abuse the unprecedented opportunity to file a civil lawsuit seeking financial compensation regardless of how long ago the crime occurred. In the case of Thacher, some of the abuse may have extended back 40 years or more.
A non-profit organization, known as Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (S.E.S.A.M.E.), carried out a survey that made several revelations in 2014. Another organization, Magnolia Consulting, has analyzed the results with many crucial and disturbing findings coming out to light.
How Have the Cases Been Handled in the Past?
Perhaps, the numbers would have been much lower if the school treated cases appropriately. It is however sad that school managements have been unnecessarily lenient in handling these occurrences, probably to save face. Some have even gone as far as shamelessly putting the blames on the victim.
For instance, a report described how sexual assault victims end up being blamed for “sexual impropriety.” Another report by The Mercury News reveals that one strategy school district attorneys use to deny sexual abuse victims is to blame them for what happened to them. It goes on to cite several cases where this has been the case with perpetrators escaping punishment.
The good news is that we have seen increased awareness and accountability. The released exclusive documents showing that the Trump administration ‘confronted’ many school districts for managing cases of sexual abuse wrongly. All these highlight the importance of individuals, corporate bodies, and governments in eradicating these vices. However, activities have to increase if we are to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What Should Be the Roles of School Administrators?
Among all these groups, school management has a crucial role to play against sexual abuse, misconducts and allegations. Apart from reducing the level of inactivity when it comes to getting justice for affected individuals, they also have to actively ensure that the roles they perform are geared towards eliminating sexual abuse and misconduct.
How should school management react?
1Identify the parties involved
This is the first step in ensuring transparency and subsequent justice. Identifying the individuals may not be possible sometimes because many people prefer to raise their suspicions anonymously due to fear. However, school management must ensure that they do all they can to make the identification.
2Report to authorities
Some state laws demand that the school administrators report the incidents to relevant authorities who will assist in investigation and justice whenever suspicions are raised. This ought to be the standard even if the state laws have not stated it explicitly. However, many administrators instead, prefer to handle matters in-house without following the due processes. This has to change and the government has to ensure that by punishing anyone found guilty.
Investigations would assist in assessing the authenticity of reports and everything surrounding the situation. This must be handled professionally to avoid working with the wrong information and they can help authorities with the details they gather.
4Look at the bigger picture
Sometimes, the reported cases are only a fraction of a bigger situation. The culprit may not be alone or may have done something similar to others in the past and the issues must be treated thoroughly to find out the bigger picture. They should also examine how it affects other students and school activities.
5Respect the rights of those involved
While it is important to assess the reports from different perspectives to bring the truth to light, it is also important to do so within legislated laws. Both the accused and the accuser must be carefully handled to make sure their rights are not infringed upon.
Finally, everything action carried out and the findings made must be properly documented for immediate and future references. Even if concrete findings were not made, they may be useful for future occurrences or understanding a larger pattern.
While everybody must contribute their quota to ensure the eradication of sexual abuse and misconduct in schools, school management remains a key stakeholder in addressing this menace quickly and effectively. It is hoped that this article would serve to educate schools on how they can handle situations so that we can bring an end to sexual abuse.