Educational institutions are meant to be a safe place for students to learn. However, that is not always the case. Sexual abuse is perpetuated by using force or intimidation. Forms of sexual harassment/abuse in school can be verbal harassment or assault.
Children may face sexual harassment/abuse in school at any age. This type of misconduct starts in elementary school and can happen in universities. There have been plenty of cases of sexual harassment and/or assault between students. Children of all genders are vulnerable to sexual misconduct on campus.
Teachers also can display inappropriate behavior toward their students. Some instructors have used their position of power to take advantage of the students who are entrusted to them.
Despite all the news reports, many cases go unreported. At times, adults may view it as a simple case of bullying among children. Victims may avoid revealing their abuse in fear of retaliation from the abuser.
Studies done on sexual abuse in school revealed statistics that may be alarming. Some statistics include:
- In Missouri, 25% of child abuse cases were of sexual nature in 2018.
- One in 10 children will face sexual abuse before the age of 18.
- Nationwide, 83% of girls experience sexual harassment from 8th to 11th grade.
- From 8th to 11th grade, 78% of boys experience sexual harassment nationwide.
- 66% of college students know someone who has been sexually abused.
Examples of Sexual Abuse in Schools
As mentioned above, sexual abuse can come in the form of harassment and assault. Examples of sexual assault include physical acts that harm your body. One form of it is non-consensual sex, but assault also can be groping and other inappropriate touches.
Forcing a person to perform a sexual act and penetration with an object are other examples of sexual assault. Sexual harassment may come in the form of unwanted touching. However, gestures and inappropriate words are types of sexual harassment as well.
An example of sexual harassment is when someone promises you a reward in exchange for a sexual favor. The reward can be a higher grade in a class or a letter or recommendation. Repeated requests for dates, inappropriate comments about one’s body, and unwanted text messages are other forms of sexual harassment and should not be tolerated.
Sometimes, sexual harassment or abuse in the educational setting may come across as bullying or simple teasing, but it is not, and there are traumatic effects to the victims of such harassment/abuse. It is important to remember that there are different forms of sexual abuse and harassment in an educational setting. It is a real issue and one that should not be taken lightly.
Causes of Sexual Abuse in Schools
Some people may wonder what causes sexual abuse in schools to occur. Various factors contribute to inappropriate behavior. Those who show hypermasculinity, a lack of empathy, and violence are more likely to engage in sexual misconduct at school.
Students who get exposed to sexually explicit material have a higher chance of harassing a fellow student. Drugs and alcohol are risk factors as well.
Areas that lack proper police and judicial support may have higher rates of sexual abuse in schools. On a societal level, the normalization of sexual violence and entitlement can contribute to this type of misconduct.
Social media may also play a part in this widespread issue. The Washington Post reported that more schools are reporting sexual abuse caused by educators. The rise of social media sites like Facebook has allowed teachers to prey on students after hours. Teachers can maintain inappropriate relationships with students through direct messages with a decreased risk of getting caught.
Signs of Sexual Abuse in Schools
Most parents do their best to be aware of the well-being of their children as they attend classes. More often than not, children do not share their trauma with others. It is important to look for clues to know if a child struggles with sexual abuse in school.
Signs of sexual abuse in school include:
- Excessive knowledge of sexual topics
- Changes in eating habits
- Unexplained bruising
- Not talking as much as usual
- Spending more time alone
- Not wanting to be around certain people
- Changes in mood, such as being more aggressive
- Less interested in school and activities
- Avoiding the removal of clothes when changing or bathing
Remember, children may display only a couple of these signs. Parents should reach out to their children and healthcare providers if they notice any odd behaviors.
Effects of Sexual Abuse in Schools
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A common effect of sexual abuse in school is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD often follows a traumatic event that leaves the person feeling helpless and immensely frightened. There are three categories of PTSD.
A person may have re-experiencing symptoms, which is the reliving of trauma through flashbacks or nightmares. If the child develops PTSD, it can come in the form of avoiding feelings and situations. Then, there is hyperarousal, which is when the person is always on alert.
Those with PTSD may have nightmares, problems with concentrating, a feeling that trauma is happening again.
Sexual misconduct may result in immediate consequences, or it can develop later in life. The consequences of sexual abuse are different from child to child.
Immediate psychological effects include:
During childhood, a victim may have chronic symptoms. Behavioral problems, low self-esteem, and depressive symptoms are some consequences of sexual abuse. Children may also experience developmental delays and neurobiological changes.
During adolescence, the effects of sexual abuse in school include:
- Early sexual initiation
- Eating disorders
- Low self-esteem
Unfortunately, many children do not display symptoms that have reached the clinical threshold. There is a major risk of a student developing long-term psychological and social adjustment issues. These problems can carry over into adulthood.
Difficulties with Relationships
Sexual abuse may impact a child’s ability to form and maintain close relationships with others. This includes relationships with friends, family, and partners.
When it comes to romantic relationships, survivors may end up getting reminded about the abuse they experienced. They are more likely to put up emotional barriers, and survivors may be unable to trust others.
If a student keeps their experiences to themselves, they may close themselves off from friends and family. If the survivor gets older and has children of their own, they may feel like they are not safe parents due to their trauma. As a result, some may have a hard time with actions like hugging their children.
Impact of Academic Achievement
There is a risk of a student underperforming at school. When it comes to sexual abuse, the child can have lower cognitive ability and memory scores than their classmates.
Studies show that 39% of 7- to 12-year-old girls struggle with academics, and 24% had to repeat a grade after experiencing sexual trauma. The impact on cognitive abilities, in addition to other psychological effects, can result in lower grades. Lower academic success may not only affect future economic success, but it can contribute to some negative psychological symptoms like low self-esteem.
Reporting Sexual Abuse in Schools
As mentioned before, it is a common occurrence for sexual abuse in schools to go undocumented. Abusers can make the person think they are not being violated. Victims may also feel like they will not be believed.
Teachers play a big role in reporting sexual abuse in their schools due to being mandated reporters. They have a moral and legal obligation to report any abuse they discover. Since it is a non-threatening option, students should find a trusted teacher to talk about their experiences.
Parents are another option when reporting sexual abuse. They will report instances of harassment or assault and protect their child’s well-being.
If a student is unable to talk to a parent or teacher, then they can seek a child sex abuse hotline. These hotlines are dedicated to helping victims and survivors while remaining confidential. They provide information on local resources and can point someone to the right healthcare facility.
Preventing Sexual Abuse in Schools
Grade schools and secondary schools can help prevent sexual abuse by improving their hiring process. There are screening tools available to identify high-risk candidates. Employers should review a potential teacher’s employment history.
Schools can adopt prevention programs to combat sexual abuse. These programs will help teach students how to recognize and report sexual misconduct. They offer students safety when they report violations and provide staff training.
Some teachers have stopped sexual abuse because they followed their intuition. If an educator notices any suspicious activity, they should address the problem. Some steps involve speaking with the victim. Teachers can talk to colleagues who are at risk of having an inappropriate relationship with a student.
Parents are encouraged to have talks with their kids about sexual abuse in school. The discussions will need to be about healthy sexual development. Children also will need to know how to identify acts of sexual abuse. The child will have a lower risk of being sexually abused or abusing others.
Find a Sexual Abuse Lawyer
If you are in need of a lawyer who is experienced in handling cases for child victims of sexual abuse, Holman Schiavone is here to help. Our attorneys are committed to helping you or a loved one who has faced sexual abuse in a school or university setting. We are located in Kansas City, Missouri, and we have compassionately served clients throughout Missouri and Kansas.