No, I’m not talking about priests abusing boys back in the 1960s. I’m talking about public schools today.

Los Angeles police are investigating a teacher aide at Miramonte Elementary School who allegedly sent love letters to an 11-year-old student. The student’s mother discovered the letters in 2009, but she says police and school officials didn’t take the matter seriously until last week, when two other teachers at the same school were arrested for sexually abusing students in separate cases. Is sexual abuse in schools really as common as these reports make it seem?

Possibly. The best available study suggests that about 10 percent of students suffer some form of sexual abuse during their school careers. In the 2000 report, commissioned by the American Association of University Women, surveyors asked students between eighth and 11th grades whether they had ever experienced inappropriate sexual conduct at school. The list of such conduct included lewd comments, exposure to pornography, peeping in the locker room, and sexual touching or grabbing. Around one in 10 students said they had been the victim of one or more such things from a teacher or other school employee, and two-thirds of those reported the incident involved physical contact. If these numbers are representative of the student population nationwide, 4.5 million students currently in grades K-12 have suffered some form of sexual abuse by an educator, and more than 3 million have experienced sexual touching or assault. This number would include both inappropriate romantic relationships between teachers and upperclassmen, and outright pedophilia. 

For over a decade, and more, we’ve known this situation existed in public schools. The media, however, rather than report on this current problem, continues to harp on Catholic priests who did what they did 50 years ago. Indeed, it should be reported, but how about a little perspective? The occasional comely female teacher who hits on boys in her classes is occasionally highlighted, but the study cited here is but 12 years old, and there is no evidence that the incidence has decreased.

The professor who worked on the best study of its kind on the subject, Charol Shakeshaft of Virginia Commonwealth University, should be on your news radar. She contributed to this linked report as well.

Schools today do exactly what the Catholic Church did in the 60s; ignore the problem and move teachers to another district. ("Passing the trash", as they call it.) But the media have not given public schools nearly the investigation that they’ve given the Catholic Church, instead solely focusing on individual cases, so as to make the problem seem more isolated than it is.

Filed under: EducationMedia

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