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Shaping young minds

Reports of improper relationships with students increased in recent years

February 23, 2023

New studies show that 10% of students are subjected to sexual misconduct by those in authority (Photo by Braylen Garren)

Look around the classroom or a place of work. Consider the people at a lunch table or the kids in a surrounding neighborhood. Think about the members of a sports team or a club. Now pick 10 of these individuals. Now pick one.

Statistically, one out of 10 children have been subjected to adult sexual misconduct by an educator, according to the US Department of Education. This could be a preacher, police officer, boss, family member or even a teacher; somebody who is supposed to shape the young minds of children to live up to their greatest potential.

The victim could be anybody. A little brother or sister. A childhood best friend. The kid who always has a smile on their face, or the quiet student who never speaks a word. Who is in the 10%? Who is living with that fear? Who feels like they can’t find a way out?

Sexual harassment, by definition, is a blatant abuse of power through creating a hostile environment or quid pro quo- an exchange of money or other incentives to entice a victim to perform sexual acts. An educator and student relationship falls under this category because teachers could be using their position to inappropriately start an unwanted relationship and could set up a toxic and uncomfortable working environment for the student.

“Targets of educator sexual misconduct report that they suffer emotional, educational and developmental or health effects,” a reanalysis of AAUW data said. “At least a third of students report behaviors that would negatively affect academic achievement.”

Sexual misconduct is an umbrella word with many actions that fall under it. Some unprofessional measures include sexual or romantic invitations, dating or soliciting dates, engaging in sexualized dialogue, making suggestive comments, exposure, self-disclosure of a sexual or erotic nature and exchange of gifts with no educational purpose. It can start with just a small gesture that can be perceived as kindness or a seemingly harmless follow on a social media platform.

“The educator shall refrain from inappropriate communication with a student or minor, including, but not limited to, electronic communication such as cell phone, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging or other social network communication,” the TISD Employee Handbook states.

These occurrences can progress until the predator gets what they want. For the students who come forward to expose these perpetrators, they are separated from their abuser, but are still left with the aftermath, which can include trauma, slow healing process, shame and new view on the world.

“Professional educators shall exert reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions which interfere with learning or are harmful to the student’s health and safety,” Section 4, Article 10 of the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators states.

Even though it is regularly communicated that this type of behavior is not tolerated in the school system in the many handbooks that educators must become familiar with to secure a job, some educators ignore these rules and step over boundaries with their students.

In the past five years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of cases presented that involve an inappropriate relationship between educator and student. Recent studies by The Children’s Center for Psychiatry, Psychology & Related Services show that 3.5 million students nationwide experience unwanted touching by teachers, and 1.5 million students experience other forms of inappropriate contact with teachers. That is 4.5 million victimized students total.

Texas is the state with the most reported teacher/student relationship cases. TEA reports show that from 2016 to 2017, the number of reported cases doubled in Texas. The number continues to increase with each passing year. This is not to say that the misconduct started picking up in the 2000s; in this time period, rules changed to encourage reporting instances of misconduct.

“Senate Bill 7 was authored by Sen. Paul Bettencourt and sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ken King. Passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, it requires principals to notify their superintendents if a teacher is terminated or resigns following allegations of serious misconduct. This requirement will help ensure cases can be investigated by TEA and that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) can sanction an educator’s certificate where appropriate,” TEA states in 2017.

Even after the laws about these explicit relationships became more strict in 2017 by making it clear that it did not matter the age of the victim or whether or not they went to the same school, when a teacher is reported, it is still not guaranteed that they will go to jail. It is guaranteed that they will never hold a job around children again or be allowed around the victim or victim’s family, but some may never serve jail time.

“Such crimes are a second-degree felony that is punishable with up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Both of these things may be imposed by a judge at their discretion,” Section 12.33 of the Texas Penal Code states.

Almost half of these abusers receive a period of probation. This means that after they serve their time of meetings and living in their home, they are let back into the world where they disobeyed the law in the first place.

Even in seemingly consensual relationships where the victim is of legal age, the student is still a victim because this is an abuse of power and those in authority are using this power to only get to one thing.

“If someone agrees to an activity under pressure of intimidation or threat, that isn’t considered consent because it was not given freely,” RAINN, the US’ biggest anti-sexual violence organization said. “Unequal power dynamics, such as engaging in sexual activity with an employee or student, also mean that consent cannot be freely given.”

With the number of cases on the rise, the victim could be anybody. If it is you or someone you know, please contact a trusted adult immediately.

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