Sexual Misconduct: Students Know When Employees “Cross the Line”
One of the foundations of Community Matters is that the students are the most aware of what is happening in our schools. Students and peers are often the first to know when an employee is becoming inappropriately involved with a student. First, the student is often lost to their friends as they enter an “adult” world. Second, the student is groomed by the adult to spend less time with their peers that care about them. Third, a private language of glances, proximity, and exclusivity is also noticed by other students. Finally, students may be seen sitting on the back of the employee’s motorcycle, in the employee’s car, or together in secluded parts of the school grounds. Friends have a high degree of discomfort in the presence of this illicit coupling. Rumors spread as the student appears less able to function well in school and more reliant on the employee.
The level of sexual misconduct taking place in our schools is frightening. We hear about cases almost weekly or daily in the news. The research suggests only about 25% of the students that become involved in these improper relationships tell their parents. The research also indicates that approximately 10% of students experience behavior or comments that are inappropriate. The access to intimate photographs, the exclusivity, and privacy of texting and emails have made secret communication easier thus facilitating inappropriate engagement. The emphasis in our culture on a couple’s romance and intimacy fuel the desire to foster physical relationships. Everyone wants to be loved and often sex is mistaken for a heartfelt relationship. It is never appropriate for a school employee to become involved with the student. These relationships are emotionally damaging and, in the extreme, can lead to problems including suicide and drug abuse.
Both authors have been working in schools to prevent educator sexual misconduct from taking place through the courses we provide for close to a decade. We firmly believe that Community Matters provides a necessary ingredient in the prevention of bad conduct by tapping into the student’s awareness that misconduct is taking place. Safe School Ambassadors, by building both the confidence and skills of students, assists them in responding when they aware something is wrong. In compassionate communities, meaningful connections take away the loneliness and isolation that are exploited by employees or other students. Up-standers feel more comfortable saying something if they see something. Parents need to listen to how the children refer to school employees and notice if they have become estranged from their friends. There are many signs that sexual misconduct might be taking place, and even if it’s not, raising concerns, trusting your intuition, will prevent potential misunderstandings and future problems.