Protecting Our Children: Sexual Harassment of Students by Teachers in the Public School Setting William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
Prevalence of Sexual Harassment in Public Schools
In a survey by The American Association of University Women (AAUW) 290,000 students reported having experienced some sort of sexual abuse between the years of 1991 to 2000.
Of the students that reported sexual harassment in school, 38% reported that the abuse was at the hands of a teacher or school employee, and 14% of those students admitted to having sexual intercourse with a teacher.
Prevalence (con’t) In 2004, The U.S. Department of Education reported that almost 10% of public school students report having been the target of some sort of sexual harassment by a school employee. Actually, according to this report, sexual abuse by teachers is 100 times more frequent than sexual abuse by priests.
Sexual Harassmen t is a form of sex discrimination that is protected under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
The U.S. Department of Education states that two types of sexual harassment are recognized under the law:
Quid pro quo harassment- when a teacher or school employee causes a student to believe that he or she must participate in any unwelcome sexual conduct for fear that he or she may be excluded from a school activity or that the employee will make educational decisions based on whether or not the student succumbs to the unwanted sexual conduct.
Hostile Environment- a situation in which the sexual harassment is so severe and consistent that it interferes with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program, or creates an environment in which the student is fearful and intimidated by the perpetrator.
Under federal law, sexual misconduct becomes sexual abuse when the perpetrator…
1) causes a person to engage in a sexual act through threatening a person or causing fear in the person or
2) engages in a sexual act with a person who is either a) unable to understand the nature of the act or one who is b) physically incapable of declining participation in the act or is unable to communicate their unwillingness to participate in the sexual act.
Protection from Sexual Harassment comes from several places…
Title IX of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972 prohibits institutions receiving financial assistance from discrimination based on sex.
Statute §1983 or the Civil Action for the Deprivation of Rights protects the civil rights of students
Franklin vs. Gwinnett County Public Schools - The plaintiff in this case invoked protection from Title IX, previously only given to entities and not individuals. The Supreme Court decided that sexual harassment by teachers did constitute discrimination and therefore monetary damages could be awarded.
Gebser vs. Lago Vista I.S.D . - A student sued her school district claiming that the school district violated her civil rights. She stated this was due to the fact that the accused teacher was an employee of the district, making the district liable for his behavior, and because the district did not have a sexual harassment policy in place. The Supreme Court contended that the district was not liable unless an official of the district new of the harassment and did nothing about it.
Doe vs. Tayler I.S.D .- a student stated that her constitutional rights had been violated, and instead of seeking redress under state law, she contended that the U.S. Constitution protects her from physical and sexual abuse while in school. The Fifth Circuit Court agreed.
Prominent cases in the media have brought attention to the growing epidemic of sexual harassment by teachers in our public schools.
The State of Washington vs. Mary Kay Latourneau
This case involves a sexual relationship between a 6 th grade teacher, Mary Kay Latourneau (age 34), and her student, Vili Fualaau (age 13). After giving birth to the couple’s first child, Latourneau plead guilty to 2 counts of second degree statutory rape and was sentenced to 89 months in prison which was suspended to 6 months in county jail. She was released early but violated her probation by seeing Fualaau and was sent to back prison for the entire sentence. In 1998 Latourneau gave birth to the couple’s second child. After her release from prison, Latourneau and Fualaau were wed on May 20, 2005.
This case involves 23 year old Debra Lefave who was charged with two counts of statutory rape after having a sexual relationship with her 14 year old student. Lafave plead guilty and was sentenced to three years of house arrest seven years of probation. She currently remains on probation.
While looking at the characteristics of offenders, specific cases involving sexual harassment, and the protection that Title IX offers gives a great deal of information on the topic of sexual harassment by teachers, steps need to be taken at the school and district level to educated students and teachers on sexual harassment. Students need to have a safe place to go to report sexual harassment by teachers without the fear of retribution or embarrassment. Teachers need to:
1) understand the seriousness of such actions and should undergo specific training during teacher in-service days that address the consequences of such behavior and
2) to be aware of the warning signs that a student is suffering from sexual abuse from a teacher.
Warning Signs of Sexual Harassment by Teachers
a teacher exhibiting overly affectionate behavior towards a student
a teacher engaging in inappropriate or non-education related contact with a student such as a teacher having student’s over to their house or going to activities outside of school that are not related to the education of the student
a teacher using inappropriate sexual comments or actions such as telling sexual jokes or touching a student’s body or hair.