By Bob Sullivan
In December, I wrote a column titled “Sexual abuse in America.” The column was about the clergy abuse scandal that occurred in the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s.
My column pointed out that the scandal was misconstrued by those hostile to Catholicism, and that since that time, the Church has vastly improved regarding the protection of children. The improvement is unmatched by other large institutions in the U.S., but rarely mentioned in the media. The scandal was so shocking that it still comes up frequently today, and often involves significant inaccuracies.
To bring harm to the innocent is 100% contrary to the Gospel and, therefore, 100% contrary to the teachings of the Church. But this prohibition against harm is not limited to Catholics. It applies to everyone.
Could the media and our federal government be ignoring much larger sex abuse scandals in the United States? Do we blithely accept scandals that impact millions of children in our country every day? For instance, is it possible that sexual misconduct in our schools, known as educator sexual misconduct (ESM), is overlooked due to the attention given to the clergy abuse scandal?
“He [Satan] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.”
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The media does report on incidents of ESM, but often focuses most of its resources on young female teachers accused of sexual misconduct with a student. While there are many other scenarios, the less attractive or male perpetrators just do not garner the attention of the media as the more attractive female perpetrators seem to do. I can’t help but wonder if this is just another consequence of pornography’s icy grip on our culture.
I suspect that Nebraska’s schools do a much better job of protecting children than most, if not all, of the other 50 states in the union. However, with nine known incidents in the last two years, it is nine too many.
If you think I’m disparaging teachers, think again. I am confident that no teacher would accept even one incident of sexual misconduct between a teacher and a student. If they knew it was happening, they would be the first to report it.
The only people of whom I speak are the perpetrators, and this is the minority of educators. My hope is to raise awareness and to cause a reasonable response with regard to the protection of children, not to scandalize an entire noble profession.
Unfortunately, no large study has been conducted by the United States Department of Education or any other organization, so there is no way to tell how prevalent ESM is in the United States. Only small studies have been done, and they have come up with varying, yet disturbing, estimates and results.
The U.S. Department of Education looked at the studies in 2004 and estimated that about 10% of students experience some sort of ESM. Due to the number of students in our K-12 school systems nationwide, it is possible that 5,600,000 students are victimized in some way each year. Experts also believe that most incidents go unreported, therefore, the numbers could be much higher.
If we want to keep our children safe, it is time to include a much closer look at all youth-related institutions and sectors, while remaining diligent in our own Church.
Am I singling out public schools? No. My estimates include both secular and religious private schools, which are estimated to have an enrollment of 5.2 million students.
Satan has sent evil into the world in both religious and secular garb with regard to these sex abuse scandals. Satan wants us to feel so incensed by the behavior of a small percentage of priests, that we don’t recognize the larger problems outside the Church. (Luke 6:42)
“It is funny how mortals always picture us [Demons] as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
The numbers tell us that our work is not yet done with regard to keeping children safe. But “zero tolerance” is not just something for the Catholic Church; it should be the standard for all of society. It is important to allow this into our minds so that we can take proper care of our children.
Here is how we begin taking proper care of all children: If you have a child or a grandchild in K-12 education, check with the administration to see how the school screens employee applicants and how the school supervises its employees.
You should also make sure the school has a stringent policy to keep pornography out of the school. There should be procedures in place which prohibit one-to-one environments between employees and students.
Also, make sure the administration is diligent regarding reports of misconduct and that employees who are terminated for ESM are not passed to the next unwitting employer. Potential employers need to know if something inappropriate has cost someone a previous job.
I think you will find that all schools are trying to do these things, but you will also find that schools will do this much more effectively if the parents and grandparents are paying attention, asking the right questions, holding the school accountable and supporting the policies.
We may never protect 100% of the children 100% of the time, but if we are intentional about this, we can do much better.