Written by a parent who has investigated some of life's darkest crimes. Most of us never talk about the sexual abuse of a child until it is too late. Child sexual abuse is rampant. Studies tell us 16% of all youth in the United States will be sexually assaulted before turning 18. And, a majority of this will occur in their own homes or the homes of other family members. Nearly 90% of the offenders are known to the child. Whether you do the hiring in schools or other youth organizations, or simply work with youth or have them in your home, you have an obligation to learn and recognize the early warning signs of sexual abuse. These are the 'Little Red Flags' and the 'Big Red Flags' discussed in this book.
"Ninety percent of solving a problem is recognizing it."
(Larry MacGuffie, Mentor and Friend)
As a parent who is almost done raising his fifth child, three of them girls, I, along with every other parent put a tremendous amount of trust in the school employees and other adults who interact with our children. In an average day my youngest daughter spends over seven hours in what I would hope would be the safe and protected confines of our public school system. The additional time she spends working at her part time job, church youth group, after school events and any other social engagements that take her out of my sphere of influence only increases the opportunities for her to be taken advantage of by some unscrupulous individual who somehow slipped past my radar or the radar of other responsible authority figures. If your son or daughter is like mine, he or she will spend much more than one half of their waking life with other adults.1 Because of this, it is critical that my daughter, like your child or children, have the very best moral and ethical leaders at school or anywhere else they can be influenced. It is imperative that each of us know what type of individual is out there looking, or rather lurking for opportunities to take advantage of our children and trust.
I live in a small town in rural America, but that does not necessarily mean my children are any safer or more protected from adults "gone wild" than children in larger communities or schools. In fact, it can sometimes be argued that the opposite is true. In some cases, primarily in the past, smaller school districts have found it very difficult to attract quality teachers. This is generally a choice on the part of the teacher who quite often does not want to work in a small school environment where the pay differentials make it difficult to pay off their college loans and have a life at the same time. In some cases, because of a combination of events where the stars seem to be misaligned, a bad apple is allowed to sneak into the school system. Partly because of the difficulty attracting teachers, some districts have overlooked the "minor" indiscretion or failed to do an extremely thorough background investigation. In either case, the district simply accepted the bare minimum requirements, so they could fill the position. When it comes to deciding who fills these positions and will be near our children, you would hope the hiring authority would do a little more research than just ensuring the applicant has a teaching certificate and is breathing. Unfortunately, this is all that is done in some schools who might be under pressure to fill a teaching position.
In contrast to smaller schools, your children may not be any safer in a larger school system. If a teacher or other school employee has a fascination for children, it can be easier for that person to hide in a larger environment. In these cases, it is simply a matter of numbers. Eventually, due to the larger turnover and number of applicants, it is possible paperwork or steps within the hiring process are missed or even side-stepped. This can also allow the wrong person access to our children.
Even worse is when a school district or one of its administrator's judgment is clouded because of his or her desire to hire or keep a winning coach who has no business being near our children. In 2003, the "Seattle Times" newspaper published a series of articles entitled, "Coaches Who Prey." This well documented series, which actually helped change Washington State law, profiled over one hundred fifty coaches throughout the State of Washington who engaged in inappropriate behaviors with children. To quote one of the articles:
"In a dark side of the growing world of girls' sports, 159 coaches have been reprimanded or fired for sexual misconduct in the past decade. And 98 continued to coach or teach - as schools, the state and even some parents looked the other way." 2
All too often school districts feel the need to hire a person based on their coaching abilities rather than their ability to teach in the classroom. Additionally, even when the facts warrant termination, some districts either opt to keep the employee or use tax dollars to buy them off through a resignation or settlement agreement. Worse yet, is a large number of these individuals are not tracked and are able to move from district to district.
To help prevent troubled individuals from moving from one school district to another, most states have enacted laws or rules that require the mandatory reporting of certified teachers to the State's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.3 Even the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification maintains a national database available to school directors within the United States' educational systems.4 This database includes the names and certificate status of only certified school employees who engage in misconduct. Unfortunately, it does not track many other school employees who offend. Even by taking an active role in tracking offending teachers, other school employees are able to freely slip through the cracks.
At this point, it should be noted that there are generally two types of school employees. Most often, these are referred to as "Certified" and "Classified." Generally speaking, a certified employee is a person who has met the minimum qualifications to be called a teacher, counselor, principal, etc. Almost all other school employees such as secretaries, classroom aides, custodians, kitchen staff and bus drivers are considered to be classified. The generally accepted definition of all school employees is any person "employed" in the kindergarten through twelfth grade of a public or private school. The term, "volunteer" should also be included because in most states, volunteers are subjected to a minimal background check before they are allowed access to the students. In some ways, this makes them an "unpaid employee." Typically, school employees and volunteers work with minors who are unable to give their consent to engage in a sexual relationship with them. This is because of specific laws prohibiting school employees and volunteers from having sexual contact with any registered student in their district.
It was important to define the difference between the two types of school employees to point out the fact that in most of these issues, only the certified employee is tracked. That is of course as long as the classified employee was never convicted of a crime requiring them to register as a sex offender. But that does not always happen.
In one situation, a school bus driver made at least one mother nervous after he began giving the young girls on his bus small necklaces that said, "I love you." This mother, although worried about reporting what could be a minor concern, did so anyway. After learning about this mother's concern, a district transportation official questioned the driver who told her he was just being friendly and thoughtful. The transportation official was not entirely convinced or satisfied with this driver's response so she appropriately asked for an investigation. Within a half hour of receiving a telephone call with the information relating to this issue, I was able to learn that this bus driver, who was in his late thirties or early forties, had been arrested earlier for raping his wife's sister's sixteen year old daughter (His niece). I later learned she became pregnant with his child. In fact, his school district paycheck was even being garnished by the State to pay his niece for their child's support. The problem with this situation was in her original statement, the niece or victim reported being raped by the driver. She later changed her statement by telling the investigator the two engaged in sexual activities twice. She said the "first" time they engaged in a sexual relationship it was consensual, but he raped her the "second" time they were sexually active. Based on the inconsistency of the victim's statement and the fact this girl was not a student in the driver's school district or a blood relative, the driver only spent a weekend in jail during the initial stages of the investigation and ultimately, was never criminally charged or convicted of a crime. Because of this, the district never knew about the girl's allegation or the fact their driver had previously engaged in a sexual relationship with a minor. It should be noted that in Washington State, a sixteen-year-old has the ability to give his or her consent to enter into a sexual relationship. All states set a minimum "age of consent" where a person is legally able to give their own permission before engaging in sexual contact with another person. This "age of consent" varies from state to state, but is generally either sixteen, seventeen or eighteen years of age.
Believe it or not, after learning their bus driver had engaged in a sexual relationship with a minor who was also his niece, the school district questioned whether there was enough "Just Cause" as outlined in the union's collective bargaining agreement to terminate the bus driver. There are certain things in this world that just do not seem to make sense, and this is one of them. Eventually, and mostly due to the efforts of a caring and moral union representative, and to avoid...