Sexual Abuse by Teachers is on the Rise

Lately, it seems like it has become common to see news stories involving the arrest of teachers who are being charged with sexual abuse and misconduct involving their students, some of whom are as young as 11 years old. Schools are expected to be a safe environment for children, but these arrests make people realize kids aren’t as safe as we’d like them to be when we send them off to school.

Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation (SESAME) is an organization that describes itself as a national voice for prevention of abuse by educators and other school employees. It has compiled alarming statistics on the incidences of sexual abuse in schools nationwide, reporting that just under 500 educators were arrested in 2015 (2016 statistics were unavailable as of this writing):

  • Of children in 8th through 11th grade, about 3.5 million students (nearly 7%) surveyed reported having had physical sexual contact from an adult (most often a teacher or coach). The type of physical contact ranged from unwanted touching of their body, all the way up to sexual intercourse.
  • This statistic increases to about 4.5 million children (10%) when it takes other types of sexual misconduct into consideration, such as being shown pornography or being subjected to sexually explicit language or exhibitionism.
  • Very often, other teachers “thought there might be something going on”, but were afraid to report a fellow educator if they were wrong. They didn’t want to be responsible for “ruining a person’s life,” although that is exactly what they are doing to the child if they don’t speak up, thus allowing the abuse to continue.

Reasons for the Increase in Sexual Misconduct

So, why are we suddenly seeing a rise in the number of cases of sexual misconduct and teacher/student relationships? It may be partially due to more transparency as schools seek to report what they formerly kept hidden and tried to deal with on their own. More than likely, however, the upward trend is due to the use of social media and cell phones.

The Washington Post ran a story in 2015 that related how about 80% of children age 12 – 17 had a cell phone and 94% had a Facebook account that year. In 2014, The Post says about 35% of the educators convicted or accused of sexual misconduct had used social media to gain access to their victims or to continue the teacher – student relationship.

Today’s technology makes it easy for predators to discreetly prey on children. Students usually have their phones with them at all times, which allows the perpetrator free and unmonitored access to the child. Even children without cell phones can be targeted through their laptop, tablet, or personal computer.

  • The Department of Justice notes that about 15% of children in the 12 – 17 age group who own a cell phone have received nude, semi-nude, or sexually suggestive images of someone they know via text.
  • 11% of teenagers and young adults say they have shared naked pictures of themselves online or via text message. Of those, 26% are trusting enough to think the person to whom they sent the nude pictures wouldn’t share them with anyone else.
  • About 26% of teenagers and young adults say they have participated in sexting.

Signs of Sexual Abuse by Teachers

If you are concerned your child might be being sexually abused, there are warning signs you can look for. Keep in mind that the presence of one sign doesn’t necessarily mean your child is in danger, but seeing several signs should alert you to the need to ask questions.

In general:

  • Unexplained nightmares or sleep problems
  • Refusal to eat, loss of appetite, or trouble swallowing
  • Sudden mood swings, insecurity, or withdrawal
  • A new or unusual fear of a certain person or place
  • Exhibits knowledge of adult sexual behaviors and language
  • Draws, writes, dreams, or talks about frightening images or sexual acts
  • Thinks of themselves or their body as “bad” or “dirty”
  • Not wanting to be hugged or touched

In teens or adolescents:

  • Running away from home
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or may be sexually promiscuous
  • Either stops caring about bodily appearance or compulsively eats or diets obsessively
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Attempting suicide

What to do if You Suspect Sexual Misconduct by an Educator

If your child tells you about being abused or if you suspect it, your reaction is very important.

  • Don’t overreact and don’t criticize or blame the child
  • Don’t demand details
  • Don’t downplay their disclosure because you’re trying to minimize their feelings (or yours)
  • Do listen calmly and keep in mind that children seldom lie about sexual abuse
  • Do assure the child it is not their fault
  • If necessary, seek appropriate medical care for the child
  • Notify local law enforcement, as well as the appropriate child services organizations. You can call ChildHelp: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or RAINN, the national sexual assault hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

A Child Psychologist at our Children’s Center Can Help

Child victims of sexual misconduct often experience anxiety and/or depression, as well as feelings of guilt and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For this reason, consider making an appointment for your child to speak with a mental health professional who is experienced in dealing with child sexual abuse victims.

Psychotherapy can help them find a safe place to share their feelings and allows them to talk through things they might not want to tell a parent or family member. It will help the child learn coping strategies so they can deal with the emotions surrounding their exploitation. Therapy will also teach them how to better manage the stress of the situation.

For more information about how our child psychologist can help, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

About Dr. Andrew Rosen

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.

  1. Leslie Rogers

    RE: Sexual Abuse by Teachers is on the Rise.

    Hello, how should I site this article? Who’s the author? I am writing a dissertation on Educator sexual abuse and would like to cite this as a source. Thank you 🙂

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  5. Episcopal School Dallas

    Thanks for sharing such information about the problems of Sexual Abuse by Teachers. this is so embarrassing really. You showed great courage.

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  7. Renee

    I am wondering what year this article was written? Also, are there any citations available for stats? I’m a university education student and I’m interested in the information presented here. Thank you!

  8. Cathy

    The preschool that I work at has a male teacher (it does not matter AT ALL that he is a male) who I believe is being inappropriate with the children.
    I have been talking notes on his behavior for a few weeks to make sure that I am not wrongly accusing an educator. I will not say anything until I have tangible proof and than I’d report it to CPS or the police–NOT my Supervisor, who adores this man.
    A few things he does:
    He plays hide and seek-a lot.
    He plays “capture” games (uses the giant parachute to “capture” children too).
    Plays “Monster”–who again, captures the children.
    He covers his privates-a lot. I know that children that size tend to hit the wrong area on a male, but he does this even with no children by him. I swear I’ve seen him with several erections–but, I was not going to stare!
    The boys adored him, when he first started (2 months at this school, but he was at the other Montessori the owner has for 2 years), but now they want to be with me or the other female teacher.
    One child said “I want a hug from you,” as he was leaving. This teacher said “I can hug you too.” The child said “No, I want teacher Cathy too.” And this is a child who had been following him from day one. Another child asked me to tie his shoes. The teacher, again, said “I can do it too.” The child refused & wanted me to tie them. Again, these are children who seemed to have previously adored this teacher, avoid him now.
    This teacher plays games where the children are getting hurt. He plays dodge ball. These are 3-6 year olds! They are getting split lips and cuts/bruises.
    Last week, I saw this teacher stick out his butt so a male child could hit it with a small ball (“Tim” ball he calls it. I’m using a false name, but he calls it his name ball). I was so stunned.
    A boy came up to me and said, “Tim” said something about a DR. and than he said that he had to go potty.” Then the boy started to follow him inside!! I said “You just went to the bathroom.” I talked him out of going inside, but why would he follow this teacher inside to the bathroom? And the teacher was gone for at least 10 minutes (I hope there was no children inside at this time, but i had to stay outside with the others).
    This is a daily thing. And, no one seems to notice but me! Does any of this sound inappropriate to you?

    • E

      I hope you reported these suspicions. Waiting for “tangible” proof to be in your hands could be harmful to children and honestly, irresponsible on your part. You don’t need tangible proof to report legitimate suspicions; they will be investigated and hopefully found to be false, but if they aren’t, it’s better to catch it sooner than later.


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  12. Ralph J Melton

    I and several people at work have talked about the apparent “increase” in women teachers and predatory sexual behavior. We range in age from early 50s to early 60s. We represent experience from 4 area school districts. All report at least 1 woman teacher who engaged in this behavior during their school years. This has made me wonder if the preceived increase Is due somewhat to less tolerance of the behavior and more willingness to report and prosecute/publicise the occurence. As well as a cultural change in the perception of this now being considered sexual predation.

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