Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Sexual Abuse in Schools

This is a special post with three in-depth articles/series focused on sexual abuse of students by teachers, which I think is a VERY big issue that has alarming parallels to the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church. As I’ve noted before, for pedophiles, outside of the family, the very best place to look for victims (usually by getting a job) is at church or at school (including sports coaches). They are settings in which a pedophile can develop a close relationship with a young person (called “grooming”) and spend plenty of time alone with them without (until recently anyway) raising too many eyebrows.

Both the Catholic church and our school systems are big, bureaucratic institutions and, sure enough, both have tended to act exactly the same way when confronted with reports of abuse: don’t believe the victims and encourage them to remain silent; after enough complaints, quietly transfer the pedophile to a new diocese/district (with no warning to anyone); and under no circumstances notify the police/authorities.

Note that I am NOT saying that priests or teachers are more likely to be pedophiles (here’s an article about the former: Five myths about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal,). My point is that in these professions there is a lot more opportunity – and, most importantly, that the institutions have largely disgraced themselves in their response to abuse.

This is what I wrote last June:

I’m sending around this article (www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/magazine/the-horace-mann-schools-secret-history-of-sexual-abuse.html)from this coming Sunday’s NYT Magazine about rampant sexual abuse at New York City’s elite Horace Mann School in the 1970s and 1980s as a stand-alone email because it’s both very long and very important.

As I’ve written in past emails, this is a HUGE issue – one that everyone who works in schools, serves on boards, etc. needs to be very attuned to. This is what I wrote in my email of 2/8/12, in which I mentioned the 2006 Academy Award-nominated documentary, Deliver Us from Evil (you can watch it for free here).

I’m no expert on child molestation, but my guess is that the three areas in which it’s most likely to occur are within the family, at church, and at school – all areas where these monsters can get sustained contact with children, develop (and abuse) a relationship of trust, etc.

I’m am quite certain that Horace Mann wasn’t some unusual bastion of pedophilia – rather, I’d bet my last dollar that a small percentage of teachers preying on a small percentage of students was typical of most schools then – and now (though perhaps not to as great an extent – it’s hard to know because of the conspiracy of silence, both by schools and victims, even decades later. I hope this is true:

But all three of these stories have something in common: they seem like artifacts of a previous era, a time before the explosion of electronic communication and before the scandals in the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and Penn State. Today, if faculty members disappeared from campus under suspicious circumstances or if rumors were swirling about predatory teachers, students would be texting about it in real time. Outraged parents would be organizing into networks and distributing action plans.)

The crime at Horace Mann isn’t limited to the actions of the three pedophiles revealed in the article – I would argue that the adults at the school who had any awareness of what was happening, especially the leadership, committed an even bigger crime by doing almost nothing. Of the three pedophiles, the school kept the music teacher on the faculty until he retired in 2002 at the age of 67 without saying anything to anyone, even though the school was concerned enough that he “was told he could no longer travel unchaperoned with students”, and the other two teachers were quietly let go, without a word to anyone: not the victims, most importantly, but also their parents, other students and faculty – and certainly not the authorities, despite the fact that terrible crimes were committed. One of the teachers found work at another (unsuspecting) school – who knows how many more children he molested before he committed suicide?

It turns out that Joe Paterno isn’t an aberration – in fact, sadly, the TYPICAL reaction to reports of pedophilia against a beloved, respected member of a school (or family, church, or community) is disbelief and denial, resulting in sweeping the problem under the rug, or quietly letting the predator move on to another school or parish. All of this proves the saying: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Here are the three articles below:

A recent four-part series by Education Action Group:

The stories in third part of the series about how the union protects sexual predators in its ranks and fights legislation to make it easier to remove them really burn me up:

School administrators have several motives for quietly sweeping child abuse cases under the rug.

Many are obviously afraid of tarnishing their professional reputations, and the reputations of their schools and teachers, by acknowledging the presence of sexual predators.
They’re also pressured by practical considerations.

In many states it can take several years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, to fire tenured teachers, even known sexual offenders. That’s due to protections stipulated in union contracts and state tenure laws.

Most schools have been struggling to cover basic operational expenses in recent years, and don’t want to waste scarce tax dollars paying attorneys, suspended teachers and substitutes to cover for those teachers.

And teacher union officials, always eager to help members in trouble, have been more than willing on many occasions to work with administrators to cover up sexual abuse.
They sometimes arrange secret deals that allow districts to obtain resignations from abusive teachers in exchange for letters of recommendation for further employment in the education field.

…Unions go the extra mile to protect abusers

Experts generally acknowledge that teacher unions have played a key role in keeping an alarming number of sexual abusers in the classroom.

“Because of the political action committees of unions and the power they wield, I think in a lot of instances the prosecutors are hesitant” to file criminal charges against an accused teacher, Hobson said. “I think a lot of times it has to do with prosecutors being unwilling to take that step, and the public not being aware of these issues and not putting pressure on the prosecutor to take the next step.”

In some states unions use the arbitration process to defend teachers accused of sexual abuse, even when administrators are willing to fire them. The United Federation of Teachers, which represents K-12 teachers in New York City, is among the most effective at helping these teachers skirt the system.

The New York Daily News last year tracked 16 teachers who were accused of sexually abusing students. City education officials tried to fire them, but UFT officials insisted on taking their cases to arbitration.

Fourteen of the teachers were reinstated to the classroom. Two others were assigned “desk duty.” None were fired.

One of those cases involved high school teacher Norman Siegel, who was accused of pressing his genitalia against a female student’s leg. An arbitrator ruled the charge likely was true, but only issued Siegel a 45-day unpaid suspension.

Then there’s the case of gym and health teacher Willie Laraque, who was accused of bending a male student over a desk, leaning in to him and saying, “I’ll show you what is gay.” Laraque is reportedly back in the classroom after paying a $10,000 fine.

How does this type of thing happen? Under terms of collective bargaining, arbitrators are jointly named by city education officials and union officials and answer to each side. Union officials clearly expect to see their share of victories, regardless of the details.

A 2007 AP storySexual Misconduct Plagues US Schools

The young teacher hung his head, avoiding eye contact. Yes, he had touched a fifth-grader's breast during recess. "I guess it was just lust of the flesh," he told his boss.
That got Gary C. Lindsey fired from his first teaching job in Oelwein, Iowa. But it didn't end his career. He taught for decades in Illinois and Iowa, fending off at least a half-dozen more abuse accusations.

When he finally surrendered his teaching license in 2004 _ 40 years after that first little girl came forward _ it wasn't a principal or a state agency that ended his career. It was one persistent victim and her parents.

Lindsey's case is just a small example of a widespread problem in American schools: sexual misconduct by the very teachers who are supposed to be nurturing the nation's children.
Students in America's schools are groped. They're raped. They're pursued, seduced and think they're in love.

An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators _ nearly three for every school day _ speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

And no one _ not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments _ has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.

Those are the findings of an AP investigation in which reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators _ the very definition of breach of trust.

The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. At least half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to their misconduct.

The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.

A follow-up to last June’s story in the NY Times Magazine about Horace Mann. This horrible story, by The New Yorker, focuses on one pedophile at Horace Mann who preyed on numerous boys over the years and the school did absolutely nothing despite countless complaints and warnings.

what about Mr. Berman—this odd, secretive man who frightened away many students, yet retired to a house that former students bought for him? He wasn’t mentioned in theTimes stories, but he may have been the greatest enigma of all. I talked to more than a hundred alumni, to many teachers who worked with him in the sixties and seventies, and to administrators who dealt with complaints about teachers. Berman stood out for his extraordinary control over boys’ lives. Several of his former students have spent decades trying to grasp why they yearned to be close to him, and why they remained silent for so long after, by their accounts, he abused them. “Berman counted on everyone’s silence,” one of the men who lived with him after graduating from Horace Mann told me. Like some of the others, he asked not to be named. “He assumed that our own humiliation would keep us quiet,” he said.

…Joseph Cumming, a 1977 Horace Mann graduate who has served in recent months as a coördinator for alumni who allege abuse, has spoken at length to nearly all the alumni involved, including the handful of men who say that Berman abused them. Cumming, a minister and the former director of Yale University’s Faith and Culture Reconciliation Program, which focussed on improving relations between Muslims and Christians, said, “In each of the Berman cases, he exercised such powerful mind control over them that it took them many years to come to terms with what happened to them. To this day, they feel intimidated by him.”
Reports of sexual abuse by teachers often do not emerge until many years after the event. But the core of such memories tends to remain intact, according to Kathy Pezdek, a cognitive psychologist at Claremont Graduate University, who specializes in eyewitness memory. “At the top of the hierarchy of memory is the gist, and farther down are the details,” Pezdek says. “Over time, you lose information from the bottom up.” The passage of time may leave details in victims’ accounts appearing inconsistent or incomplete, but “looking for consistency across the people who are reporting abuse is going to be much more revealing than looking for consistency of details within any one account.”

Cumming got involved with the Horace Mann victims because he was molested by Johannes Somary, the music teacher. (Somary died in 2011.) When Cumming tried to recall the details of his own abuse, he was occasionally uncertain of times, dates, and places. “As I talked with the Berman survivors, I was struck by how much the elements of their stories had in common,” he says. “The specifics of their experiences of being sexually molested by him had remarkable similarities”—a series of after-class meetings, a period of growing intimacy, sharp criticism alternating with abundant praise, and, finally, demands for sexual acts.

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