High School teachers and coaches and sexual acts with students

A recent article in the Seattle Times, “Interlake High teacher charged in sex case with female student” involves an issue that Justice & Equality Legal Services seeks to address – sexual harassment, which includes sexual assault in the school setting. A teacher having sex with a student in the K-12 setting is considered a criminal act and so there are criminal penalties that exist.

In 2003, the Seattle Times did a series titled “Coaches who Prey, The Abuse of Girls and the System that Allows it.” The series Times found 159 coaches who were disciplined or fired because of sexual misconduct; yet 98 of them continued working with children. According to this series:

Even when school officials find wrongdoing, they often bow to pressure from the teachers union, handing out mild punishments or none at all.

Districts routinely keep investigations secret by failing to document them or by signing agreements with accused coaches promising not to tell. In fact, the Times found 29 coaches who were passed on to new school districts after being disciplined, pushed out or fired for sexual misconduct.

O’Hagan, Maurneen, and Christine Willmsen, “Misconduct often goes unpublished by districts.” The Seattle Times (December 15, 2003). 

The series prompted the 2004 state Legislature to require school districts to disclose information about sexual-misconduct allegations and forbid the districts from entering into agreements to conceal such information — a practice that had been all too common. “Tardy efforts at troubling coaches.” Seattle Times Editorial (July 12, 2006).

 

The investigative report of the Seattle Times did not create a sea change in the policies of school districts in Washington. An Oak Harbor Swim coach made 20/20 when he was convicted of rape in 2010. Over his 30-year career he molested at least a dozen girls.

Now there is the Interlake High School case.

At JELS, we believe that this can change, but it requires the diligence and a the same commitment we ask of our kids around not being bystanders to bullying. The Times 2003 series included an interesting list of “How Parents can spot trouble before it’s too late.”  The recommend be wary of full-body hugs, rides home alone, being aware of cards and gifts, sleepovers at the couches house, even babysitting can be used for grooming, long or repeated phone calls to and from the coach (in today’s age, that should include instant message, snapchats, burnotes, emails, etc.), Out-of-town trips where it is difficult for parents to come along, a child suddenly quitting or losing interest, and coaches who jump from team to team or district to district.

I would also take it a step further and note that if you see these things, whether or not is happening to your child, you have an ability to file a complaint. In fact, since sexual predators typically look for a target that has fewer safeguards, so a student-athlete who has a parent who has to work and misses most practices and/or games, would be an easier target than a student whose has a parent present at practices or games.  You can file a complaint. Title IX complaints specifically can be filed by community members.

If you are aware of allegations of sexual assault, for instance your child tells you that a friend was touched by a couch, contacting police is something else parents should feel empowered to do.

For some reason, with regard to sexual assault more than other issues, people worry about false reporting and the possibility of destroying someone’s reputation more than other offenses. Studies show false reporting is similar to other crimes, which is to say it is very low. In addition, there are protections that exist, police will have to do an investigation, schools will do an investigation. If they feel like there is not enough evidence no report gets filed.

The reality is that kids far more often than not, don’t tell adult figures when sexual assaults occur. There is self-blame, minimizing, shame, and fear, often fed by the perpetrator that when it is their word against the perpetrator that no one will believe the student over the coach. Or that even if they do, if the coach is well-liked in the community that people will chose not to believe the child.

This means, when you hear little things, and you wonder if it’s worth being concerned about, the answer is yes. Put the concern first and figure out if there is anything of substance behind the concern. Most coaches and teachers aren’t sexual predators. Most care passionately about students and would never want to see any harm come to the child. But those who are sexual predators have access to lots of children and are likely repeat offenders, or will be, especially when they realize that their behavior has minimal consequences.