For a number of years, during my professional career, I worked as a child abuse investigator for the state. I investigated over three hundred cases of abuse, mostly sexual.
Many could be called “Romeo and Juliet” cases, where the girl was 15 and the boy 17 or 18, and the age of consent is 16. These cases usually were initiated by the parents of the girl, with them demanding that the boy be charged with “statutory rape.” The reality of the case was that the girl was a sophomore in high school and the boy a senior, a two-year grade difference, and the girl’s family had money, influence, power or prestige and the boy came from the “wrong side of the tracks.” In some smaller counties the boy would be charged and convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor. In the larger, more urban counties the cases would be dropped. Politics playing a powerful role in who got charged.
Then there were the cases of sex abuse committed against a child by a relative, step-parent, mom’s boyfriend, neighbor or someone within the circle of the family dynamic. Some of these cases were simply a disgruntled ex looking to ruin the former spouse, while many others were actual cases of abuse.
One of the most frustrating type of case was the “institutional” abuse case. This involved the abuse of a child while in the care of a school, church, daycare, foster home, residential facility or some other location where the child is not under the control of the parent, but rather under the control of an organization. The organization acting in loco parentis (Latin for “in place of a parent”) is expected and required to make sure that the child is safe. Unfortunately that is not always the case.
Read any news aggregator and you will find stories of teachers seducing students. Back when I was a student most of my teachers appeared to be at least a hundred years old and smelled like moth balls and liniment. But today you have teachers that are young and working with students that are five or six years their junior. And the abuse of a student is not restricted to male teachers only. There have been countless cases of female teachers having sexual contact with their students.
Under Indiana law, the state where I had worked, if an allegation of abuse was made the institution’s administrator was required by law to report it to Child Protection Services or local law enforcement. In a nutshell, if a student informs a teacher or staff member that they are being abused (physical or sexual) or neglected, that teacher or staff member is to inform the administrator of the abuse and the administrator is to report the abuse to the proper authorities. However, this does not eliminate the original person who was informed of the abuse of the obligation to also report unless they believe that the report has been made in compliance to the law (IC 31-33-5-3). One way of knowing if in fact a report has been made is if an investigation has been initiated and people start getting interviewed.
I had a case involving a fourteen year old female who reported to her middle school Vice-Principal that the male shop teacher had repeatedly grabbed her from behind and squeezed her breasts. The Principal and Vice-Principal sat down with the student, “interviewed” her and decided that she story was not credible, and did not report the abuse. A report was finally made when the girl’s mother found out about the situation and reported it herself. (As a side note: For those of you parents who think your child tells you all that goes on in school, guess again.)
When I got the case I interviewed the girl, and her story sounded somewhat off, with her stating that no one saw the grabbing of her by the teacher, when there were about 15 other students in the class. She insisted that the way the classroom was set up there were “blind spots” in the room and that was were the contact was made. I went to the school and after talking to the Principal and Vice-Principal I went to the shop classroom. And yes, there were several blind spots in the room, areas where she stated the teacher had placed his hands on her. I spoke with the Principal again, and explained to her that I was going to refer her situation to the prosecutor’s office for possible criminal charges against her for failing to report the abuse. Within two days the teacher was suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
We (my partner from the police department and I) called the teacher in to our office for an interview, and he arrived with his attorney. While refusing to answer most of our questions, he did deny any inappropriate contact with the girl. During the interview I was able to find out that he had been a teacher in Indiana for over 25 years, however he had never been granted tenure by any school district. We talked/interviewed for nearly three hours and I got a list of the seven school districts where he had worked, both as a shop teacher and as a swim coach. He was ultimately charged with sexual battery, a “D” Felony, and pled down to Battery, “A” Misdemeanor, with probation. He also lost his job with the school district. This didn’t mean that he couldn’t go to some other district and apply for a teaching position, because he still had his teaching license.
A thought occurred to me during the course of the investigation: Why had he never been granted tenure? So for three weeks after the case was closed, and on my own time, I contacted the various school districts where he had previously worked. I had to do this on my own time because the case had been cleared, and my supervisor told me to drop it. I never could follow orders well.
Turns out that over the course of his career this teacher had done the same thing at every school district he had worked at. I was able to locate several former students, one who was actually now a teacher, teaching in the same school where he had fondled her fifteen years earlier. These victims were willing to give me taped statements about what had happened to them, and informed me that when they had told school officials nothing had been done other than the teacher was gone by the end of the semester.
During a conversation with one district’s Superintendent I was told of an old habit that existed within the public school system, that of “passing the trash.” That is where a problem teacher would be allowed to resign and be given a letter of recommendation so they could go on to teach at another district. I was in shock! To think that a school district, to protect its reputation and status, would allow a child abuser/molester to resign and move to another district to inflict harm on more students was beyond my comprehension. But it happens.
I talked with the local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors where this teacher had worked. Unfortunately since the victims I was able to find were now all over thirty, I was told from a prosecutorial stand point, their hands were tied, and no criminal charges could be brought.
This was unacceptable, so with copies of the tape recordings, documents and other information I had I went to the state Department of Education. After discussing the matter with various individuals, and their review of the information this teacher’s license was pulled. He would no longer be able to teach in Indiana. Whether he moved out-of-state after his probation I don’t know. I only hope that if he has tried to get a teaching license in another state what happened here will prevent it.
I bring all this up to make a point. Over the past several days there has been a huge scandal coming out of Penn State University over allegations of sexual abuse that occurred on campus. Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach of the Nittany Lions, has been charged with sexually abusing at least eight boys over a fifteen year period. Nittany Lions’ head coach Joe Paterno was informed of the abuse in 2002 by then graduate assistant and now assistant coach Mike McQueary. Paterno did inform the University’s Athletic Director Tim Curley, and University vice president, Gary Schultz about the abuse. Reports state that Curley and Schultz then informed PSU President Graham Spanier. And that is as far as it went. Curley and Schultz have both been charged with failing to report the abuse, and Paterno and Spanier have both been fired. There is still the chance that Spanier may face criminal charges also for failing to report the abuse.
I agree with the PSU Board of Trustees decision to fire Paterno. He was in a position where, had he used some common sense he would have realized that nothing was being done, and he should have gone around the “chain of command” and reported the abuse to the authorities himself. By not doing so, how many other young boys were molested by Jerry Sandusky? It is a shame that the winningest coach in collegiate football history will forever have his reputation tarnished because of Sandusky. But the real shame is that Paterno didn’t have the balls to do the right thing, and report his former assistant coach himself.