Sexual 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. Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse. Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is that the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that's been apparent for years.

"From my own experience - this could get me in trouble - I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."

The AP investigation found efforts to stop individual offenders but, overall, a deeply entrenched resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse. It starts in school hallways, where fellow teachers look away or feel powerless to help. School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals to avoid lawsuits and other trouble. And in state capitals and Congress, lawmakers shy from tough state punishments or any cohesive national policy for fear of disparaging a vital profession. That only enables rogue teachers, and puts kids who aren't likely to be believed in a tough spot. In case after case the AP examined, accusations of inappropriate behavior were dismissed.

Too often, problem teachers are allowed to leave quietly. That can mean future abuse for another student and another school district. "They might deal with it internally, suspending the person or having the person move on. So their license is never investigated," says Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in teacher sex abuse who heads the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University. It's a dynamic so common it has its own nicknames - "passing the trash" or the "mobile molester." Laws in several states require that even an allegation of sexual misconduct be reported to the state departments that oversee teacher licenses. But there's no consistent enforcement, so such laws are easy to ignore. School officials fear public embarrassment as much as the perpetrators do, Shakeshaft says. They want to avoid the fallout from going up against a popular teacher. They also don't want to get sued by teachers or victims, and they don't want to face a challenge from a strong union.

Read the full report by Martha Irvine and Robert Tanner
The Associated Press


  1. "Misconduct" (behavior not conforming to prevailing standard,
    impropriety) sounds almost benign. When did we stop using "abuse"
    (to hurt or injure by maltreatment) and "molest" (to subject to
    unwanted sexual activity) ?

    Are we backsliding?

  2. The whole story sounds so familiar: just change the profession and the administrative titles and you have a disturbing deja vu.

  3. Sorry this is so long.
    Once again we find that innocent children are being abused by the very people they should be able to trust. As Concord Pastor said, it's Deva Vu all over again, just a different profession. In the last few years all of this has become an epidemic. What scares me is how many children over the years have lost thier innocence because no one believed them or because they were afraid to speak up. Some children in this generation have been able to begin the healing process because they have been able to speak the truth to a trusting adult and been believed, but not enough. The hidden torture these children have had to endure makes me sick. Even the children of this generation have to grow to trust in order to heal. As we know, trust when sexual abuse is present is something that is particularly difficult. In an era that therapy is available and encouraged, communication is far better then it ever has been, and the system of believing the victim instead od disbelief which forces additional victimization has gotten better...not good enough for sure...but we at least have the opportunity to seek out help. The church desroyed many, many lives with the abuse endured by pedophile priests, and now, one is left to wonder how many lives have been destroyed by pedophile teachers. The problem is rampant. We MUST find a way to protect our children. Taeching awareness and removing the shame that comes with abuse is a beginning, but certainly not the end of this. I for one wish I could do SOMETHING, ANYTHING that would save the life of a child from the hell that victims must endure. But, I just don't know what else I can do. Does anyone have some answers that we all can incorporate into our teachings and safety of our own children and grandchildren? Even if we can save one child from going through this hell because another adult has broken a sacred trust, it is worth it. Unfortunately, one child isn't enough, we need to save an entire generation form this trauma. We can't lock our children away with the hope of sparing them from the destructive forces within our sociaty, but there must be a better way to teach them that when they see or feel a "red flag" go up, they must trust thier insticts and all the while make it known that it is OK for them to speak up. Dear God, what a sad state we find our children having to endure. There are truly sick people out there just waiting for the opportunity to destroy more victims. Pray for the children who have been affected, who will be affected and who will, over a period of time, usually years, need the power of unselfish love, understanding and teachings so that they may somehow live a fruitful life without the destructive abuse leaving them with a lifelong hurt that they find most difficult, almost impossible to heal.

  4. Regina, your pain comes through loud and clear. I do, however, feel constrained to note that after abusive clergy and teachers have been identified and removed, the biggest population of perpetrators sit secure in their access to victims -- parents, grandparents, older siblings, and so on. When home isn't safe, there's little left.

    I'm glad that abusers outside the home are being caught and dealt with (when they are). I just fear that people will forget that abuse more often starts at home. Who has more power over a child and more opportunity to use that power selfishly and harmfully than adults living with the child?

    Yes, weed out the bad teachers and priests and so on, but don't forget to look askance at Daddy, and it is usually Daddy and not Mommy.

  5. And usually Grandpa and not Grandma. Thanks for bringing that up "piskie".

    I sometimes feel, it is near impossible to protect children from their own family members. If someone from their own family betrays and abuses them, who in life can they learn to trust? It takes much time, and healing to get past the trauma of being sexually abused. All we can do is teach children NOT to keep a secret that is hurting them, and to tell someone that they DO trust, what is going on and that is NOT their fault.

  6. Thank you piskie and grace,
    You are both unfortunately correct.
    Abuse within the home by family members I believe is the cruelest form of trauma one can live through. That is not to take away the severity of all abuse. All abuse is despicable, but when someone within the safety of a family abuses a child, a father, grandfather..., I do believe that any form of trust is broken, and I'm not sure that is something that one can heal from. I pray the victimes can heal, but I'm just not sure it's possible.


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