Wednesday, June 30, 2004

More than 4.5 million students were victims of sexual misconduct by teachers and other school officials in the past decade, says a study released yesterday by the Education Department.

The study shows that more than half of reported adult sexual predators were teachers, classroom aides and coaches. School principals made up 6 percent and student counselors 5 percent.

The students ranged from kindergarten to 12th grade and made up one-tenth of all children to pass through public schools in the decade surveyed.

Findings were based primarily on 2,065 student interviews in two studies conducted for the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in the past 10 years. The report does not differentiate between verbal or physical sexual misconduct and criminal abuse, as defined under federal law.

The results were released as more than 9,000 members of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest school union, converged on Washington for caucus meetings before their annual convention Friday through Wednesday.

Charol Shakeshaft, a Hofstra University research professor and author of the report, said no studies available separate criminal sexual abuse in schools from other sexual misconduct.

The study does not determine how many teachers are accused of committing sexual misconduct or abuse, she said. “This is just the number of students reporting their experience. It could be that one teacher has sexually abused 60 students. We don’t know anything about the number of teachers.”

Miss Shakeshaft said the pattern of verbal and physical sexual behavior exhibited by students and educators surveyed in 24 studies, including five newspaper investigations, is part of a “grooming” process.

“While almost all children respond to positive attention from an educator, students who are estranged from their parents, who are unsure of themselves, who are engaged in risky behavior, or whose parents are engaged in such behavior, are often targeted, not only because they might be responsive but also because they are more likely to maintain silence,” the report says.

She reanalyzed data from a study conducted in 2000 that showed 57.2 percent of reported sex offenders in schools were men and 42.8 percent were women.

“Analysts speculate that female abusers might be underreported if the target is male, because males have been socialized to believe that they should be flattered or appreciative of sexual interest from a female. On the other hand, it is hypothesized that males might also underreport sexual abuse by another male, because of the social stigma of same-sex sex,” the report says.

Miss Shakeshaft said the percentage of reported “same-sex misconduct” — 15.2 percent male educator and male student, and 13.1 percent female educator and female student — was unreliable because the studies’ sample size was too small for each category.

The NEA criticized the report.

“Lumping harassment together with serious sexual misconduct does more harm than good by creating unjustified alarm and undermining confidence in public schools,” the union said.

“The National Education Association takes the issue of sexual harassment very seriously, and cases of inappropriate sexual contact even more seriously,” it said. “Statistically, public schools remain one of the safest places for children to be.”

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