All you have to do is Google “teacher busted for having sex with student” and you will find over 197 million results pointing you to thousands of stories from around the nation and the world reporting cases of teachers who have violated the trust and integrity of their position by having inappropriate relationships with their students.
Recently, national headlines have focused on the newest cases uncovered last month at Miramonte Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 61-year-old Mark Berndt has been accused of taking ‘bondage style’ photo’s of students with cockroaches on their faces. This story comes on the heels of countless other similarly disgusting stories around the nation including that of former Penn State University Assistant coach Jerry Sandusky who last fall was accused of 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys.
While both of these individual cases involved male adults accused of the abuse, female abusers have also continued to rear their ugly heads in the media in recent years with hundreds of cases going back to the highly publicized 2004 Debra Lafave case that made national headlines. Who could forget when former Greco Middle School teacher (Temple Terrace) and University of South Florida graduate Lafave plead guilty to Lewd and Lascivious Battery after charges arose resulting from her alleged encounters with a 14-year-old student. It was alleged that the then-married Lafave had sex with the minor in her classroom, inside her car and at her home throughout the summer of 2004.
Over the past several decades, we have witnessed child sex abuse scandals that have rocked our nation in an unfathomable way.
Is what we are seeing in the past 10 years with countless teachers engaging in illegal sexual acts simply the next round of awareness after shocking evidence was uncovered alleging abuse in the Boy Scouts and Catholic Church? It certainly appears that way, only it may prove to be actually worse.
*Prior to 1994, there were over 2,000 cases of reported abuse by scout leaders within the Boy Scouts Of America.
*According to the John Jay Report, there were 10,667 allegations against 4,392 priests accused of engaging in sexual abuse with minors between 1950-2004.
So, the real questions is, whom can we trust to care for, educate, and protect our children?
Sadly, the answer appears to be that we can trust no-one.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crimes (http://www.ncvc.org) the common denominator among child victims is that they frequently know and trust their abusers. Family members, teachers, coaches, pastors, and caregivers are all typically given access to children with a certain level of unchecked authority as they develop close relationships with the children for appropriate or inappropriate purposes.
What can we do?
Get informed. Locally in the Tampa Bay Area there are dozens of organizations providing resources on how to educate children, assess warning signs of abuse and seek treatment in the event that abuse has occurred. One such resource is the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay (http://www.crisiscenter.com) . Additionally, churches and organizations can utilize companies such as Protect My Ministry (http://www.protectmyministry.com) of Lutz, Florida which provide screening and background checks of potential ministry members and volunteers, as well as education and online resources to assist churches in protecting children from potential predators.
Parents should take the time beginning at a young age to develop and nurture an open line of communication with their children, providing them with sample scenarios’ of situations, conversations and acts that are inappropriate and that should be brought to your attention. Acts of sexual abuse can be extremely shameful for even the most well-adjusted child, so open communication is absolutely key in identifying it with any child.
Lastly, recognize that where there is smoke, there is fire. If you have a ‘gut’ feeling that something is going on with someone you know, whether it be an adult who you think may be abusing a child, or a child you think may be being abused, your instincts may be right. Do something. Talk to someone who can appropriately investigate your concerns, because it is NEVER too late to make a difference in the life of a child.