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How Common Is Sexual Assault in Schools?

Posted in Sexual Abuse on June 23, 2018

Parents of teens and adolescents have a lot to worry about when it comes to raising children these days. They worry about app use and screen time, driving and cyberbullying. One thing they may not consider, however, is the prevalence of sexual assault in schools.

Sexual assault is not something any parent wants to think about, especially with regard to his or her own children. However, it’s essential to understand how common sexual violence is in schools – and how parents can educate their children about preventing and reporting an assault, should it ever become necessary.

Is Sexual Assault Common in Schools?

Unfortunately, sexual assault is more common in most schools than any parent would like to think. An analysis by the Associated Press found that 17,000 students reported sexual assault in schools between 2011 and 2015. Unfortunately, this number might not be accurate, as many sexual assaults still go unreported. Even more disturbing, about 5% of the victims were as young as 5 or 6 years old.

What’s worse, elementary and secondary schools lack a national requirement to disclose or report sexual violence that occurs within their doors. In fact, many districts feel pressure to hide it in order to avoid other negative consequences.

What Is Sexual Assault?

Many different offenses may constitute sexual assault in schools. It’s an umbrella term that captures many kinds of unwanted sexual conduct and activities. Some of the more common examples of sexual assault that occurs in schools include:

  • Coercion into sexual acts – peer pressure can play a large role into getting teens and even younger children to commit sexual activities that they wouldn’t otherwise.
  • Stalking –using physical and digital means, teens can become victims of patterns of harassment or unwanted attention of a sexual nature. Cyberbullying of a sexual nature that persists over time may also constitute stalking.
  • Harassment – sexual harassment is a serious charge that can affect a child’s learning environment. It may result from physical or verbal attention.
  • Groping – this can be a particular problem for teens and even younger children and occurs when one person initiates uninvited sexual contact with another.

Can Schools Be Liable for Sexual Assault?

In general, schools must provide a safe learning environment for all children who enroll. This means that a school district has a duty of care to each student and violating this duty of care may constitute negligence.

One of the most common grounds for a claim against a school district is one of negligent supervision. Under this theory a school may be liable for any damages a student incurs as a result of sexual harassment since it has a duty to protect the student while providing a safe learning environment.

Parents of children who experience sexual assault in schools should take the following steps:

  • Report the incident to the school and local authorities.
  • Get their child the help they need. Many sexual assault resources exist throughout the community, and a child’s school may be able to provide additional resources. A child may be experiencing guilt, shame, or a range of other negative emotions following a sexual assault at school. It’s essential that children address these feelings and learn how to cope with them healthfully to begin the healing process.
  • Explore both criminal and civil avenues for legal recourse. Parents may wish to press charges against the perpetrator or file a civil claim to compensate for damages their child suffered, or both.

Sexual assault in schools is nothing to take lightly. Parents must be aware of the issue and know how to react, in the event something happens to their child.