Keep Your School Safe From Sexual Assault

Vol. 13 No. 3

heads eletter Vol.13 No.3 stopabuse

Sex scandals shake the foundations of the private schools at which they occur, but sexual misconduct can happen at any sort of school at any time—private, public, and charter alike, from K-12 schools to higher education. In fact, one Associated Press investigation found that more than 2,500 educators over five years were punished for sexual misconduct, and that's just those who were caught. As School Head, it’s your job to make student safety a priority for every school employee through policies, staff training, and security procedures.

Conduct thorough background checks.

There are varying levels of rigor—and expense—for the different types of background checks, and an individual’s sex offenses don’t necessarily appear on every type of check. For example, if you run a state background check, only crimes committed in that state will be reported.

It's important to broaden the scope of your background check program, too. All vendors and parent volunteers should be vetted, just like teachers and other administrators, to ensure the safety of everyone on campus—especially your students.

Such examples aren’t as paranoid or as far-fetched as you’d initially expect. For example, the employee of a school contractor allegedly touched a student inappropriately while on campus for work in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. While the episode was captured on tape and a teacher reported it, the incident may have been avoided if the school had confirmed that everyone who steps onto campus has a clean criminal record. (The contractor’s employee had previous sex-related charges, though he was not listed on the state’s sex offender registry.)

Make your campus safe and secure.

Video cameras and guards are one solution to campus security and can provide much needed evidence if the unspeakable does happen, but more can be done to avoid placing students in potentially dangerous situations.

  • Keep every part of campus—including the parking lot—well lit.
  • Ensure every hallway and alley is monitored so no one can “sneak away” into a corner.
  • Consider installing emergency buttons or phones along common walkways so students can call for help immediately.

Train your employees.

Every adult at your school should be able to identify the warning signs of a potential assault and know your procedures for stopping and reporting such activity. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) recommends the following for bystanders:

  • Step in and offer assistance. Ask if the person needs help. NOTE: Before stepping in, make sure to evaluate the risk. If it means putting yourself in danger, call 911 instead.
  • Don’t leave. If you remain at the scene and are a witness, the perpetrator is less likely to do anything.
  • If you know the perpetrator, tell the person you do not approve of his or her actions. Ask the person to leave the potential victim alone.

Take rumors and reports seriously.

Even if it’s a tiny whisper you catch one day about a teacher who may be getting inappropriately close with a student—or a report against a teacher you know well—you must investigate these leads. The safety of your students and your school’s reputation as a safe haven from these sorts of crimes is on the line.

Will every case be true? Probably not. But it’s your job to follow your school’s risk management policies to the letter for every event, protecting both your students and your school.

Sexual assault can happen anywhere, at any time—even on your school’s hallowed grounds. If your best efforts fail, it’s time to break out your Crisis Communication Plan to ensure all affected parties are well cared for, and the community is clearly and calmly informed. Still, with some foresight, planning, and care, you can help preserve your school’s reputation as a safe harbor against these crimes and others, for your students and the broader school community.

Additional ISM resources:
Research: Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature
ISM Monthly Update for Risk Managers Vol. 1 No. 1 Things to Consider When Developing Your Sexual Misconduct Policies and Protocols
Private School News Vol. 11 No. 3 2012 Teacher Sex Scandals

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 36 No. 3 Addressing Bullying and Sexual Misconduct
I&P Vol. 30 No. 7 Revisit Your School's Policy Concerning Child Sexual Abuse

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