I’ve been working with educators and parents for over thirty years to help prevent and investigate incidents of sexual abuse in K-12 schools. After an incident, it is relatively easy to look back and see the early warning signs of trouble, those times when the lines of acceptable behavior were crossed. It can be much trickier to recognize these warning signs as they are happening. Where do you draw the line between an encouraging teacher and an educator that is beginning to cross the boundaries of acceptable behavior? What can parents be on the lookout out for when talking with their child?
Based on my experiences as an investigator and expert witness and a review of the fields best practices, here are 5 warning signs of potential educator sexual abuse that parents can watch out for to stop an incident before it happens:
1. Overly personal communication between teacher and student. Pay close attention to communication from teachers including emails, text messages, social media and notations in yearbooks. A teacher's communications should be about school, not the child's personal life.
2. Out-of-school time together. After-school activities should be encouraged, but be aware of time spent with a teacher and what goes on. There should be no out-of-school, one-on-one meetings.
3. Gifts or car rides. Teachers should not be giving gifts to individual students or car rides, except for emergencies.
4. How your child and their friends talk about teachers. If they say a teacher is a friend or you overhear rumors about a teacher's crush, ask for your child to explain why they think that.
5. Comments of a romantic or sexual nature. If your child tells you that a teacher made a sexual joke, discussed sex, or requested a kiss or a date, find out more but don't stop with simply asking your child. Send an email to the principal because putting your concerns in writing encourages people to take the matter seriously.
In all of these situations, you may not be the only parent with a concern about that particular educator. Your proactive communication might prevent an incident of sexual abuse for your child or others.
By staying alert to the early warning signs of sexual abuse, parents can help make schools safer and more effective learning environments. To learn more about McGrath’s training programs to prevent and investigate sexual abuse in school districts, click here.