The #metoo movement did a good job in the early days of convincing the country that they cared deeply about victims. The problem is that the powers that be, driven by profit and access to highly influential figures, will never put victims first and that is true whether the powerful person is the president of a major news network or the president of a state teachers’ union. The common thread is that far too often, powerful people who wield great influence, do not care enough about children to protect them.
We learned this week from a video of Amy Robuch, leaked by Project Veritas, that ABC News had the Jeffrey Epstein story three years ago and decided to quash it. Was it because the story involved Bill Clinton and Hillary was in the midst of a presidential campaign? Maybe. Was it because the evidence implicated Prince Andrew and top brass at ABC wasn’t willing to risk its access to the royal family? Maybe. But one thing is clear: ABC News knew that underage girls were being sexually abused and exploited by powerful men and they chose to stay silent.
It feels too familiar.
I have been working for two years on raising awareness and getting a law passed in my state of Rhode Island to protect students from sexual relationships with their teachers and have bumped into powerful forces who oppose my efforts. One would think that a law that criminalizes sexual contact between a teacher and his/her student would be a no-brainer but in the very blue state of Rhode Island—and also Massachusetts—the legislatures refuse to take action, the governors have nothing to say, and the Attorneys General haven’t leaned in. In fact, many of the loudest supporters of #metoo, including female lawmakers in RI who thought passing sexual harassment laws to protect themselves was a top priority, felt no obligation to provide the same protections for the students —the minors— they supposedly represent.
The K-12 school system is obviously not Hollywood and no, the sexual predators who hide within the system are not former presidents or members of the royal family. But in terms of an imbalance of power, is there a more quintessential example than a teacher and student? Or a principal and a student? Or a school security guard and a student? Parents in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are legally compelled to send their children to school and yet, once their children turn 14, the law says they are sexually available to the adults in their schools.
I realize that what I’m about to say is upsetting and graphic—but we owe it to the countless victims and their families of educator sexual abuse to be brutally honest.
It is currently legal in my state of Rhode Island (and neighboring Massachusetts) for my 14-year-old son’s teachers to sexually touch him if he “gives consent.” They can’t by law, engage in any penetration, until he turns 16. According to the most recent study done by the United States Department of Education in 2004, 42 percent of perpetrators of sexual abuse in schools are women. Can the boys they seduce truly consent? Are we comfortable with 8th and 9th grade boys having their genitals touched by their teacher?
The majority of sexual predators in schools are men. Are we comfortable with our 9th grade daughters having their breasts and genitals touched by their teacher or coach or the school security guard? Are we ok with teachers having sexual intercourse with students during their junior and senior year? Or exchanging naked pictures via text and Snapchat with the children in their class?
The naysayers will say that a law is unnecessary because these predatory educators can be fired and lose their teaching licenses. And that is true. But there is nothing to keep them from moving on to a different state to continue to prey on minors because personnel records—including those that allege sexual misconduct—are sealed. As reported by the Boston Globe, “most states, including Massachusetts, allow schools to keep incidents secret by demanding confidentiality agreements as part of settlements with abuse victims. And across the country, school officials are often reluctant to warn their peers about accused teachers for fear that they could be sued.”
Not only are school officials reluctant to warn their peers about accused teachers, but some even write glowing recommendations just to be rid of the alleged abuser. Terri Miller, president of the Nevada-based advocacy group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation, calls this cycle “deliberate and calculated child endangerment.” She is right.
A superintendent can easily—and unwittingly—hire someone with decades of sexual misconduct allegations if there is no public record of an arrest. And in states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts, there can’t be an arrest if the sexual acts are not considered a crime. At the age of 14 students in both states can “consent” to sexual touching by their teachers and at the age of 16, they can “consent” to sexual intercourse. That is a major problem.
Massachusetts and Rhode Island are very blue states, states that, to varying degrees, are seen as bastions of progressivism. I assumed, wrongly, that progressives would be fast out of the gate to protect students from sexual predators. When the bill to change the law came up for a vote in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, it was the “reform caucus”—the progressives— who either voted nay or abstained. The bill did pass the house on the final night of the legislative session but with no companion bill in the senate, it died that same night.
It’s hugely important to note that every single rank-and-file teacher with whom I have spoken or corresponded supports a law to criminalize any and all sexual contact between teachers and students. But their unions disagree. And so does the ACLU. Both organizations have gone on the record to oppose legislation to make sexual relationships between teachers/school employees and students a crime.
In 2016, USA Today conducted a one year investigation about the issue of educator sexual abuse and their findings were beyond troubling. With mountains of evidence and employee records as proof, I naively thought that national news networks and newspapers would finally be all over this story in the name of protecting children. I was wrong. Then, when #metoo came roaring onto the scene in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, I was positive that finally, with a new focus on the imbalance of power, that educator sexual abuse would be front page news. I was wrong again. Reporters will occasionally say that they are going to pitch it to their editorial teams but nobody ever seems to get the green-light to really report on it in a way that forces change on the ground.
School safety has certainly been all over the news but usually only if guns are part of the story. My own governor Gina Raimondo thinks that one random shell casing found on a school bus is reason to pass even stricter gun laws but refuses, despite repeated requests, to lean in on the current legality of sex between teachers and students in the state she governs. I suspect that she, as well as every news producer or newspaper editor, would privately concede that a student, boy or girl, being lured into a sexual relationship with a teacher or coach is not safe at school. Unfortunately, they just don’t care enough about protecting children from sexual misconduct and abuse to actually do anything about it.
We need to force their hand. If not us, then who?
For more information on educator sexual abuse, click here.