Sexual harassment cases in schools becoming a nationwide problem

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by Maggie Crane

KMOV.com

Posted on February 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 17 at 3:20 PM

(KMOV) -- Another school teacher is pulled from the classroom and accused of sexual misconduct with a student.

 
The latest case involves a middle school student in Union, Missouri.  News 4 did some digging today and our newsroom was shocked to found out how often this is happening across the country.
 
Researchers have been investigating sexual harassment in schools, and what they found is likely to shock you as much as it did me.  I searched our files, and we've covered 13 local cases of inappropriate sexual misconduct between school staff and students just this school year.
 
Even more disturbing -- a research study issued this past November surveyed more than 2,000 middle and high school students nationwide, and found that one in 20 reported inappropriate sexual misconduct by a school employee.
 
"The allegation related to inappropriate sexual conduct between a teacher and a student..."
 
It's a message that no parent wants to hear.  On Thursday it went out to parents of all students at Union Middle School after a student there told police about a sexual encounter with a teacher.
 
"It's kind of scary," Julia Eagan said.  "I talked to my sister when she came home and it's not one of her teachers, and she was like 'I wish they would tell us'."
 
The sheriff won't say who it is only that the alleged sexual misconduct happened outside of school.
 
"We've taken some items to the highway patrol for DNA analysis, and we've also taken some cell phones that we're serving a search warrant on, so we're hoping it will give us a little more where we can release some information," Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said.  "The problem is it may take a little while for results to come back."
 
"Is there concern that in the meantime or up until his point that other children may have been at risk?" I asked.
 
"We're not aware of any, but we are asking anybody who may have been a victim to contact us," Sheriff Toelke said.
 
It's a lot for anyone to take in, so the school has added counseling staff for students and parents.  Sheriff Toelke urges parents to monitor their kids text messages and emails.
 
Researchers at the American Association of University Women study this kind of thing and found in their report that all forms of sexual harassment, including those done by teachers, students and other adults, is a huge problem across the country.
 
"In 2001 we saw one in 10 students encounted some form of inapprpropriate sexual conduct by a teacher, school employee or other adult at the school," Catherine Hill, lead researcher, said by phone.
 
Hill says that number dropped to one in 20 in its most recent survey study, issued in November 2011.  Peer to peer sexual harassment accounts for the largest percentage - 95 percent - of reported sexual harassment in schools.
 
A child abuse counselor tells me it's not uncommon to see sex abuse cases reported in clusters.  Linda McQuary of the St. Louis Children's Advocacy Center says media attention might make it easier for kids to come forward when they see that someone else has.
 
 

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