Sex abuse by teachers is plaguing U.S. schools

NATION: Keeping molesters away from kids has proven tricky

Published: Sunday, Oct. 21 2007 12:20 a.m. MDT

Jennah Bramow, with her baby and her father, Dan, sued her city's schools over abuse by her teacher.

David Lienemann, Associated Press

A young teacher in Iowa sheepishly admits that he fondled a fifth-grader. But he doesn't lose his teaching license until one persistent victim and her family go public — 40 years after the first accusation.

A middle school teacher in Pennsylvania targets a young girl in his class and uses the guise of love to abuse her sexually.

A teacher in Michigan, who'd already lost his license in another state, goes to prison after he films himself molesting a boy.

These are only a few instances of a widespread problem in American schools: sexual misconduct by the very teachers who are supposed to be nurturing the nation's children.

Students in America's schools are groped. They're raped. They're pursued, seduced and think they're in love.

An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.

There are 3 million public school teachers nationwide, most devoted to their work. Yet the number of abusive educators, nearly three for every school day, speaks to a much larger problem in a system that is stacked against victims.

Most of the abuse never gets reported. Those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.

And no one — not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments — has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.

Those are the AP's findings after reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators — the very definition of breach of trust.

The findings

The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, voluntarily surrendered or limited from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. More than half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to the misconduct.

The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.

Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse.

Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that's been apparent for years.

"From my own experience — this could get me in trouble — I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."

Long battles

One victim wonders why there isn't more outrage.

"You're supposed to be able to send your kids to school knowing that they're going to be safe," says Jennah Bramow, a 20-year-old single mom and waitress in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

While other victims accepted settlement deals and signed confidentiality agreements, she sued her city's schools for failing to protect her from accused teacher Gary C. Lindsey — and won.

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