|Education Settings and Sexual Assault
||[Jun. 5th, 2016|01:55 pm]
Any time you're looking for it, you can find sexual assaults in the media, though most of them are simply a single mention in a local newspaper or TV about a teacher accused of "inappropriate behavior" with a student, or an "alleged" assault at a party or on a jogging trail...small notices that quickly fall off the radar, until in a few days another one shows up. The big-ticket, nationally known ones are rarer--but when they do cluster, they're a chance to bring up a fact that's often obscured--except to victims and their families.
Fact: Children and women are not safe in education settings, starting when children start school. Sexual predators exist outside school settings as well, but this post is specifically about the way that education settings provide a rich hunting ground for sexual predators, and why this isn't widely known and nothing much is done about it until there's a big stink about a particular case.
In preschool and elementary school, sexual assaults on children are committed by adults and sometimes much older children. The concentration of children, and the availability of children to adults who are faculty or staff, means that predators are attracted to the location of schools (watching playgrounds to pick out a vulnerable target) and to employment in a school environment. A predator of that age group typically looks just like any other adult--not like a monster, not weird. They succeed by being non-scary to children, by seeming to be friendly, interested in the children, just like many non-predator teachers are. But they are hunters, and they are looking for the child who needs more, is hungrier for, more affection than the average. Moreover, the younger the child is, the less likely they are to be able to report abuse (and be believed), to have the concepts and the vocabulary to express how the seduction was carried out and what the final acts were. This is particularly true of "at risk" children--who are already thought to be unreliable reporters. Children who have an open, easy communication with their parents, who are not afraid to report something that scares them or bothers them--not afraid of ridicule or parental anger--are the most likely to report and the most likely to be believed--and the least likely to be stalked.
Typical case: A 59 year old ordinary looking, "respectable" school principle, Ricky Delano Sheppard, was first reprimanded for inappropriate behavior with a child (a first-grader) in 1999, when he was 42. There is zero chance that he had not offended before, at that age; his "grooming technique" of the child showed experience. Nonetheless, he continued to work in schools, first as a teacher and then as a principle, before being arrested on child pornography charges recently. http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2016/06/03/brevard-principal-arrested-child-porn-investigation/85360658/ Sexual predators of children typically begin their predation early and continue throughout life as long as they are not stopped--which requires segregation from children. Since Sheppard was not investigated thoroughly at the time of his first discovered inappropriate behavior, and not identified as a likely (or known) sexual predator of children to later school employers, he continued undetected for years.
In junior high and high school, sexual assaults may be committed by both adults and students (typically older than the student who is assaulted.) Both students and adults use social media to stalk and contact their prey, via cellphones and other devices. Most of the teacher-on-student behavior that shows up in the news targets this age group; male and female teachers both are involved, and may target either male or female students. There's a distinct gender bias in how these crimes are viewed: male teachers have gotten off after proven allegations of abuse, because some judges assume that underage girls seduced the male teacher, who was incapable of resisting. Female teachers, however, are seen as pure predators, and underage boys are not seen as possible seducers. IMO they're both equally wrong, no matter how the student dresses or acts. Teachers and staff are supposed to be adults, and adults control their own behavior and take responsibility for it.
Example 1: This past week, Jake Fenske, a football coach and science teacher in Hutto, TX, was arrested on allegations of sexual misconduct with a student. Fenske admitted to having inappropriate social media contact with a girl in his science class (email and cellphone contact) and having sex with her in the classroom, in his truck, and in his home. Fenske characterized this as being "in love." He is ten years older than the girl involved. http://www.kvue.com/news/local/hutto-high-teacher-charged-improper-relationship/230429623 This is only one of several teachers reported in the past two weeks to have been accused of, or charged with, inappropriate behavior with a student. The Texas Education Agency, which has the power to recommend decertifying a teacher convicted of a sex offense, has been involved in over 100 investigations a year for several years.
Example 2: Tyler Reid Johnson, a teacher's aide at McNeil HS in Round Rock admitted to having oral sex with more than one teenage student, at least one of them at her house, and another on the playground. http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/crime/article/Police-Texas-high-school-employee-accused-of-7260047.php&cmpid=artem
Sexual assault by another juvenile in a school context is, and should be treated as, a crime, without regard to the assailant's grades, athletic ability, "potential," etc. Unfortunately, in many communities (and schools) sexual assault by a sports hero is treated very differently than the same behavior by a kid who's considered a loser by the school or community. And victims of sexual violence by other students are typically ostracized and threatened if they complain about the actions of a star athlete or team. Their potential is discounted to zero, along with their pain and suffering.
Example 1: The Steubenville, MO rape of a younger girl by football team members and the attack on her and her family for reporting it. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/14/2777431/maryville-missouri-rape/
Example 2: Norwood, CO, a boy was bullied, bound and gagged with duct tape and then penetrated with an object by wrestling team members; because his father reported it to police the father lost his job, the boy was further bullied in school, and the town rallied behind the abusers. http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/06/21/2194281/colorado-town-hazing/
This kind of support for sexual abuse ensures that the abusers learn they can get away with abusing someone else and not suffer any consequences.
College and University: Sexual predators on college campuses include faculty, staff, students, and community "outsider" who are able to wander onto a campus at will. Sprawling campuses (often with labs and special facilities at a distance from the rest), buildings open day and night (offering abundant "private" spaces), off-campus work and study sites (field work in the sciences) where students are isolated from help, mean that sexual predators find both prey and suitable habitat for stalking them. Here are a few examples of the different kinds of predation that goes on.
Faculty on juveniles: The most famous case (made the national news over a long period) is that of Penn State's attempt at covering up coach Jerry Sandusky's repeated sexual abuse of young boys in order to protect their winning football coach and financial artesian well at the cost of the damage to those boys. Sandusky held the ultimate MaleCard: white, athlete, winning coach, wealthy, "respectable," bringing in money for the university from alumni and TV.
Faculty on students: 1) University of California at Berkeley famous astronomer Greg Marcy had been sexually harassing women undergrads and grad students for some time before the university took it seriously. He still denies that he "meant anything sexual" by his obviously sex-inspired behavior. 2) When I was taking my second degree at the University of Texas, I was warned about a senior professor in the Biology Dept, who was known for sexual behaviors both at the university and at parties at his home, to which he invited students. He had a daybed in his office with a bead curtain, and no other chair where a student might sit if they came in for office hours. I was told "If you sit down on that couch, be prepared to fight your way off." I went to his office on business, was invited to "relax" on the daybed, and didn't. (I was older, married, and an ex-Marine: situational awareness was solid by then.) 3) Northern Virginia Community College: calculus prof Youssef Taleb arrested last month for raping two female students. Note that the college's own police department is doing the investigation. This is not ideal; such police forces lack the expertise and resources of non-college law enforcement; many colleges have a "rape counselor" who basically tells students it's in their best interest to keep quiet. EDIT ADDITION 10 June 2016: The problem is international. Sara Ahmed, a professor at London University and director of its center for feminist research, resigned from that position in protest after six inquiries into factulty sexual misconduct with students in the past three years resulted in no effective response. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3632649/Feminism-professor-resigns-university-s-failure-address-normalised-sexual-harassment-students-staff.html#ixzz4BBaxEOIJ She says that academia has "normalized" facutly preying on students, shrugging off the effects on the victims of assault.
Students on students: 1) Athletes again. A recent case is Baylor University's scandal involving football players sexually assaulting and raping Baylor undergraduate women, with associated coverup to protect their winning football team and the money a winning football team brings in. This current scandal has resulted in the firing of the head coach, the athletic director, the university president (demoted to chancellor and then resigned.) Athlete sexual predators are not unusual (athletes having been conditioned to believe they are special and above the law) and neither is the attempted coverup. http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/14675790/baylor-officials-accused-failing-investigate-sexual-assaults-fully-adequately-providing-support-alleged-victims for how not to treat rape victims. Another current case is that of Brock Allen Turner, a Stanford swimmer heading for the Olympics, who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and received the extremely light punishment of 6 months in jail because, the judge said, the sentence the DA asked for the guilty verdict of three felony charges, would be "unnecessarily hard" and Turner had "a real record of accomplishment" (he could swim fast. Wow.) Again, a highlevel MaleCard: white, athlete, potential $$$. Coverups and light sentencing both increase the chance that athletes will continue to believe they are above the law, and that their careers are worth more than their victims' futures. 2) Science again. Starting several years ago, women scientists on Twitter began discussing sexual harassment and assault within their various fields and how it had impacted them. Here's one of the outcomes of that discussion: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/anthropology-has-an-rape-problem. Both female and male students have experienced sexual harassment and assault during fieldwork in remote sites, but women have experienced more of it and more of the "assault" end. Faculty may also be involved (a prominent anthropologist has just recently been barred from work on a site where he was accused of harassment and rape.) 3) Student social life is the commonest source of student on student sexual assault: date rape, revenge rape, jealous rape, etc. Fraternities and sororities are implicated in an increased rate of rape. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/24/rape-sexual-assault-ban-frats Back when I tutored HS students, one of my students went up to a university for a weekend with the daughter of one of her mother's friends--and went to a frat party. She was viewed as "rape-bait" and barely escaped when one of the "boys" tried to drag her upstairs.
Community on students: A recent case at the University of Texas involved a 17 year old runaway from a juvenile home who raped and murdered a woman student. You can look it up, but since the assailant isn't a legal adult, I'm not putting his name here. http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2016/04/homeless-teen-accused-in-university-of-texas-slaying-said-grandmothers-religious-beliefs-forced-him-to-leave-home.html/ This is actually the least common sexual danger to college students, though it often generates the most media noise (it did here) because the perp is outside the community--the only harm that comes from finding the perp and throwing the book at him is the admission that the university cannot keep all students safe all the time. Most of the sex-related danger to college students comes from inside the academic community--from faculty, staff, and other students.
Victim-blaming is rife, along with the desire to cover up sex-related crimes in order to present the institution to potential students and their parents as safe. Sadly, religious-based institutions are just as likely to cover up sex crimes as secular ones, and even likelier to blame victims. Baylor is just the largest, best-known, and most recent example. (The link I posted above has more information about the prequel to the current scandal; later ones focus on Ken Starr, the coach, the winningness of the football team, etc.)
So it is clear that there is a culture of sexual assault and rape that leaves every student, of every age, at risk---and until we change that, which will mean changing attitudes at every level--it will continue. It is not acceptable. It is based on the devaluation of women and their futures, of children and their futures, and an inflated valuation of the abusers, predators, perpetrators--and their careers and futures. Why is it that a 17 year old football player's "future career" is more important than that of his 13 yo female victim's? Why the assumption that the girl is worthless--that her pre-rape potential is zilch, including that of any children she might have or not have and her competency as a mother? That the future scientist students and grad students should be silenced so a famous scientist can go on fondling students? That a fast swimmer shouldn't be treated "harshly" when his victim was brutally raped--bruised, scraped, hit, her clothes pulled off, and raped while unconscious. Take a look at this: https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.xpM177M8r#.ak2Ezz6pr
Frankly, we don't need rapists. We don't need to pay with the suffering and shame of girls and women and the boys that also get assaulted just to keep the non-raping talents of rapists.
What we're doing now, with our justice system, with our schools--especially universities--unwillingness to work to eliminate sexual misconduct and be open about it when it exists--is actually promoting sexual misconduct. That must change.