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Education Settings and Sexual Assault [Jun. 5th, 2016|01:55 pm]
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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.   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.    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.

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.

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.

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. 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. 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:   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.   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.    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:

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.

[User Picture]From: supergee
2016-06-05 08:56 pm (UTC)
Blogging this (here), thanx
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From: geekmerc
2016-06-06 03:15 pm (UTC)
I think it's equally indicative of our government and society's attitude when they throw the book at statutory rape cases that are close enough they'd be legal in other states, and then we tag that person as a sex offender with megan's law for the rest of their life to be ridiculed and punished.

I wonder how many rape cases the local society created; not just protecting them, but actually pushing them along the path. I also wonder where the rumor got started that famous people will be accused of rape to get something from them or to get even with them. It's always there whispered in the background on such cases and provides a lot of the support for rapists that are famous (local or world wide fame). To my knowledge, there is no actual evidence to support the rumor. I suspect it's just the opposite.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-06-06 03:23 pm (UTC)

A bit more on why....

...schools and colleges have suppressed so many complaints about sexual misconduct.

1. Money. Money operates in 2 ways. Dealing effectively with sex crimes requires trained staff--hiring or training your own; both are expensive. Providing effective treatment (medical, psychological) for victims costs money. Preventive measures (which includes education/training for everyone in that academic setting, including students), rearranging the campus to minimize habitat for sexual predators and maximize communication availability for potential victims, costs money. Most public school systems (K-12) are underfunded already, and have no spare money to spend on additional staff, training, care of victims, and prevention. Many private schools are for-profit institutions and these direct costs would impact profit.

Second, money works to block effective response to the problem of sexual crimes is the effect on income. Institutions seek donations from both alumni and the greater community; many also receive tuition payments, and others receive tax money based on attendance--the more students, the more money. Parents generally avoid sending their kids to schools where sex crimes are rife; a single well-publicized case can cost them admissions. When sex crimes impact a lucrative athletic program (Penn State, Baylor) or a lucrative grant program (Berkeley's astronomy department), it's easy to decide to conceal the mess.

2. Backpressure from the prevalent "rape apologists" in the community/region/nation. Rape apologists consider that "women have pasts, and men have futures" (potential). These vocal opponents often hold political power, denigrate victims claiming that it's mostly lies, they're "playing the rape card" and so on. It's the things women do prior to a rape (choosing to go to a party, choosing to drink, wearing the wrong clothes, insufficiently securing their living space) that cause rape, not the rapist...and it's the rapist's future, his potential for fame as an athlete, or wealth, or other distinction, that matters. This is starkly shown in the letter Turner's father wrote to the judge in that case, referring to brutal rape of an unconscious woman as "he got only twenty minutes of action" and arguing that those twenty minutes shouldn't be allowed to impact the rest of his son's life. Schools are sensitive to public opinion, and the woman-shaming rape-apologist culture still strong.

3. Shame and fear. In the same way that small children will hide a broken bowl, and "lose" the report card with a negative comment on the way home, those who head institutions and programs can feel shame and fear retaliation for bad things that occur on their watch. Beyond the monetary aspect, there's a psychological desire NOT to 'fess up, not to admit that this institution--which the head of it may feel affection for--has such an important flaw. Good parents teach their children that admitting mistakes, admitting the wrongdoing, is a necessary part of building a decent adult character. Admit it, make restitution, don't make that mistake or do that wrong thing again, move on. The institutions we trust to educate our children should be modeling that behavior, but aside from public opinion as expressed in the laws, they have no "parent" to guide them through the process. And the influence of money and contrary public opinion reinforces their reluctance to do the right thing. When the bad stuff comes out, it's then very clear that, frex, Baylor should not have told the woman student raped twice by a Baylor football player that Baylor would do nothing to help her, nor would they discipline the player. But at the time, though the coach knew, and the administration knew, they thought they could hide the broken pieces of that bowl in the trash, ship it off to the landfill, and nobody would ever know. Raped students often drop out--sitting in class with their rapist, with those he's bragged to about the "action" he got--is intensely painful and distracting from classwork, in addition to the basic trauma effects. So the "spoiled/damaged/broken" woman is indeed off to the landfill, out of sight, out of mind.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-06-07 12:18 am (UTC)
Good post, this definitely must change. I've seen changes in my local schools in the last ten odd years, and while I don't know how effective, I imagine it helps. Fencing around the outside, and outside visitor access only through the front office, with explanation. Police checks and a full tertiary (college) education on child protection law and "working with children" culture requiring a pass grade before entering any work involving minors, etc.

It's beyond upsetting to hear that these cover-ups and enabling are still common.
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From: sheff_dogs
2016-06-07 03:12 pm (UTC)
I was mildly sexually asaulted by a lecturer in the early 1980's, along with every other female student in my class. Among other things he made a habit of walking up to any women at the lab bench and putting a hand on their bum. When we complained formally we discovered we were not the first and that his collegues though it was tasteless, but didn't intend on taking any action. It was just him being a bit weird, went along with being a tram spotter, perfectly harmless. Urgh.

This is a perfect example of where women are not yet equal to men, their testamony is not taken as seriously, their hurt is not as important, their futures are less valuable than that of the perpetrators.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-06-07 05:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. Because society still values males more than females (and either more than other gender identities), the painful experiences of women are considered less painful, and their future lives less important, even to them and their families.

The reputation of the male perpetrator matters; the woman's reputation doesn't (in older days because she was already "ruined" by the rape, socially speaking.) The potential and future happiness of the male perpetrator matters--his chances of employment, his opportunity to gain wealth, prestige, awards. Note that the woman Brock Turner raped ALSO had no criminal record--yet his lack of one is cited. Was HE asked if he'd ever had sex before? Was HE asked if he'd sexually assaulted a woman before? We haven't seen the court transcripts, but I would bet he had. She had a family, just as Turner had. She had a future, as important as his...disregarded by Turner's father and friends.

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[User Picture]From: kengr
2016-06-08 12:50 am (UTC)
On the athletes issue, there's a "simple" solution. Alas, I can't think of a way to actually implement it that wouldn't potentially backfire.

Basically,any offenses by athletes get them kicked off teams etc. Any evidence of coaches or schools trying to cover up gets the team kicked out of the league for some period.

The backfire, of course, is that it makes the stakes higher, thus making folks want to try harder to cover up incidents.

In the end, we need to make parents and alumni no longer treat sports as so supremely important. Which is going to require *major* cultural shifts.

On most of the stuff involving children, a comprehensive "sex" education program like the one they have in Denmark or the Netherlands. Starts in kindergarten teaching about relationships, not sex. and emphasizing things like you have the right to say no when someone is making you feel uncomfortable. and also getting the kids to think about how they might make somebody else feel uncomfortable.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-06-08 01:25 am (UTC)
I tried to talk a church I used to go to into implementing a similar program, one that could have reduced overall sexism, reduced harassment and assault of all kinds, and in the end reduced the bad, unhealthy relationships that kids get into--about "boundaries" in the early years, which leads to grasping that your behavior is your responsibility, that you don't have a right to someone else's stuff, or body, or thoughts, etc. This was decades ago, and they were freaked out enough that I wanted to bring up (for the leadership and parents) that churches are not safe places unless there are safe policies in place and good education for all. Now some of what I wanted is becoming standard in mainline denominations.

Certainly athletics--and athletes--should not be prioritized to the degree it is. One central Texas university just announced that it's kicked three (all its experienced) wide receivers off the football team for "violating the team's core values." That was on the news tonight. I suspect Turner's case made that school's coach and administration nervous--so, that's good. But not enough. The channel's sports announcer treated it as "that could really hurt them this fall, not having experienced wide receivers." WRONG WAY TO TALK ABOUT IT.

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[User Picture]From: kengr
2016-06-08 03:44 am (UTC)
Well, you've just reminded me of one of the things that gets pointed to as one of the *roots* of "rape culture". Stuff like little boys harassing little girls resulting in the boy getting no discouragement, and maybe some *en*couragement. While the girl is told "Oh, that just means he likes you".

Way to teach both the boys and the girls that girl's boundaries don't count.

Even stuff like "keep away" is encouraging kids to engage in behavior that is flat out illegal in adults.

Yeah, kids should get some slack for being young and not knowing better. But that means you teach *and enforce* simpler forms of the rules they'll have to follow as adults. Not that you let them do stuff and only try to train them out of it later.

And getting back to what you wrote, yeah, that TV idiot really doesn't get the point. People's rights are more important than winning a game.

BTW, I hear that Texas is one of the states that's up in arms about the DOJ telling them that schools *must* let trans students use the bathroom of their "chosen" gender.

Contrary to all the outrage, this is based on cases that are several years old. I think one goes clear back to the last Bush.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-06-10 06:16 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, we have an Attorney General who's been indicted for some serious financial frauds, and is deflecting attention by throwing hissy fits about trans women in women's bathrooms. Blech.
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