School administrators and staff cannot always prevent sexual abuse, but they have an obligation to do everything in their power to that end. Moreover, schools have a responsibility to help students suffering with the effects of sexual abuse in addition to the school’s legal responsibility to investigate claims of rape and sexual abuse.
For most school administrators, these duties are obvious and assumed without hesitation. But a recent lawsuit against two Pennsylvania school districts alleges that after a female student was raped by a teacher, she was treated with indifference and then hostility by school staff and administrators.
According to news reports, the victim met her abuser while participating in the school play in 2012. He was a teacher from another school who was directing the show. After the production ended, he apparently began pursuing the girl romantically despite being a teacher and in his mid twenties. In May of that year, he allegedly raped the girl in a secluded area of the school.
The girl reported what happened to another teacher involved in theater productions, but the teacher did not report it. She has been placed on a year of court supervision for failing to report suspected child abuse.
The teacher who raped the young girl was arrested that summer and pleaded guilty. When the girl returned to school in the fall, however, she was still suffering from the trauma of the abuse. To make matters much worse, she was harassed by fellow students and the school’s principal.
According to the lawsuit, the principal was actively against most requests to let the girl seek counseling during the school day or seek solace from trusted teachers. She even went so far as to call the girl a liar and accused her of making up stories to get attention. The principal and the district superintendent also allegedly blocked requests from the girl’s parents to allow her to transfer or to take classes entirely online.
To most dedicated educators, responding in this manner to a student in need would be unthinkable. Hopefully this lawsuit will inspire a whole community to more closely scrutinize the women and men who are supposed to be educating and protecting their children.
Source: Courthouse News Service, “Stunning Complaint Against School & Principal,” Erin Mcauley, July 18, 2014