Our goal at Learning Courage is not to simply summarize the content on various topics related to sexual misconduct in schools. We aim instead to identify what we believe are the best practices schools should follow. We believe that having a survivor-centric, trauma-informed, compassionate approach to sexual abuse and misconduct will best help schools mitigate harm and promote healing for both survivors and school communities while also requiring the fewest resources to address.
The selection and dismissal of employees are incredibly important elements of school management that need to be handled professionally, ethically and humanely. When hiring employees, there are many factors to consider, and these may vary according to the position being filled.
No student should have to fear for their own safety while attending school. Your school must be safe and supportive in order for effective learning and teaching to take place. Unfortunately, 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males are victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18 according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. What’s more troubling is that these statistics are based only on reported incidents. United Educators estimates that as much as 90% of abuse goes unreported.
Minimizing risk is an important aspect of running a school. And few topics conjure as much fear in school leadership as sexual abuse and misconduct. Incidents have a large human, financial and reputational impact on an institution. In addition to the potential physical and emotional harm caused to members of the school community and the discomfort of facing such a topic, there is the sheer time it takes to investigate a claim, the money involved, and the reputational risk that accompanies each incident and impacts applications, enrollment, and annual giving.
When discussing sexual misconduct and abuse, there are many terms and definitions that schools use. Some people may be hearing or reading them for the first time. And often they include legal jargon. This can make policies ambiguous or confusing. Thus, having a clear set of definitions and terms can help reduce ambiguity.
When students and alumni come forward with their stories of surviving sexual misconduct and abuse, it is both scary and one of the most courageous things they can do. Listening to and learning from these stories can be incredibly powerful ways for your school to grow. Furthermore, it is important that the students, alumni, and employees of the community know that you care about and want to hear what happened to them.
Restorative justice (RJ) is “a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior.” [RestorativeJustice.org] This includes the rehabilitation of the perpetrator and reconciliation between the victim/community and the offender. Restorative justice measures can be used to resolve conflicts and strengthen communities. RJ practices have been used in some cultures for generations and perhaps most notably was used in South Africa to resolve and heal from many of the human rights atrocities that occurred during Apartheid.
Incidents of existing student-on-student sexual misconduct and abuse can be incredibly difficult for any school community to handle. In many instances, there are strong emotions, conflicting accounts, confidentiality constraints, and important relationships where there is a great deal at stake. Physically and emotionally caring for the individuals involved during these moments is essential and often has to be done in concert with caring for the school and school community as well. In addition, there is an added challenge of maintaining privacy for those involved who are minors.
Reports of sexual misconduct and abuse require rapid response, discretion, strong leadership, compassion, and a clear understanding of the process that has been outlined in the Employee Handbook and other policy documents. By definition, these incidents are highly charged, complex events that require those involved in the response to be compassionate while decisive in their actions, knowing what needs to be done, who needs to be involved, and what needs to be communicated.
Training and educating your school’s community is critical to reducing instances of sexual misconduct and abuse and to create a culture of care and respect. We recommend that your school assign a specific individual or even a committee of faculty members to plan and oversee training throughout the school year. Your school should determine a set format and frequency for training and follow that closely. Ideally, your school should also establish annual goals for training and prevention before each school year begins.
You have to be prepared to act quickly and decisively when you receive a report of sexual misconduct or abuse. Taking immediate action requires that you have a plan in place that includes an emergency response protocol. Your plan should identify specific members of the crisis team that convenes after an incident has been reported. Your crisis team should include an individual with a mental health background and a specific understanding of sexual trauma.
All students, regardless of their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, or other identities can be victims of sexual misconduct and abuse. Misconduct and abuse can occur anywhere, but it is important to note that 93% of survivors/victims of sexual abuse are abused by trusted individuals in their life. [Warning Signs for Young Children] Educators and school staff members have unique opportunities to identify when students have been harmed, regardless of where the harm takes place.
Learning Courage membership gives your school timely, relevant and vital information about how to reduce sexual misconduct and respond appropriately to incidents when they do occur.