Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature

Any adult misconduct or sexual abuse in schools is of grave concern to students, parents, educators, and the Department of Education. This literature review of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct responds to the mandate in Section 5414 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended, to conduct a study of sexual abuse in U.S. schools. To satisfy this mandate, the Department of Education contracted with Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University. Using the limited research that is available in this area, her literature review describes, among other topics: prevalence of educator sexual misconduct, offender characteristics, targets of educator sexual misconduct, and recommendations for prevention of educator sexual misconduct. We note that the author offers several new recommendations that may be worth considering, although some may be at odds with current law.

Although the author's findings are in part broader than the congressional mandate and therefore could be perceived by some as insufficiently focused, we believe that sexual misconduct in whatever form it takes is a serious problem in our nation's schools and one about which parents and taxpayers have a right to be informed. The Department of Education is currently investigating ways to obtain more reliable evidence on the extent of sexual abuse in schools.

It is important to note some of the Department's reservations about the findings in the literature review. Specifically, the author focuses in large measure on a broad set of inappropriate behaviors designated as "sexual misconduct," rather than "sexual abuse," which is the term used in the statute. Specifically, section 5414(a)(3) of the ESEA requires the Secretary of Education to conduct "[a] study regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools. . . ." (emphasis added) The distinction between "sexual misconduct" and "sexual abuse" is significant in legal and other terms. However, both are of concern to parents and the Department.

The author's use of the two words interchangeably throughout the report is potentially confusing to the reader. Federal law gives separate and specific meaning to the words "sexual abuse," and such words should not be confused with the broader, more general concept of "sexual misconduct." Specifically, "sexual abuse" has been a defined term for over 17 years [18 U.S.C. § 2242]. It involves an act where one knowingly "causes another person to engage in a sexual act by threatening or placing that other person in fear. . ." or "engages in a sexual act with another person if that other person is--(A) incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct; or (B) physically incapable of declining participation in, or communicating unwillingness to engage in, that sexual act. . . ." Id. "Sexual abuse" carries a penalty of a fine or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both. Id.

Finally, despite some of the above reservations about this study, the Department believes that this topic is of critical importance and that releasing the report is clearly in the public's interest. The overwhelming majority of America's educators are true professionals doing what might be called the "essential" work of democracy. The vast majority of schools in America are safe places. Nevertheless, we must be willing to confront the issues that are explored in this study. We must all expand our efforts to ensure that children have safe and secure learning communities that engender public confidence.

Eugene W. Hickok
Deputy Secretary

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Last Modified: 06/29/2004