What Is School Sexual Abuse?


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It’s an unfortunate fact that sexual abuse frequently happens in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities around the country. Teachers, other students, and school administrators all play a part in the abuse, either by perpetrating the abuse or attempting to cover it up. School administrations sometimes try to sweep incidents and allegations of sexual abuse under the rug to maintain good reputations and income. In addition to seeking criminal charges against perpetrators, survivors of school sexual abuse may be able to seek justice in civil court through litigation against the negligent institutions where the abuses occurred.

What Is School Sexual Abuse?

School sexual abuse refers to when someone at a school, typically a person in a position of authority, but sometimes a peer, sexually abuses a student. Often, the abuser is a teacher, coach, or another faculty member. In these cases, the adult abuser uses their authority to prey on students. When the student is a minor, in grades kindergarten through 12th, it’s considered child sexual abuse. These offenses usually have greater legal consequences for offenders when incidents are reported, and law enforcement becomes involved. Unfortunately, many incidents of child sexual abuse at schools go unreported.

Common Types Of Sexual Abuse At Schools

There are various forms of sexual misconduct that the term “school sexual abuse” may refer to. It may be describing sexual misconduct that occurs on school grounds, or that is perpetrated by a school employee. Forms of sexual misconduct may include:

Sexual Harassment – This type of behavior can be visual, verbal, or physical. It is of a sexual nature and is directed at an unwilling participant. Requests for sexual favors and sexual advances are types of sexual harassment.

Sexual Abuse – Sexual abuse usually refers to any type of sexual activity involving a victim who hasn’t given consent or is unable to give consent. Victims of sexual abuse are commonly minors, elderly, and adults with disabilities.

Sexual Assault – Sexual assault is sexual behavior or contact performed without explicit consent. It can range from unwanted touching to rape.

What Are The Signs That A Child Has Been Sexually Abused In School?

Sexual abuse of school-age children is often unreported because victims don’t say anything, and parents, friends, and school employees don’t recognize indicators of abuse. School sexual abuse can happen to girls or boys, and it can be anything from lewd behavior to touching or groping or as severe as rape. It occurs most commonly in school bathrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, school busses, or other transportation.

While indicators of school sexual abuse may be different depending on the age of the victim and other factors, some typical warning signs may include:

  • Not wanting to go to school or attend certain classes anymore
  • A decline in grades or other academic performance
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Aggressive or self-destructive behavior
  • Developing disciplinary issues
  • Signs of fear or withdrawal from friends and family
  • Changes in appetite or eating habits
  • Trouble sleeping and/or nightmares
  • Drug or alcohol use or abuse
  • Creating sexually explicit artwork or increased talk about sexual topics
  • Suicidal ideations

It may take professional medical or psychological help to confront the issue if parents recognize the above symptoms and the child doesn’t engage in talking about it.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Sexual Abuse In Schools?

Whenever there is an allegation or incident of sexual abuse at a school, it must be thoroughly investigated right away. Perpetrators must be arrested and held criminally accountable so they cannot hurt other children. However, liability doesn’t always stop there. The institutions that negligently hired, failed to properly screen or supervise, or didn’t take immediate action against such offenders may also be held liable in a civil lawsuit. Additionally, there may be cases in which vicarious liability is found. This is when employers are found to be responsible for the actions of their employees, whether or not the employee was directly negligent.

Get Help With Filing a School Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

If your child has been subjected to sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual assault at school, you may be able to sue the institution. A school sexual abuse lawsuit cannot heal the victims or take away their emotional pain. However, they can hold responsible parties accountable and provide financial compensation. If a school fails to protect your child from a sexual predator, they can be held accountable. These cases can be complex and hard to prove. That’s why you need an experienced attorney to investigate and litigate your case.

At Ross Feller Casey, we feel that sexual crimes perpetrated against children are among the very worst possible. We will fight against the violation of your child’s right to be protected at school and hold the institutions where the abuse occurred accountable. Let us help your family get the justice it deserves, as we did for the young victims who were sexually abused by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Our attorneys played a lead role in reaching the eventual $60 million settlement in the high-profile case against the university.  

Contact the Ross Feller Casey law firm for your free consultation and case review today. We handle cases on a contingency basis, so you don’t pay a dime until we win your case.

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