About the sexual abuse cases in L.A. district

A disturbing story about the sexual misconduct of teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District is not about technology but it highlights some issues we’ve been addressing in the Internet safety field. “The reopening of an investigation into teacher misconduct at a high school in Hollywood and the initiation of another in … is leading to concerns that the lewd behavior uncovered at Miramonte Elementary School might be more widespread than thought,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. The Monitor cites a 2004 national study commissioned by the US Departments of Education and Justice which found that 7% of 4,000 schoolchildren “had experienced sexually inappropriate behavior by teachers or administrators,” which would mean 3.5 children nationwide – though more recent national data about sexual exploitation of US children overall (not just in school) shows a significant decline between 1992 and 2008 (see this). So the national picture is not as dark as it must seem in the Los Angeles area. The story also bears out an important breakthrough for the social-science research community in recent decades – that the vast majority of cases of child sexual abuse involve people the children know, not strangers. “In spite of broad scientific consensus on this, it’s a hard one to sustain in public perception,” said Prof. David Finkelhor, referring to that in an important talk about fears for children. (Dr. Finkelhor is the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.) Another data point the L.A. story brings out is that kids under-report. We know this is true even with peer-to-peer issues like bullying and cyberbullying, but these kinds of cases make reporting especially difficult: “Only 9 to 11 percent of all sexually abused children actually report the abuse,” the Monitor reports. So we need to do everything we can to take the embarrassment and stigma out of communication with our children so the conversation can be about self-respect as much as respect for adults, how to recognize what behaviors are manipulative and inappropriate, and then how to protect oneself. [For national data Dr. Finkelhor gathered on a wide range of child-related social problems, see pp. 5-8 in this PDF version of his talk.]


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