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Survivors of Educator Sexual Abuse

We at S.E.S.A.M.E. are dedicated to stopping the abuse that occurs in our schools.  The reason for this nationwide effort is because we are aware of the frequency of this damaging misconduct.  The harm caused by abuse results in our children feeling shame, guilt, dirty and unlovable.  Some even attempt suicide and a small number succeed in taking their own lives.  The damage from this abuse festers and oozes especially when it is covered by the darkness of secrets. This infection of the mind and heart makes a healthy life more difficult. 

If you're reading these words please know you are not alone.  As others speak out and share what happened to them the darkness of disbelief is slowly dispelled.  Also with the growing awareness of this problem, both educators and parents will be paying more attention.  Paying attention and acting promptly lessens the risk to future victims. If you were groomed and abused it means at the time you were open, appreciated your elders, and sought assistance to become better at what you were trying to learn.  This reaching out or wanting to assist others was used to lure you through lies and deception into a damaging private relationship. Your parents or guardians may also have been fooled believing they were placing you in the hands of someone who cared about your well-being. As a young person these traps are hard to escape.  You were not responsible for what took place.  Abusers groom and select the children that are more likely to struggle with what was done to them all alone, because they care and do not want to cause trouble.  If you have been abused the good news is that gaining information and finding helpful resources will help healing.  Although recovery is not necessarily easy, the research indicates that many abuse victims are able to live productive and worthwhile lives.  You will make a positive difference in lives of others by taking care of yourself.

Do you want to tell your story?

Find someone you trust – someone who has not hurt you - and make sure that person has time to listen. Share about what happened, your feelings, and what you think. You may have to remind that person that you just want someone to listen – you don’t need someone to judge, criticize, blame, or offer advice.

Sharing your story can be therapeutic for you, and can help other victims of abuse feel as though they are not alone. Remember, you are NOT alone - many others have experienced the pain of abuse. Survivors are a critical support for each other.

S.E.S.A.M.E. understands the courage it takes to tell one’s story.  We also know in telling one’s story there is a risk in reliving the trauma experienced.  In that regard we encourage the writer to have a strong support network during the writing and submission process.  Whether it be family, friends, colleagues or mental health professionals, support networks have many benefits. 

Do you want or need professional help?

Experiences of abuse, misconduct, and exploitation can be very stressful. Dealing with everything that is involved in reporting abuse, sharing your story, legal outcomes, and everything else just adds to the stress.

You may experience a range of emotions – anger, frustration, shame, guilt, fear, sadness. You may have trouble sleeping, eating, working, or doing other daily activities. When you feel like everything around you is falling apart, seek out a local mental health professional who is trained to help. This kind of support can make all the difference in your healing and recovery.

*Talk to a school counselor, social worker, pastor, or work through your insurance carrier to find an appropriate behavioral health specialist that can help you.

 
Females

As a survivor you struggle with abusers blaming you for being the cause of what took place. Rapists often blame their victims. The sense that what has happened has spoiled you, made you unlovable and not deserving of good relationships can last for a lifetime if this pattern of guilt based beliefs is not corrected. Often inappropriate touching results in a person disowning their own bodies. For some it will result in cutting on their skin and either weight gain or loss.  These are desperate attempts to diminish attractiveness and feelings that might lead to improper sexual attention. 

How to get the “poison of abuse” out of one’s body can lead to harmful actions.  Avoidance and the need to feel less hurt sometimes fuels substance abuse. Needing to be in control might lead to engaging in frequent unloving sexual relationships. On the contrary instead, it might also result in the avoiding of intimacy altogether even in marriage. Many victims of abuse never want to have children because they are afraid that what happened to them might reoccur. In your therapy you will need to change your image of yourself in order to heal. 

This brief description is not written to include everything you’re dealing with, but instead we want you to know that we are aware of the many different challenges you face.  If you reach out to us, we will try to help connect you to the resources that can be of assistance.

Males

If you were 10 years old or older society tends not to take your abuse, if it was done by a woman, as seriously as molestation done by males. If you read the newspapers you will see that female abusers typically end up with shorter sentences than male abusers.

If you were abused by a male there may be questions that will be asked about your gender preference and sexuality apart from the crime. This makes it hard to break the bonds of silence and isolation. For males abused by females rather than recognizing how damaging this is, many people may regard you as having been lucky that you were able to have a sexual experience with your teacher. This twisted societal misconception makes healing more difficult as it is harder to talk to people about what has occurred.

As with any abuse victim males can suffer from depression, relationship problems and more because of these types of violations of decency. The anger from this abuse can result in destructive actions. Often educators who abuse the older male students will use drugs and alcohol. They create a party scene manipulating the survivor into sexual activity. Many of these students then struggle with substance abuse issues that deepen and are fused with trauma.

We are working together with you at S.E.S.A.M.E. to make others know that your pain is real.

Read this ground-breaking article by Dr. Stephen Braveman on male victims of sexual abuse & misconduct.

Those with Disabilities

As a student or child you are more at risk for being abused in our schools if you have a disability. With a disability you often need special attention in order to learn and succeed. This results in educators becoming more involved with you either in terms of time spent or physical assistance. The challenge of having a disability is that it sometimes makes it harder to speak out.

Sexual violence against children in schools is a national problem, and one that has taken on urgency in the United States.  Although all students need protection from sexual predators, those most vulnerable to abuse in schools are students with disabilities. 

Recent research into the sexual abuse of students with disabilities in American schools suggests that schools are a reflection of the larger societal condition and provide no assurance of safety for students with disabilities.  The isolated nature of the school environment did not protect these students and actually increased their risk for abuse.

Children with more significant levels of disability are the most at-risk group for the more severe forms of sexual abuse in the school setting. The youngest of them are at the highest risk.  Furthermore, students with disabilities are at a markedly increased risk for abuse by adult personnel than are students in the general school population

The number of children and youth, ages 3 -21, receiving special education services was 6.5 million in 2008-2009, approximately 13% of all public school enrollments. This large percentage of classified students indicates the enormity of the population at risk for experiencing sexual abuse. 

Their risk is substantially compounded by the presence of predatory caregivers who are attracted to the human services industry specifically because of its provision of direct access to vulnerable victims.

Schools play a pivotal role in sexual abuse prevention and education.  The physical and social characteristics of school environments are key considerations in child abuse prevention.  Common and widespread exclusionary practices in special education delivery may place the student with a disability at increased risk for sexual abuse.

Special education policy and practices must be revisited, and educators must be informed about the role education plays in reproducing social inequities and increasing the vulnerability of students with disabilities.

Most immediately, students with disabilities, their families/advocates and school administrators and staff need to be informed of the prevalence and increased risk for sexual abuse among students with disabilities in their schools.

In order to protect the most vulnerable from the most dangerous in our society, let us join forces to raise public, parental and advocate awareness of the magnitude of the problem, generate funding to conduct further research and alert parents and administrators to the issues that increase student vulnerability to sexual abuse in our schools.

S.E.S.A.M.E. is here to support and help you.

Written by:

Mary Lou Bensy, Ed. D., Adjunct Professor
Department of Special Education
Hofstra University