By: Nico Zulli
Every 98 seconds someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. That means every single day more than 570 people experience sexual violence in this country.
Many of these crimes of sexual violence are committed in schools – and many of these victims are children.
According to a January 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office, the failure of U.S. schools to protect students from sexual abuse by school personnel is a story of district cover-ups, lack of training, incomplete teacher background checks and little guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.
The overarching issue is that our nation’s K-12 schools collectively lack a uniform, systemic approach to preventing and reporting educator sexual abuse of students. The best available study, reported by the American Association of University Women in 2000, suggests that about 10 percent of students suffer some form of sexual abuse during their school careers by a teacher or school employee.
Still today, the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services cannot agree on whose domain educator sexual misconduct falls into. Moreover, no one has ever designed a nationwide study for the expressed purpose of measuring the prevalence of sexual abuse by educators.
In a recent case in Maryland, an HIV-infected school employee, Carlos Deangelo Bell, 30, has been accused of sexually victimizing, without protection, 42 male students ranging from 11 to 17 years old.
Bell is alleged to have committed these assaults between May 2015 and June 2017, while working as an instructional assistant at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School and as track coach at La Plata High School.
Bell was originally indicted on 119 counts for his alleged assaults between May 2015 and June 2017. The indictment was updated in July 2017, and as of Monday, October 23, 2017, it has now reached 206 counts, ranging from charges of sexual abuse of a minor to child pornography.
Notably, the investigation into Bell’s conduct was launched in December 2016 when a parent allegedly found inappropriate texts between her child and Bell. Although he was removed from his coaching and aide positions soon after the December investigation began and was directed to have no contact with the students, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office said as many as 10 middle school students were assaulted between the launch of the investigation in December 2016 and Bell’s arrest in July 2017.
The state will seek life in prison if Bell is convicted. The state attorney’s office said they were not aware of any of the victims testing positive for HIV at this time.
But, the true question is, why is the safety of children in Charles County Public School District, and every other school district for that matter, seemingly not a top priority for our federal government and its agencies?
A year-long USA Today Network investigation found:
“[E]ducation officials put children in harm’s way by covering up evidence of abuse, keeping allegations secret and making it easy for abusive teachers to find jobs elsewhere. And, as a result, school children across the nation continue to be beaten, raped and harassed by their teachers while government officials at every level stand by and do nothing.”
USA Today’s investigation revealed more than 100 teachers who lost their licenses, but are still working with children or young adults today. One of the main reasons the problem of sexual abuse of students by educators persists is due to schools’ ineffective screening procedures. Another contributing factor is the diligence of schools in reporting suspicions and incidents of sexual abuse in a timely and transparent manner. However, these factors are only issues because the government is not guiding schools and school officials to adhere to and abide by any sort of uniform screening or reporting procedures. Thus, such procedures are virtually defunct.
As the Bell case illustrates, school officials are often found behind the eight ball in reporting suspicious activity or incidents of abuse by their employees to parents. And, when school officials do disclose investigations and/or abuse scandals, the disclosure often leads to promises of tighter screening of job applicants, which is difficult to achieve without effective, uniform procedures in place.
To resolve these issues, federal watchdog agencies need to continue to challenge other departments for better dissemination of information to help schools prevent and report sexual abuse, and more vigilantly track and analyze incidents committed by school personnel. This way, not only will it reduce the likelihood that sexual predators go undetected in the hiring process, but also prevent continued attacks on students, both during and after investigations against school personnel have been launched.
Schools have the responsibility to prevent sexual abuse, but this requires full understanding and compliance with uniform requirements developed by our government, local, state, and federal, which close the gaps in the current scheme. Gaps that leave children, like those victimized by Bell, vulnerable to sexual attacks after investigations have already been launched.
Protecting students from sexual abuse by the people selected to educate their developing minds is not a choice; it’s a law. As such, schools must be guided by our government, at every level, to become better equipped to prevent and defend against the prevalence of sexual attacks on students by those they should be able to trust most.
For more information please see:
CNN – HIV-Positive School Aide Accused of Sexual Assault Faces 206 Charges– 24 October 2017
Fox News – Hiv-infected School Aid Accused of Sexually Victimizing 42 Children in Maryland —24 October 2017
USA Today – Potential Victim Count Rising in Case Against Hiv-Positive Coach Accused of Filming Sexual Assaults – 2 August 2017
WJLA – Former Md. School Coach Charged with Child Porn, Assaults on Male Students, has HIV – 7 July 2017
The Washington Post – Is Cleaning House the Best way for Schools to Deal with Sexual Abuse? – 17 February 2016
Ed Source – Schools Failing to Protect Students From Sexual Abuse by School Personnel, Federal Report Says —5 February 2014
United States Government Accountability Office – Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel —January 2014
Partnership for the Public Good – An Educational Gift: Teacher Aides in New York State —20 April 2012
Slate – How Many Kids are Sexually Abused by Their Teachers? —8 February 2012