Sexual misconduct by the very teachers who are supposed to be nurturing the nation's children has now become a widespread problem.
Students in America's schools are fondled, raped, pursued, seduced and pathetically enough, some still think they are in love.
An investigation by the Associated Press found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions that ranged from bizarre to sadistic.
Across US, there are 3 million public school teachers. While most are devoted to their work, the number of abusive educators, nearly three for every school day, depicts a much larger problem in a system that does not favor the victims.
Most of the abuse never gets reported, while those cases reported often end with no action. Cases investigated sometimes can't be proven, and many abusers have several victims.
Till now, no one (neither the schools, courts, state nor federal governments) has found a foolproof way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.
These are the AP's findings after reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result was an unexpected national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators -- the very definition of breach of trust.
The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, voluntarily surrendered or limited from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.
In most cases, young people were the victims, and more than 80 percent of those were students. More than half the educators who were punished by their states were also convicted of crimes related to the misconduct.
The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America's Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.
Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there's been little sense of the extent of educator abuse. Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that's been apparent for years.
"From my own experience -- this could get me in trouble -- I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one," informs Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating misconduct in schools. "It doesn't matter if it's urban or rural or suburban."
While other victims accepted settlement deals and signed confidentiality agreements, she sued her city's schools for failing to protect her from accused teacher Gary C. Lindsey, and won.
The trial revealed that Lindsey had been forced out of his first teaching job in Oelwein, Iowa, in 1964, after admitting he'd fondled a fifth-grader's breast. "I guess it was just lust of the flesh," Lindsey told his superintendent. He moved on to schools in Illinois and eventually settled in Cedar Rapids. Now 68, Lindsey refuses multiple requests for an interview. "It never occurs to you people that some people don't want their past opened back up," he was quoted by the AP.
This past, according to court evidence, included abuse accusations from a half-dozen more girls and their parents, along with reprimands from principals that were filed away, explained away and ultimately ignored until 1995, when allegations from Bramow and two other girls forced his early retirement. Even then, he kept his teaching license until the Bramows filed a complaint with the state. Yet, he was never charged criminally.
Like Lindsey's, the cases that the AP found were those of everyday educators; teachers, school psychologists, principals and superintendents among them. They're often popular and recognized for excellence and, in nearly nine out of 10 cases, they're male. While some were accused of abusing students in school, others were cited for sexual misconduct after hours that did not necessarily involve a kid from their classes.
The overwhelming majority of cases involved public school teachers, since many private schools do not require a teaching license. Even when they do, their disciplinary actions are not a matter of public record.
Two major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association denounce sex abuse while emphasizing the need to consider educators' rights. The AP also discovered efforts to stop individual offenders yet overall, a deeply embedded resistance toward recognizing and fighting abuse. It starts in school hallways, where fellow teachers look away or feel powerless to help. School administrators make behind-the-scenes deals to avoid lawsuits and other trouble. And in state capitals and Congress, lawmakers shy from tough state punishments or any cohesive national policy for fear of disparaging a vital profession.
That only enables rogue teachers, and puts kids who aren't likely to be believed in a tough spot. Abuse also is treated with misplaced fascination in American culture. "It's dealt with in a salacious manner with late-night comedians saying, 'What 14-year-old boy wouldn't want to have sex with his teacher?' It trivializes the whole issue," rues Robert Shoop, a professor of educational administration at Kansas State University who wrote a book to help school districts deal with sexual misconduct. Like him, others point to academic studies estimating that only about one in 10 victimized children report sexual abuse of any kind to someone who can do something about it. When it is reported, teachers, administrators and some parents frequently don't -- or won't -- recognize the signs that a crime is taking place.
McGrath now trains school systems how to recognize what she calls the "red flags" of misconduct.