Every student is entitled to a safe learning environment. Unfortunately, sexual abuse occurs at alarming rates in both public and private schools, and at all grade levels from preschool through college. Countless instances of school sexual assault go unreported and the cycle of abuse is allowed to continue.
It is crucial that those responsible for sexual abuse in schools are held accountable for their action, or even their inaction. This includes not only the perpetrator of the abuse but also any individual or entity that failed in their duty to protect the student. In some instances, the school itself may be held liable for allowing the abuse to occur. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault in school, know that survivors have a right to stand up for themselves and to seek justice and compensation.
What Constitutes School Sexual Assault?
School sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that takes place without consent. The act often occurs on school grounds, but in some situations, it can happen offsite, or even have online components.
In most situations involving sexual activity, consent is the key factor. Consent means that both parties know, understand, and agree to the behavior, and have the legal capacity to do so. Legal consent cannot be granted if a person is forced, coerced or manipulated into sexual activity. A person who is incapacitated in any way such as being asleep, inebriated due to drugs or alcohol, or in any way not fully aware of what is happening, cannot provide consent. This also includes people with a mental disability that prevents them from being able to fully understand what is happening and those under the legal age of consent, which is different across each state.
When Is a School Responsible For Sexual Assault?
The school district or institution owes students a duty to provide a safe environment which includes protection from sexual misconduct. If the school had reasonable knowledge that sexual abuse was occurring or could occur and failed to address the issue, the school may be held liable for sexual assault.
You can absolutely bring a civil claim against the individual perpetrator for assault in school and potentially criminal charges, depending on the nature of the abuse. If the educational institution permitted the behavior, they could be held responsible. Here are some examples of how schools can be held accountable.
- The school did not conduct a reasonable background check upon hiring the staff member who perpetrated the abuse;
- A school official was aware of the sexual misconduct and did not report it;
- The administration demonstrated deliberate indifference once informed of the misconduct, thus allowing it to continue; or
- The school failed to provide mandatory training for handling incidences of sexual misconduct which hindered the reporting process.
Every situation is different, so there are many other situations where schools can be held liable for school sexual assault. Educational institutions typically have insurance and thus more funding to cover costs associated with recovery, so it is important to consider holding them accountable for negligent behavior.
All states and U.S. territories have some form of mandatory reporter statute that requires certain people to take action if they witness or suspect sexual abuse or harassment. In most situations, the mandatory reporter is not responsible for determining whether the sexual misconduct actually occurred. That is the responsibility of law enforcement. All school staff are usually considered mandatory reporters.
Who Perpetrates School Sexual Abuse?
Sexual interaction between a student and teacher is never acceptable, especially if the student is under the age of majority. Even then, many colleges and other institutions for higher learning have their own rules for interactions between students and teachers, but it is important to note that not all sexual abuse in schools is conducted by teachers.
Anyone who has a school-based relationship with a student can be guilty of school sexual abuse. The abuse does not always occur on school property or during school hours, but if it is related to a school-based relationship, it is still considered school sexual abuse. The most common situations involve adults in a position of authority abusing their power over vulnerable students. Perpetrators can include:
- Adjunct faculty,
- Guidance counselors,
- Support staff,
- Bus drivers, and
- Any other adult who interacts with students.
Sadly, school sexual assault can also be perpetrated by other students. There are legal ramifications for sexual assault no matter the age of the perpetrator. Students should never have to fear going to school for any reason.
Types of Sexual Abuse
Any sexual misconduct is unacceptable, but there are different types of sexual abuse. Each state has its own civil and criminal statutes for sexual abuse, but these are some of the general concepts that often apply.
Sexual Assault and Battery
Abuse is a term often used interchangeably with assault and battery. Any unwanted physical contact may be considered assault and battery regardless of whether it is sexual in nature. There are varying degrees of assault and battery that can have civil and criminal consequences.
Sexual harassment can take many forms and does not have to include physical contact. Harassment can include comments that are sexual in nature but one of the most common in the school setting is submission to unwanted sexual contact as a condition of employment or academic standing. There are both federal and state laws against sexual harassment.
A threat, whether implied or actual, to commit a sexual act is sexual intimidation. Not only does this often impact a student’s performance, it can also be terrifying. Students should never have to fear being on school grounds or involved in school-related activities.
Sexual exploitation occurs when the perpetrator uses intimate information to take advantage of someone. This behavior is never appropriate.
D’Amore Law Group was founded over 30 years ago with a mission of securing justice for innocent people and their families. Unlike many personal injury law firms, we have actual experience with sexual abuse cases. We understand the sensitive nature of your case and we are here to provide compassionate legal representation. Contact us to schedule a case consultation.