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What Are the Signs of Sexual Misconduct by Teachers?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Nov 01, 2023

Let's review the signs that your child's teacher might be engaging in sexual misconduct with them. If you're a parent with a school-aged child, you entrust your child daily to one or more teachers with the expectation that they will protect and instruct them.

Unfortunately, that trust is sometimes broken, often with potentially devastating consequences for the children. Sexual misconduct within the education system is an issue of grave concern. Because children are impressionable and vulnerable, they don't always have the framework to tell parents or school authorities when something is wrong.

What Are the Signs of Sexual Misconduct by Teachers?

Even in the case of teenagers, who may (wrongfully) believe they are doing something consensual with their teacher, the long-term psychological impact can be highly destructive.

Sexual misconduct with a minor is a crime under California Penal Code 288 PC, and in teacher-student relationships, it often flies under the radar. However, recognizing changes in the child's health or behavior patterns can indicate that something is wrong.

Educator sexual misconduct includes many different behaviors, including sexual innuendo or contact, inappropriate touching or text messaging, email or social media contact with a student, or soliciting sex from a student.

The alleged perpetrators might be male or female classroom teachers, administrators, coaches, counselors, tutors, volunteers, or others working in an educational setting. Other teachers, administrators, parents, and the community could highly regard them.

Manipulation is a deliberate attempt where sex offenders initiate abusive relationships with children that could initially appear innocent on the surface. They often target vulnerable students who have prior academic or behavioral problems, because they are more likely to remain silent or less believed.

Defining Teacher-Student Sexual Misconduct

The majority of acts of teacher-student sexual misconduct fall under the category of lewd acts with a minor child, defined under California Penal Code 288 PC.

This includes any actions taken with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of the perpetrator or the child. This particular statute applies to minors who are either:

  • Under the age of 14; or
  • Under 16 if the perpetrator is at least ten years older than the child.

For purposes of this law, lewd acts may include either touching the child or requiring the child to touch themselves or someone else for purposes of sexual arousal.

Simply put, PC 288 says that it is a crime for a person to engage in “lewd acts” with a child under the age of 16, which is to touch a child for sexual purposes or causing a child to touch them or someone else for a sexual purpose.

Violating PC 288 is a felony offense punishable by up to 8 years in prison—or up to 10 years in prison if the perpetrator uses force, duress, threats, or fear to coerce the minor. The penalty for the crime will vary depending on the child's age and the facts involved. However, most offenses are punishable by years in jail and substantial fines.

Some possible red flags that a teacher may be engaging in sexual misconduct with a student include having hesitation about going to school, difficulty in class, and faking illness. Perhaps your child has trouble sleeping or has a loss of appetite. Maybe they cannot focus, seem distracted, or have problems with studying. Perhaps they are giving you hints of teacher misconduct.

What Are the Possible Indicators of Abuse?

Sexual misconduct is usually impossible to observe on the teacher's side, but children who are sexually abused frequently exhibit a few telltale changes. Take note if you observe any of the following.

Behavioral Changes

One of the most common signs of possible sexual abuse is a significant change in a child's behavior. One key sign to watch for is if the child resists going to school, especially if they were eager to go before. Other behavioral changes might include an unexplained withdrawal from friends or usual activities or inexplicable outbursts of anger or sadness.

Indicators of Teacher Sexual Abuse

Negative Changes in Grades or Study Habits

Sexual abuse often causes children who were otherwise good students to begin having difficulty paying attention in class, often accompanied by falling grades.

Health-Related Symptoms

Children victimized by sexual misconduct may exhibit changes in their physical health. They might begin experiencing stomachaches, headaches, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, etc.

Mental State Alterations

A child who is a victim of sexual misconduct may display troubling psychological changes, including depression, anxiety, nightmares, etc. You may also notice personality changes. This is a red flag if your child is typically outgoing and energetic and suddenly becomes withdrawn.

Hints or Vague References to Abuse 

Sexually abused children typically want to tell their parents what's happening but are usually coached, warned, or even threatened by their teachers to keep quiet. As a result, they may not offer a complete disclosure but instead may start dropping hints, making unusual statements that arouse suspicion, etc. Take these kinds of remarks seriously.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Abuse?

If you notice any of these signs and suspect a teacher is sexually abusing your child, it's crucial to take steps immediately to protect them.

  • Listen and Validate: If a child confides in you about the abuse, listen carefully and assure them that you believe them. They must feel supported and understood.
  • Get the Child Out of Harm's Way. Before doing anything else, separate the child from the suspected perpetrator by removing them from class.
  • Report the Incident: Contact your local law enforcement agency or child protective services. In California, you can use the Child Protective Services hotline.
  • Seek Professional Help: Consult with professionals specializing in child sexual abuse, such as therapists or counselors. They can provide the necessary support and guidance for the child and their family.

What About a Civil Lawsuit?

California Civil Code 51.9 allows a victim of sexual harassment to file a civil lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator in a professional relationship, such as sexual harassment by a teacher.

In other words, a student can sue a teacher for sexual misconduct and might be able to recover compensation for emotional distress. Further, victims of educator sexual misconduct might be able to file a civil lawsuit against the school district for negligent hiring of the teacher.

However, to be successful, you would have to prove the teacher was incompetent to perform their job, the school district should have known about their incompetence, and the student was harmed because of their incompetence. You can contact our law firm for a case review. Eisner Goring LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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