The problem of sexual misconduct between teachers and students is not new but it is shrouded in mystery and all too often, secrecy. The main question on the mind of everyone when they learn of instances where this has occurred is, why? To the rational mind it makes no sense, but this is behavior that is not rooted in reason.
The “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature” study was published by the Department of Education in 2004. The report attempted to bring clarity to the subject. The 156-page report explores different aspects of the criminal and unethical behavior. The report included a meta-analytical review of studies involving sexual misconduct between students and teachers in the United States.
The findings were interesting. For example, the percentage of students reported contact and noncontact forms of sexual misconduct ranged from 4% to 50% of responding students. Teachers that provide more individual instruction were found to be more likely to engage in sexual misconduct. Reports of abuse by female students represented the majority of reports, which the authors concluded by be due to the belief of some males that sexual attention by a female is flattering and by a male teacher would be too embarrassing.
An examination of why teachers have sex with students needs to consider the rituals as well as the causality. The Department of Education study described the ritual revealed in the research.
The sexual behavior between teacher and student forms within in the context of a relationship. The relationship will likely be based upon a number of bonding influences such as perceptions of met needs, misuse of power, or the availability of the student.
Abusing teachers like most adults who are attracted to children or adolescents generally look for a certain type of student. The student will likely represent characteristics they generally find attractive in adults or represent characteristics of teens at the time their sexual development was arrested. The abusing teacher will often target a student with unfulfilled emotional needs at home and a student the teacher can easily manipulate with attention.
A standard for abusing teachers is the student must be willing to maintain secrecy. The teacher will likely seek to manipulate the student with threats if their secret is revealed such as withdrawing the emotional attention the student is receiving from the teacher or the teacher may threaten to expose the student as being a bad person.
Sexual abuse in every context requires proximity or the ability of the abuser to maintain the “relationship” through frequent interaction. Most cases of sexual misconduct were found to occur at school.
The study did not address the issue of causality. In fact, very little is offered in identifying causes of this behavior. Most of the information follows the example of the Department of Education study and focuses on the systemic problems, consequences, and suggestions of ways to identify the problem.
Can causes of this behavior be identified? Yes. A likely list includes:
1. Arrested sexual development in the teacher. Developmental and stage theories of development generally support that the failure to complete a developmental stage leaves one psychologically stuck at that stage.
2. Socially isolated. The abusing teacher likely has few if any intimate relationships.
3. Negative self-image. People who do not like themselves or who are narcissistic generally use people for their own gratification. The low image person hopes that someone can help them feel better. The narcissist believes others will be better because of interactions with them.
4. A history of abuse. Most people who abuse were abused.
5. Access. Those who fit the criteria of a sexual predator have access to potential targets in the school environment.
The problem of teachers have sex with students is not new and will not likely go away soon. However, the Department of Education study included suggestions of ways that schools can increase the safety of their students. The solution lies in careful screening of employees, ongoing education, counseling services, and a reporting protocol that all school personnel are willing to follow.