- The controversial hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and the sexual assault allegations against him, are forcing teachers to grapple with how to handle these conversations in their classrooms, as well as how to deal with their own stories of sexual harassment or assault in the workplace.
- Since it created an online form where educators could confidentially submit their stories, Education Week has interviewed people who say they witnessed or experienced harassment or assault by other teachers, principals and superintendents.
- These educators choose not to report in part because of factors similar to other survivors, but they also face unique challenges that make it difficult to come forward, such as losing the trust of their colleagues or risking their jobs.
When educators and other school community members discuss sexual assault prevention, it’s usually about securing more resources to protect students from abuse by other students or by teachers. But teachers are facing these issues, too: 40% of educators have seen or experienced these incidents in the workplace, and nearly 60% of these officials don't report it.
Throughout the world, sexual assault survivors often don’t share their stories. Many feel shame or fear of retribution, and many don’t think they’ll be believed. Teachers struggle with similar things. A majority of educators, according to Education Week, know how to report sexual harassment and assault, and they’ve been trained and know their school’s protocol. They’re not reporting because they don’t think their case is serious enough to go that far, because they don’t think anything will happen as a result, or because they’re scared it will damage their workplace environment or lead to retaliation.
Aspects of the K-12 education sector can make teachers more susceptible to some kinds of abuse or harassment, even though it’s a field that’s populated mainly by women, Education Week notes. While women might make up more of the jobs in the field, men in education usually earn more or have more authority. And regardless of gender, these power dynamics can put teachers at risk. And it’s not easy for teachers to pick up and leave a district in which they’ve faced sexual harassment or assault. They work hard to get tenured, and lower salaries don’t always allow for a sudden move.
Teachers have a lot to worry about in reporting sexual abuse stories: In a school, a story they wanted to keep quiet can spread like wildfire. There’s a risk that they won’t be trusted, or that they could risk punishment — or worse, losing their job, putting non-tenured educators in even more jeopardy. And if the abuser is a student or a parent, the family could threaten legal action or emotionally harass the teacher throughout the entire process.
Educators may not report because they see how those sharing stories are treated in society or they might feel their one experience is insignificant. Schools might also not have enough resources to respond to these incidents. Districts can consider ways to ensure that teachers have a vehicle for reporting such incidents and getting the help they need.