Sex Abuse by Teachers Said Worse Than Catholic Church

By Jon E. Dougherty
NewsMax [United States]
April 5, 2004

In 2002, the Boston Globe uncovered a scandal of international proportions when it began running a series of investigative reports detailing dozens of cases in which Catholic priests had sexually abused scores of children.

The paper's damning revelations shook the church to its core, prompting outrage and calls for reform all the way from California to New York to the Vatican in Rome.

By year's end, some 1,200 priests had been accused of abuse nationwide, the New York Times reported, in an investigative report of its own. In the ensuing maelstrom, five U.S. prelates resigned. Also, bishops from Argentina, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Wales, Scotland, Canada, Switzerland and Austria were also forced out of the church. More than 80 percent of the church's victims were male.

Worse for the church, Americans discovered some of the most abusive priests were protected by upper echelons of the clergy. Repeated abusive offenses by men like Revs. James Porter and John Geoghan were covered up by the church or, when they occasionally were made public, dismissed as rarities or infrequent behavior.

These priests were moved around from diocese to diocese, given positions that limited their contact with children, or moved to administrative duties - but they usually found their way back into a parish, holding Mass and coming in contact with more potential victims.

In the end, the Vatican's credibility, the church itself, and the entire Catholic faith, was damaged to the point where it will take decades to repair; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a report on the nature and scope of the abuse problems, found almost 11,000 cases of abuse by about 4,000 priests and deacons since 1950.

"The heartfelt sorrow that we feel for this violation and the often ineffective ways with which it was dealt has strengthened our commitment to do everything possible to see that it does not happen again," said Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Now, on the heels of the Catholic abuse scandal comes another of historic proportions - one that has the potential to be much greater and far-reaching. According to a draft report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, in compliance with the 2002 "No Child Left Behind" act signed into law by President Bush, between 6 percent and 10 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees and teachers.

Charol Shakeshaft, the Hofstra University scholar who prepared the report, said the number of abuse cases - which range from unwanted sexual comments to rape - could be much higher.

"So we think the Catholic Church has a problem?" she told industry newspaper Education Week in a March 10 interview.

To support her contention, Shakeshaft compared the priest abuse data with data collected in a national survey for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000. Extrapolating data from the latter, she estimated roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a school employee from a single decade - 1991-2000. That compares with about five decades of cases of abusive priests.

Such figures led her to contend "the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests."

Early Comparisons

The comparison of church-school sexual abuse cases began early - years before Shakeshaft's report was completed.

In June 2002, The Associated Press reported clergy abuse cases overshadowed teacher-student sex abuse cases, though the report stated the school cases were not "uncommon."

"Some experts point to what they see as a permissive attitude toward such relationships and a double standard because cases involving female teachers and male students are treated less severely," AP reported.

"The dynamics of the teacher-student cases are often different than the classic sexual abuse cases because they seem to involve consenting relationships between teachers and students," Finkelhor, director of the Center for Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the wire service. ". . . Clear boundaries have to be enforced."

Nan Stein, director of a project on sexual harassment in schools at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, cited far fewer cases annually than Shakeshaft; she said she believes "several hundred" cases of student-teacher sexual abuse cases occur each year.

And six years earlier Education Week searched newspaper archives and databases, finding 244 cases in a six-month period. The allegations in that short 1998 study ranged from unwanted touching to sexual relationships and serial rape.

Currently, there is no single agency that tracks such incidents. And only a few national surveys, as of 2002, had been conducted on the subject of teacher-student sex - and most of them were sexual harassment studies.

"None of these studies - either singly or as a group - answer all of the reasonable questions that parents, students, educators, and the public ask about educator sexual misconduct," says Shakeshaft, in her draft report. "And certainly do not provide information at a level of reliability and validity appropriate to the gravity of these offenses."

The Death of Outrage?

What is also different about the school cases is the level of secondary media coverage it has - or, in this case, hasn't - received.

Yet, media coverage of the Catholic priest abuse scandal was nearly wall-to-wall; every major television news program, every major newspaper and wire service, and most mass market magazines covered the scandal relentlessly.

But, reports the National Catholic Register, a leading faith publication, "a search on the media database LexisNexis for "Charol Shakeshaft" turned up no articles eight days after" the Education Week report.

An online search by found similar disinterest.'s news database, for example, returned just four entries for "Charol Shakeshaft;" two were Catholic publications.

The Indianapolis Star and Christian Science Monitor only briefly mentioned Shakeshaft's data; the later publication couched her remarks about schools in an article primarily rehashing the Catholic church abuse scandal.'s news search engine returned only three; two were similar stories from the Indianapolis Star.

'Serious' Issue?

Catholic leaders especially are wondering why more coverage of the issue, as well as more action by government education officials, hasn't been forthcoming, in the weeks since the Education Week story.

"If the country is serious about [sexual abuse of children] as a national issue, we have to direct our resources to where the problem is worse," Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, an New York-based Catholic advocacy group, told the Register. "But instead what we get is a selective indignation that suggests there is an agenda here."

Indeed, even some judges express a more permissive attitude regarding teacher-pupil sex.

Case in point: In Hackensack, N.J., in the spring of 2002, a state judge sentenced 43-year-old teacher Pamela Diehl-Moore to probation for having sex with a seventh-grade student who was only 13 at the time.

Though prosecutors had argued for jail for Diehl-Moore, the judge in the case, Bruce A. Gaeta, disagreed. He put the onus on the student, saying the encounters with his teacher may only have been a way for him to "satisfy his sexual needs."

According to court transcripts, as reported by AP, Gaeta said, "I don't see anything here that shows this young man has been psychologically damaged by her actions. And don't forget, this was mutual consent."

He was referred to a judicial disciplinary committee.

That is one identifiable double-standard: relationships between male students and female teachers. For one, say experts, most school sexual abuse occurs between male teachers and female students. For another, male students tend to report sex with female teachers far less; they are treated less severely because boys see little wrong with the acts.

"I think our society sort of says to the boy: 'Congratulations, that's great. Everybody fantasizes about having a sexual relationship with an older woman,'" Bob Shoop, an education professor at Kansas State University and an expert witness in 30 court cases involving sexual abuse in schools, told AP.

Case Studies

Some of the most recent cases of school sexual abuse include the following:

In 2002, a California high school teacher ran off to Las Vegas with one of her 15-year-old students;

The same year, a Louisiana teacher was accused of having an affair with a 14-year-old student;

In the Bronx, one teacher was charged with the statutory rape of a 16-year-old former student;

In March, a 20-year-old Anderson, Ind. choir aide was charged with allegedly raping a 16-year-old female student - the two had a consensual relationship for three months before the girl asked to break it off;

A week earlier, an Indianapolis Public Schools substitute was caught having sex with a 15-year-old student in a vacant classroom;

A Washington state teacher was convicted of 10 counts of sexually exploiting minors by persuading them to pose nude for him - he then uploaded some of the images to a Web site;

Also in Washington, state officials say 159 coaches of girls sports have been fired or reprimanded over the last decade for sexual misconduct;

An investigation found more than 60 instances in the last four years of Texas high school and middle school coaches losing jobs as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct.

What Next?

Some states have specific laws banning sex between teachers and students. Many others, however, rely on statutory rape laws, but they sometimes do little to protect student-teacher sex that is consensual or between an adult and minor child close to the age of consent.

For her part, Shakeshaft believes more study of the issue is needed, but that officials and educators should take the available data in her report to heart now.

"Some individual districts might have changed some policies or had an in-service workshop, but really there hasn't been any systematic response to this issue," she said.

"It isn't as if we need to stop and wait for a study. I do believe we know enough to take some actions."


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