Recently, I was contacted by a student at our local high school, who had recently heard of the story of my abuse and felt I would be someone safe to talk to…to get some advise. She hoped that perhaps I might be one person in her life who would understand what she is going through. Unfortunately, I did.
We’ll call this girl, Jane. Jane Doe…for she is afraid that if her story gets back to her school, she will be targeted and life could get harder than it already is now. And unfortunately for Jane…that’s pretty hard already.
Almost one year ago, Jane was raped by a friend of her father. She did all the right things: went to the hospital immediately, reported it to the police the same night, and this man is now in prison. Unfortunately, the wounds that come as a result of such abuse often feel that they get deeper and more painful before they ever begin to get better.
This excellent student began to skip school for weeks at a time. She did not feel safe around people, especially one who looked a lot like her attacker. Jane worked with the counseling center and school psychologist to try to get her work made up, but Jane was falling deeper and deeper into the black hole of depression that often swallows up victims of sexual abuse.
Finally, the school psychologist convinced Jane that she should let him tell her teachers about the rape so that they would perhaps be more understanding of her situation and work with her more to help her get her work in, allowing her to still graduate from high school. Reluctantly, Jane agreed, with the stipulation that none of the teachers were to talk to her about it. She felt weird enough around them as it was…. The psychologist agreed, the teachers were informed and Jane did her best to begin making up the work she had missed.
One of the classes that Jane came into late into the term, required her to have a textbook. The teacher told her she would have to come with him to the supply closet to get one. This made her very nervous and she asked him if he could just give it to her the next day. He replied that he could not and she would have to come with him right then. Red flags were popping up in her mind, but she tried to tell herself that she was just being paranoid. As they got to this supply closet, which was really just a long skinny room with rows of bookshelves, she again tried to stay outside, and he told her she would have to come in.
Not wanting to offend her teacher, who was supposedly trying to help her, she finally went in and proceeded to follow him to the very last row of books in the far corner. Here, he instructed her to retrieve the book on the bottom shelf. She felt he was peering at her as she did so. When she had the book in hand, he commented that that book was too old and she should get another one. Again, she leaned over to the get the book, and felt very uncomfortable with him staring at her. He continued to insist that the book she chose was not good enough until she had selected about 8 different books.
Finally, he let her take the book she had in hand, but when she tried to leave the room, he was leaning across the only small aisle that led to the door. She asked him to move and he stayed where he was, trying to start personal conversations with her…asking how she was doing, etc. She told him she needed to leave and he continued to stand in her way. Finally, she pushed him aside and left the room as quickly as possible.
Jane was smart and told the school psychologist of this incident immediately, who was very alarmed that such a thing had occurred. He reported it to the school policeman, who talked to Jane about the incident. And though he agreed that it had been very inappropriate, there was nothing to be done because he had not actually touched her in an inappropriate place.
When she tried to transfer from his class, she was informed that this teacher is the only one who teaches this subject and it is a mandatory subject for graduation. Now, Jane is forced to be in his class everyday, or risk not graduating from high school. And in the state she is currently in, it is hard not to choose the latter.
Now, some may suggest that the teacher's intents were innocent and that perhaps Jane really was being paranoid because of her rape experience. But whether that is true or not is inconsequential. Teachers should not be taking students into closed rooms alone. Had he gone in to get the book himself and left her in the hall, not only would the student have been safe from inappropriate conduct by the teacher, but there would have been no opportunity for him to be accused of inappropriate behavior.
This teacher is still teaching in the high school, and there has likely been no notes made on his record...notes which could be accessed in the future if more inappropriate actions are ever reported. Notes that would show over time if there is a pattern of behavior that shows this teacher to be a risk to students.
Can you imagine what would happen if this same scenario were to take place in your workplace? Businesses for adults are required to have Zero Tolerance policies for sexual harassment. A situation like this would result in a severe warning for these individuals to not be alone, and if this man was a repeat offender, it would be grounds for immediate termination of his employment.
Why do we not have the same strict policies in place to protect our children as we do adults? Unlike adults who at least have the option to look for other work, our students are compelled by law to be in the classroom. They deserve to know that their safety will be jealously guarded by those who hold this most sacred trust.