download (1)An interesting NBC News story that I came across last weekend says that “Sexual abuse of children by teachers or other public school employees is likely underestimated because of a patchwork reporting system and involvement of numerous local, state and federal agencies in investigating such claims.”

This is according to a report released by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) in January of this year. The report, “Child Welfare: Federal Agencies Can Better Support State Efforts to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Abuse by School Personnel” was presented to various members of Congress and to The Honorable George Miller, Ranking Member Committee on Education and the Workforce, House of Representatives.

In the report, a letter addressed to Miller in January 2014 outlines the situation. “Over the last decade, a number of media reports were made across the country about sexual abuse¹ of students by public K-12 school personnel. A report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education in 2004 stated that nearly 9.6 percent of students are victims of sexual abuse by school personnel²—such as teachers, principals, coaches, and school bus drivers—sometime during their school career.³

I saw this trend back in 2000, and I wrote about it in my book, “Is My Child Okay?” At that time, according to state child abuse registries, sexual abuse – the exploitation of a child by an adult to satisfy the adult’s sexual desires – accounted for ten percent of all reported cases of child abuse. The operative word is reported. In fact, the actual incidence of sexual abuse of children was more realistically closer to 20, 25 or even 30 percent. Many children don’t disclose the abuse and adults similarly hide their participation in it.

In the mental health arena, many of us can confidently say that the numbers of children sexually abused are much higher. Why? Because of the number of adults who eventually come forward. As many as 20 to 40 percent of adult women and 10 percent of adult men admit to having experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child. Hard to believe? The Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State is a good example of this.

To add to these statistics, 40 percent of children who are abused experience it only once in their lives, but an appalling 60 percent experience it many more times, often over a period of years. Both boys and girls, from infancy to adolescence, may be abused, although girls appear to be the more usual victims – some reliable study statistics indicate that as many as one in every six girls is sexually exploited by an adult. These are frightening numbers! The way to change this is through education and support. Topics I will tackle in my next couple of blogs.

  1. Definitions of sexual abuse may vary from state to state. For example, sexual abuse may be defined in general terms or by specifying various acts as sexual abuse, such as rape, molestation, or sexual assault. For purposes of this report, we consider sexual abuse to include any sexual activity involving a child that is a crime under applicable state law. However, the prevalence of sexual abuse by school personnel remains unknown, in part, because some cases go unreported.
  2. For the purposes of this review, school personnel includes a wide variety of positions including, but not limited to, school district administrators, principals, teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses, coaches, guidance counselors, school psychologists, school cafeteria staff, janitors, and school bus drivers.
  3. Shakeshaft, C, Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of the Literature, U.S. Department of Education, 2004. The estimate provided in the report is the most recent information available on the prevalence of such abuse and misconduct and is based on secondary analysis of data collected for the American Association of University Women in Fall 2000 from a sample of 8th through 11th grade students in 80,000 schools and focused on experiences that occurred in school.


Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.