I know and have worked with child abusers, and I also know the wrongly accused. As California debates the standards and burdens of proof to exclude teachers charged with abuse, I get the arguments on both sides. I have felt them both personally.
I have long argued, we need a better list. And as California looks to reset the legal standards we need to listen to the victims and the falsely accused, to get it as right as we can, and I have some specific recommendations. But at a certain point we have to give kids the benefit of the doubt and their protection a higher priority than someone’s job. So let’s look at the debate, the current issues and maybe a better way to move forward.
The Current Debate and “passing the trash”
California is currently debating the standards for removing alleged abusers, the East Bay Times covered it,
At the urging of victim rights advocates, four states have adopted laws that require schools and their accused employees to disclose such complaints to other schools looking to hire them.
But when such a bill went before an education committee in California’s legislature this month,it met a buzz saw of opposition. Critics including the California Teachers Association and American Civil Liberties Union cited due process concerns, and the senator who authored the bill put it on ice after determining that proposed amendments would render it toothless…California law already requires school officials to report complaints of child abuse to police or a county child welfare agency. In 2012, a San Jose school principal who didn’t tell police about a girl’s account of a weird, sexual sounding activity while alone with her teacher was convicted of misdemeanor failure to report child abuse. The teacher was convicted of molesting five children.
But such cases are rare. And victims advocates say that while they are not supposed to, school officials often look into sex abuse complaints themselves and either do nothing or simply persuade the accused staffer to leave.
So called “pass the trash.”
The Dynamics of Abuse and how Institutions Become Accomplices
I have worked with some wretched child abusers, and hotlined a couple, and at least one of them is still out there abusing. There are a lot of abusers in the world, many more than the falsely accused, and they know how to prey on vulnerable children, house themselves in important institutions, and largely evade detection or punishment. “Pass the trash”—the shuttling on of suspected abusers, without prosecution or reporting.
I worked in group home and that is what we did. Had to be at least 10 folks that I am 95% sure they abusers, I believe only 2 were prosecuted at the time, most were just sent packing, and most came with lots of experience in group homes. Unless you were caught red “handed” they would not call the cops, or even give you a bad reference. It’s pretty embarrassing to be charged with protecting kids and you are subjecting them to ritual child abusers. Plus you may not really “know” they are abusers, you are pretty sure but you don’t “know” it. So rather than dealing with the public fallout and legal BS, you just pass these folks along. You fire them or let them resign. And they just move on.
Mobile Predators and the Availability of Prey
I hotlined a dude, when a kid told me the guy put his hands under the kids blanket during the overnight. Of course they are overnight staff—when almost nobody else is in the building. But it was “unfounded”… Dude went back to doing overnights, with the same kid, alone, until he was fired, or resigned, can’t remember which, for a series of other “incidents.”
Last I saw he was swimming coach in Upstate NY, a picture of him by the pool with young boys in speedos…yeah…he was a wrestling coach then…
Still makes a tear of anger well up when I even think about it.
These mostly guys just went from place to place, doing the same things to different kids.
The Falsely Accused
I also have a family member who was falsely accused. Subbing at a new school he argued with some girls, and they reported that he was looking at porn on his computer, or depending on which girl you talked to, drawing pornographic images.
This wasn’t true, the computer was a loaner from the school, so the filter technology would have blocked porn, and the girls all had different stories. A simple investigation would have cleared this up. But he was still let go and barred from teaching in the district, and there was something in the file about him being barred some kind of sexual misconduct.
He lawyered up, and basically got the decision rescinded, but it was a false charge, and it could have barred him from teaching—though only in that district.
So if he was a scumbag, he could just teach somewhere else. Abusers don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries—in fact—they exploit them.
So there does need to be some standard of proof that is higher than an accusation. And also a list that goes beyond district boundaries.
And that low standard of proof is the critique raised by the ACLU,
“These proposed measures would essentially bar anyone from employment in any school upon any allegation of child abuse or sexual misconduct with a child, with no due process or recourse for the person to challenge the allegations,” the ACLU said in a letter opposing the bill to the Senate Committee on Education.
It should take more than a single unproven allegation, but we also need to use common sense and where there are multiple allegations over time that means something.
Towards a better list
The harm inflicted upon children by abusers far outweighs the harm from false accusations. But we still owe some measure of due process to the accused, while also owing a duty of disclosure to potential future victims. So how about this.
Every allegation is reported to a NATIONAL database. Teachers do get a basic due process standard, hearing, and appeal. Where findings become part of the record, and allegations, are either dismissed, agreed to, or its inconclusive.
If you rack up maybe 3 or more inconclusives or 4 or more dismissals- you go on the national NoTeach list.
Most teachers go their whole careers without any allegations. Once is maybe a mistake, maybe lightning strikes twice, but yeah I am pretty sure something is wrong if these allegations pile up over time. Most of the real abusers won’t show up for the hearing, they won’t want a record created. Most of the innocent will, because they will want the record.
And this is not a death sentence, it says you can’t have a particular job working with people of a particular age. There are many other jobs, and if you are having all these allegations, you probably should find another one.
Ultimately we owe the students we are supposed to protect more than the adults. And honestly, if my family member was barred from teaching, he could get another job, or work in another district.
The answers aren’t so simple for a child abused in school by a ritual abuser. So we can make the rules better but it’s time we start putting weight of the balance on safety, because sorry won’t help.