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Journal of Child Sexual Abuse
ISSN: 1053-8712 (Print) 1547-0679 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wcsa20
Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of PreK-12 Students
by School Personnel
Billie-Jo Grant, Charol Shakeshaft & Jessica Mueller
To cite this article: Billie-Jo Grant, Charol Shakeshaft & Jessica Mueller (2019): Sexual Abuse
and Exploitation of PreK-12 Students by School Personnel, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2019.1567139
Published online: 04 Feb 2019.
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Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of PreK-12 Students by
, Charol Shakeshaft
, and Jessica Mueller
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, USA;
Virginia Commonwealth University,
San Diego State University, San Diego, USA
The abuse of students by PreK-12 school personnel continues
to be a multifaceted issue that affects students, staff, parents,
and communities at an alarming rate. This two-part special
issue builds on the dated and limited literature in this topic
area and includes qualitative and quantitative research on
prevalence, victim and offender characteristics, barriers to pre-
vention, and frameworks and standards for prevention.
Together these articles highlight the need for systematic data
collection, policy implementation, accountability, and training
and awareness. The findings from these articles provide speci-
fic practices that schools can adopt and follow to prevent
school employee sexual misconduct.
School employee sexual
misconduct; sexual abuse;
school personnel; student
education; educator sexual
School employee sexual misconduct, the abuse of students by any K-12
school personnel, which may include contact or non-contact sexual miscon-
duct, continues to be woefully understudied. Yet, cases appear daily in our
media outlets, making this an everyday experience for too many students.
The field’s only generalizable prevalence study was conducted in 2000 and
reanalyzed in 2004, and it estimated that 9.6% of the students, or 5 million
students, will experience sexual misconduct by the time they graduate from
high school (Shakeshaft, 2004). No entity can currently tell us how often
school employee sexual misconduct occurs because the data do not exist as
far as we know. The U.S. Department of Education does not track how often
licenses are revoked for sexual misconduct or how often students are sexually
harassed by school employees. Criminal records are not searchable by type of
employment, and national surveys do not collect information specific enough
to calculate how often school employee sexual misconduct occurs.
Experts agree that even one case of school employee sexual misconduct
can be detrimental for the victim and his or her family, the school, and the
community (Fang, Brown, Florence, & Mercy, 2012; National Center for
Victims of Crime, 2019; Patterson & Austin, 2016). Victims of child sexual
abuse can suffer from behavioral and psychological effects including, but not
CONTACT Billie-Jo Grant firstname.lastname@example.org Department of Statistics, California Polytechnic State
University, 1 Grand Avenue, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
JOURNAL OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE
© 2019 Taylor & Francis
limited to, decreased achievement and engagement in school, increased
absences, depression, and increased vulnerability to drug and alcohol addic-
tion (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2019). The longitudinal research
on the long-term effects of the 10 adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
document the relationship of these experiences, of which sexual abuse as
a child is one, to later drug and alcohol abuse, depression, pulmonary disease,
heart disease, liver disease, poor work performance, financial stress, risk for
intimate partner violence, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted
disease, smoking, suicide attempts, unintended pregnancies, early initiation
to sexual activity, adolescent pregnancy, risk for sexual violence, poor aca-
demic achievement, and early death (Dube et al., 2001; Merrick et al., 2017;
Monnat & Chandler, 2015). One ACE often leads to others, and abusers
often target victims who have already experienced one or more ACE.
Harm does not stop with the victim of sexual abuse. The school
community is shaken. Teachers who believed the abuser to be a trusted
colleague and students who loved and respected the the abuser are left
confused, angry, and unsure of their own judgment. The school and
community are usually the subject of negative media reports which
increase distrust beyond the particular incident. The motivations and
actions of school and district officials are also questioned. Additionally,
schools and school district boards are often defendants in civil suits which
result in settlements or trial verdicts of millions of dollars (Patterson &
This special issue was developed to inspire additional research for this
understudied topic. The articles have been organized into a two-part series.
The first part is included in this issue and includes research on the preva-
lence, barriers to prevention, and prevention standards of care.
The prevalence of school employee sexual misconduct
Currently, there is no national method for documenting the number of
PreK-12 students who are sexually abused by school employees. Without
systematic data collection, it is difficult not only to identify the scope of the
problem but also to determine patterns of abuse. Calls for systematic
national studies have been ignored, leaving researchers with the task of
finding alternative ways of documenting the sexual abuse of students in
The first three studies in this issue address the problem of documentation.
All three utilize robust samples and address the absence of reliable data on
the scope and patterns of school employee sexual abuse of students as well as
ACEs in the first 18 years of life include the following: Abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual), household
challenges (mother treated violently, household substance abuse, mental illness in household, parental separa-
tion or divorce, and criminal household member), and neglect (emotional and physical).
2B.-J. GRANT ET AL.
illustrating the challenge of constructing a database without state and federal
cooperation and funding. Two approaches are taken across the three articles:
teacher discipline records by state/country agencies and media reports com-
bined with criminal offending data.
In Educator Sexual Misconduct and Texas Educator Discipline Database
Construction, Robert and Thompson (2019,inthisissue)providetwo
important additions to the literature on prevalence. First, they detail the
methodological actions and decisions made in compiling a state database
on educators who were disciplined for sexually abusing students. Using that
database, they then provide a snapshot of education professionals who were
disciplined by the Texas Education Agency between 2008 and 2016.
Robert and Thompson’s description of abusers, patterns, and victims is
further fleshed out by Henschel and Grant, Exposing School Employee Sexual
Abuse and Misconduct: Shedding Light on a Sensitive Issue (2019, in this
issue). Their landscape analysis of 361 media reports of school employee
sexual misconduct cases in the United States in 2014 lays out numbers,
offenses, and victim and offender descriptions across 49 states. Connecting
media reports and police data, they were able to provide details about
offender and victim characteristics, type of incident, technology use, location
of the offense, and resulting disciplinary actions by schools and law enforce-
ment. This study expanded consequences beyond the loss of professional
certification, describing arrest, trial, and conviction outcomes.
Researchers at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection Inc. (2019, in this
issue) enlarge the understanding of school employee sexual abuse beyond the
United States, examining victim and offender demographic patterns and
characteristics across Canada. Similar to the Robert and Thompson study,
data were primarily drawn from 750 sexual misconduct disciplinary decisions
between 1997 and 2017. The authors also explore criminal charges and
outcomes as well as media reports.
Across the three studies, there is variation in aggregate characteristics of
offender and victims. All three were methodologically unique with different
samples. Nevertheless, as a whole, the similarities across studies present
useful insights into how abusers operate and how local and state educational
Barriers to the prevention of school employee sexual misconduct and
standards of care
Prevention requires awareness and action within a legal framework. The next
two studies examine barriers to developing awareness and action as well as to
enacting a legal framework to guide action.
Hernandez, McPhetres, and Hughes (2019, in this issue) explore how adoles-
JOURNAL OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE 3
of Sexual Relationships between Students and Teachers, documents perceptions of
1,203 adolescents about “wrongness”and likelihood of reporting across different
teacher-to-student scenarios. Teacher age, student age, and power differential all
influenced high school student judgments of “wrongness”and willingness to
report. This study documents what anecdotal evidence suggests: adolescents
often lack the maturity, judgment, or tools to determine what constitutes sexual
misconduct, particularly within a frame of peer romance.
Grant, Wilkerson, and Henschel (2019, in this issue) reveal how inade-
quate state and federal laws fail to stop abusers. Their article, Passing the
Trash: Absence of State Laws Allows for Continued Sexual Abuse of K-12
Students by School Employees, includes a state-level policy analysis that
documents the progress of states toward developing and implementing laws
that comply with federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
ESSA prohibits the aiding and abetting of sexual abuse but has been fully
extended into only four states. This report describes state legislation that, if
adopted throughout the United States, would serve as a strong deterrent to
school employee sexual misconduct.
The last article in this special issue describes the standards of care, based
upon prevention research and ratings by school administrators, child sex
abuse specialists, and attorneys with experience in school employee sexual
misconduct, that schools and other youth-serving organizations can adopt to
respond to and prevent school employee sexual abuse. Shakeshaft, Smith,
Keener, and Shakeshaft’s(2019, in this issue) A Standard of Care for the
Prevention of Sexual Misconduct by School Employees describes specific prac-
tices within the categories of policies, hiring, training, and reporting that
schools can adopt and follow to prevent school employee sexual misconduct.
Part 2 will be in the second issue of the journal. It will continue to explore the
prevention of school employee sexual misconduct with evaluation studies of
prevention programs and studies of frameworks and standards for prevention.
Notes on contributors
Billie-Jo Grant, Ph.D., is a professor at Cal Poly State University and an experienced
quantitative and qualitative methodologist, researcher, and evaluator as well as an expert
on school employee sexual misconduct. She has led multiple national efficacy studies and was
the principal investigator on a 2015–2017 Department of Justice Funded Study, examining
school employee sexual misconduct policy implementation nationwide.
Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.D. is professor educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth
University and the author of a congressionally mandated report on educator sexual mis-
conduct. She is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association and has been
studying school employee sexual misconduct for more than 25 years.
Jessica Mueller, Psy.D. is a lecturer at San Diego State University and is also a licensed
psychologist working in the corrections.
4B.-J. GRANT ET AL.
Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Inc. (2019). The prevalence of sexual abuse by k-12
school personnel in Canada, 1997–2017. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,28(1).
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Chapman, D. P., Williamson, D. F., & Giles, W. H.
(2001). Childhood abuse, household dysfunction and the risk of attempted suicide
throughout the life span: Findings from the adverse childhood experiences study. JAMA,
286(24), 3089–3096. doi:10.1001/jama.286.24.3089
Fang, X., Brown, D., Florence, C., & Mercy, J. (2012). The economic burden of child
maltreatment in the United States and implications for prevention. Child Abuse and
Neglect,36(2), 156–165. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.10.006
Grant, B., Wilkerson, S., & Henschel, M. (2019). Passing the trash: Absence of state laws
allows for continued sexual abuse of k-12 students by school employees. Journal of Child
Henschel, M. M., & Grant, B. (2019). Exposing school employee sexual abuse and misconduct:
Shedding light on a sensitive issue. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,28(1).
Hernandez, F., McPhetres, J., & Hughes, J. (2019). Adolescents’perceptions of sexual relationships
between students and teachers. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,28(1).
Merrick, M. T., Ports, K. A., Ford, D. C., Afifi, T. O., Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A.
(2017). Unpacking the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adult mental health.
Child Abuse & Neglect,69,10–19. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.03.016
Monnat, S. M., & Chandler, R. F. (2015). Long term physical health consequences of adverse
childhood experiences. The Sociology Quarterly,56(4), 723–752. doi:10.1111/tsq.12107
National Center for Victims of Crime, (2019,January5).Effects of child sexual abuse. Retrieved from
Patterson, M. A., & Austin, D. F. (2016, November). Recent lessons from child sex abuse claims.
Presentation at the Washington Schools Risk Management Conference. Seattle, Washington.
Robert, C. E., & Thompson, D. P. (2019). Educator sexual misconduct and Texas Educator
Discipline Database construction. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,28(1).
Shakeshaft, C. (2004). Educator sexual misconduct: A synthesis of existing literature.Washington,
DC: U.S. Department of Education, Doc #2004-09.
Shakeshaft, C., Smith, R. L., Keener, S. T., & Shakeshaft, E. (2019). A standard of care for the
prevention of sexual misconduct by school employees. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse,28(1).
JOURNAL OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE 5