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Sunday, September 4, 2016

More Teacher-Student Sexual Assaults and Sexual Relationships in Texas than in Any Other State

Why are so many sexual relationships between teachers and students occurring in our schools? 

It is alarming to think that parents, with all the other dangers they have to worry about in terms of their children's safety, also have to be wary of their children's relationships with their teachers. The Newtown massacre made all parents acutely and painfully aware that school is no longer the safe haven we once believed it was. Now, the increasing reportage of teachers sexually assaulting, or coaxing their students into sexual contact, brings into question the trust we have been encouraged to have in those who were supposed to be in loco parentis, protecting our children when we cannot be with them.

If you suspect that your child or adolescent is being sexually victimized by a coach or teacher, you should report the matter to the school authorities, have your child checked medically and psychologically, and engage the services of a highly competent personal injury attorney with expertise in this aspect of the law. It is extremely important that those who abuse their power over children in their charge be held accountable, and that your child be compensated for his or her pain and suffering.

The Situation in Texas

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Texas has more investigations into allegations of sexual relationships between teachers and students than does any other state. While in Alabama in 2014, the per capita rate of such investigations was higher than in Texas, the overall total number of cases in Texas has remained at the top of the charts for several years. As a frame of reference, according to former U.S. Department of Education Chief of Staff Terry Abbott, in 2014 Texas had 116 accusations and convictions and Pennsylvania, the state that came in second on the list, had 45.

The Recent Case

Most recently (at least as of this writing!), shocking allegations surfaced in Houston of a teacher having a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old student. Perhaps even more surprising, Alexandria Vera, the defendant in this case, was not the first teacher at Stovall Middle School to be accused of sexual activities with a minor. In 2014, another teacher at the school, Felicia Smith, was dismissed after facing criminal charges for giving one of her students a lap dance for his 15th birthday! Perhaps the low penalty she received for her outrageous offense is one of the reasons for the continuing surge of such behavior in Texas classrooms. Ms. Smith was sentenced to 3 years probation.

Possible Reasons for the Texas Epidemic of Teacher/Student Liaisons

One flashpoint seems to be social media content. Surveys throughout the country have shown that approximately 35 percent of social media connections between teachers and students eventually become sexual. Even though there are legitimate reasons for students and teachers to communicate -- discussing homework assignments or special projects, for example -- the internet provides too much opportunity for secret communications. In one of the numerous cases uncovered in the Houston area, in which a teacher at Thompson Intermediate in Pasadena, was charged with sexual assault of a child under the age of 17, prosecutors found evidence of more than 22,000 text messages and 2,000 phone calls between the teacher and student. In this case, as in Ms. Smith's, the punishment consisted only  of a form of probation.

Abbott has assessed the problem as two-fold, involving coaches with too much private access to their players, and almost no schools that ban teachers from sending secret messages to their students. While students may at first be flattered by the special attention given to them by their teachers, the abuse can have devastating, long-lasting consequences for the youngsters who may experience fear, nightmares and other manifestations of PTSD, as well as ongoing problems forming intimate relationships. 

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