Preventing sexual abuse in NYC schools

I once tried initiating a relationship with my high school biology teacher. I was 16 years-old and he was in his late forties – gray hair and all.

Coming from a broken home, I lacked a father figure and therefore found no issue with my questions about his personal life; did he have a girlfriend? If so, what was she like? I lingered around his classroom after school in order to be alone with him.

Looking back, it’s difficult for me to say if I ever wanted anything to come of it. I certainly goaded him. And, I certainly didn’t know what I was doing as a naive teenager.

He never took my bait. But, throughout the New York City public school system not every teacher shows such restraint.

The NYC Department of Education released a report earlier this month that it has fielded nearly 600 complaints of sexual misconduct against teachers and faculty since 2009. The special commissioner of investigations Richard Condon said 104 of those cases were substantiated.

Some of these cases have been highly publicized. Two examples include Colleen Finn, a teacher at Aviation Career and Technical High School in Queens, who had sex with a student at least four times in 2010; and Salahudin Bholai, a teacher at the High School of Graphic Communications in Manhattan, who allegedly text¬ed a student a sexually explicit photo.

While nothing ever happened between my teacher and me, it is worth noting that I never told anyone either. Some students, like me, think they’re already grown up and able to handle an adult relationship. More often than not victims blame themselves and sometimes it’s not until years later that they realize what has happened.

Parents should take care to notice changes in their children and not immediately equate them with hormonal imbalances. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, warning signs in children who have suffered possible sexual abuse include: nightmares, distraction, changes in eating habits, sudden mood swings of rage, fear or withdrawal and thoughts of themselves as repulsive or dirty. Teenagers may show signs of self-injury, inadequate personal hygiene or drug and alcohol abuse.

Don’t dismiss these signs. Instead sit down with your child or teen and encourage them to be honest with you. Remind them that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Respect their need for privacy and be an active listener. Ultimately, try to help them regain a sense of control over their lives that was stolen from them.

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