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Identifying and weeding out predators in schools

Professor Stuart Chen-Hayes, associate professor of counselor education at Lehman College of the City University of New York who supervises school counselors throughout Manhattan spoke about how identifying predators in the teacher interviewing process and to identify when a child is being abused by an authority figure.

What is the screening process like for teachers?

In public schools the state requires fingerprinting, but fingerprinting will only bring up folks who have already been arrested. So it comes down to effectiveness of questions asked and monitoring and supervision done in schools. You can't ask them outright are you attracted to children. We don't legally have the mechanisms in place, we can't ask for those questions legally. I can ask what's your training in ethics, what would you do if this occurred, how would you protect the child. If you had a colleague or supervisor you learned was sexually abusing a child how would you handle that? I say to my students if you have attractions or can't control yourself sexually there are plenty of other jobs you can do please don't work in a school. If this is going on, you need to get help.

What are the training/etiquette guidelines for teachers?

The state requires all teachers to take five hours of training on how to deal with abuse but there are no specific guidelines to say how you weed folks out who are attracted to children. It's tricky. There needs to be a lot more focus on ethical practice and behavior for teachers. What most people don't have is a background in sexuality and seeing sexuality as [a] predator [behavior].

Why is this basic training missing from teacher education?

I share your question and I wish I had an answer. We as citizens need to ask that and ask our departments of education to strengthen their codes of ethics. Every educational leader teacher needs to teach ethics all the way through. As school counselors, we want to believe anyone who comes forward. Folks need to be vigilant and have multiple strategies in identifying and rooting out problems.

How do you identify predators or authority figures who may be attracted to children?

[For] the majority of folks who [are] offenders the behavior doesn't just happen; it comes over time. We have to look at who are the folks who really seem to be interested in younger children. The reality is most people who perpetrate have some connection to the child they take advantage of. Not many people talk about signs of sexual abuse. We are often reactive: Someone perpetrates and we react instead of being preventative. The people who are most likely to perpetrate are heterosexual, married, conservative men.

How do you identify perpetrator behavior?

The overt perpetrator behavior is adults being sexual with children. Most folks who are pedophiles go to great lengths to hide what they're doing because they know it will get them in trouble. In a school setting, it may be letting the kids drive their car, giving them candy, drugs, alcohol. Here come touch the puppy. They look for kids who are loners, who don't have a stable home life who are their own for long periods of time, they will try to gather info. The issue is where are they dropping hints? Are they texting? There may be adolescents who are charmed by the attention and then something sexual occurs. They may be really repulsed by it.

How can we prevent this kind of behavior from happening?

Parents and educators need to educate kids and say, "This isn't safe." Parents need to have these discussions with kids, they need to say this is what's ok -- a handshake or a hug may be ok, a hug [for] three minutes may not be ok. I haven't screened my son's teachers personally, but we have talked to him about it. But how many parents really have those discussions? You have to watch the people who moon over children and say inappropriate comments.

The public schools are in the public eye more, the private schools are less in the public eye. An entire set of administrators set making money with the football program as more important than sexual abuse. Why do these people protect abusers instead of kids? Something is really wrong. It's primarily heterosexual, conservative, religious men who are perpetrators. We have to look at how we educate men and boys, are we teaching them to be sex-positive and anti-violence?

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