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‘Tip of the Iceberg:’ Report Finds 252 School Personnel Accused of Sexual Offences

November 2, 2022 7:42 AM | The Canadian Press


By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Classroom

An empty school classroom in Dartmouth, N.S. on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Anne-Marie Robinson says being sexually exploited by her high school teacher in the 1970s completely derailed her life. She always thought what happened was a long time ago and, surely, the system must be fixed by now.

But, she says, it hasn’t.

“Schools are so poorly equipped in what to do,” Robinson said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“It’s just a microcosm where they can get away with this and they do.”

A report from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection says 252 current or former school personnel committed or were accused of committing offences of a sexual nature against at least 548 children from 2017 to 2021.

It also found another 38 personnel were criminally charged for child pornography-related offences during the five-year span.

The report includes any person working in a school environment, including teachers, administrators, bus drivers and custodial staff.

“It is startling and a bit infuriating,” said Noni Classen, director of education at the Winnipeg-based centre.

Classen said it is the only known publicly available, Canada-wide snapshot of sexual offending in schools. The centre searched disciplinary records, media sources and criminal case law to build the database.

Since education falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, most bodies responsible for overseeing discipline of school employees are not required to make the outcomes of investigations public. There is a complete lack of transparency, Classen said, and she suspects the report’s numbers are an underestimation.

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

The report says 71 per cent of victims were girls and 29 per cent were boys, when gender could be identified. Of all the offending behaviours, 37 per cent involved physical contact.

Robinson was on her first field trip when she alleges her teacher first had sex with her. She was a teen. She said he gave her alcohol.

She alleged the abuse lasted for over a year.

Robinson said she quit high school to get away from the teacher. It took time to get back on track, but eventually she built a career that landed her as the president of the Public Service Commission of Canada.

A criminal charge against the teacher for a sex offence against Robinson was dismissed in court last year. The teacher, who The Canadian Press is not naming because he was not convicted, said he has paid dearly for what he describes as a consensual relationship with Robinson.

“I’m not denying there was a relationship, but it was consensual. It was not illegal. It was morally wrong,” the man said in an interview Wednesday.

The teacher gave up his licence in 2000 after disciplinary actions began against him.

Another former student had come forward alleging she was sexually exploited by the teacher while in high school. He’d also given alcohol to other students and read explicit sexual material to students in a storage room, according to the Ontario College of Teachers discipline decision.

Robinson is now a member of the newly formed group SECE, which stands for stop educator-child exploitation. All members are survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by school teachers.

The group is calling for the establishment of national or provincial independent bodies to investigate teacher-on-student sexual exploitation. They also want a national inquiry into the abuse of children at the hands of school personnel and restitution for survivors.

Robinson said people should be outraged that so many children have been at risk.

The report says 167 school personnel had criminal charges laid against them over the five years, mainly sexual assault, sexual interference and sexual exploitation.

When a secondary role was identified, 74 per cent of offenders were coaches. The vast majority – nearly 85 per cent – were men.

Classen said all children have the right to safety, especially at schools. More than 58 per cent of the offences took place on school property.

When a trusted adult or authority figure exploits that trust, the harm to the child is intensified, Classen said. A sexually explicit text message or inappropriate comment isn’t just an act of grooming, she added — it can be devastating to a child.

“That someone betrays the trust of the child and family … I don’t know that there is a larger betrayal than that,” she said.

Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook were the platforms most commonly used to facilitate victimization, the report says.

It recommends independent bodies be established to receive and investigate complaints. It also suggests disciplinary records around these offences be made public and that all school personnel complete child protection training programs. And there should be more trauma-informed support for students who are victimized.

Classen said the vast majority of teachers and school personnel are there for the right reasons. They also want more consistency in disclosure and policies to make sure students are safe, she said.

There have been positive changes in recent years, Classen added, but not enough.

“There’s so much work that needs to be done,” she said. “We are not seeing it at the pace we would like to.”

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