How well are public schools in Massachusetts keeping kids safe from sexual assaults?

Published on
July 17, 2023

In March, a former teacher in Cohasset, Massachusetts was accused by a third student of sexual assault dating back to 2011. 

In April 2022, a former Brooklyn, Massachusetts elementary school teacher was charged with allegedly raping a student between 2016 and 2018.

And in December 2021, a former gym teacher at a Salem school was charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a fourth-grade student in 2016, according to the Salem News

One in 10 kids in K-12 schools nationwide will be sexually assaulted or subjected to misconduct by school employees, according to a 2019 study by the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse. Low-income and female students in high school are particularly vulnerable to sexual misconduct by school employees, the study found. 

Over the coming months, I will investigate the extent of child sex abuse in Massachusetts’ 302 K-12 public school districts over the past decades, as a project for the 2023 National Fellowship. Currently, those districts serve nearly 900,000 students.

My hope is that our Boston station’s work will amplify silenced voices and elevate public awareness of ways to prevent sexual abuse in our nation’s schools. 

I plan to look at sexual assaults perpetrated by teachers and other school employees, as well as abuse by K-12 students. I’ll also aim to hold officials accountable for potentially covering up or failing to do enough to prevent abuse.

A network of anti-child abuse advocates and attorneys who represents victims of sex crimes say sex abuse is prevalent in Massachusetts. And there’s longstanding concern that existing laws and school policies are perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

The age of consent for sex in Massachusetts 16. The age of consent for indecent assault and battery is 14.

Advocates also point to a lack of ban on revenge porn. Massachusetts is one of just two states without such a ban. And advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass laws prohibiting the transfer of school employees accused of sexual abuse to other schools. 

Congress is considering legislation to create clear standards for the role of Title IX coordinators in school districts and encourage confidential reporting of sexual assault. The bill would also launch a national survey to provide better data about "where and how often harassment and assault are occurring."

Through interviews with survivors, families, educators, school administrators, and experts in child protection, we’ll aim to learn about the root causes of sexual abuse in K-12 public schools, barriers to reporting, and institutional accountability. 

My reporting will focus on survivors of child sexual abuse who are increasingly speaking up and seeking justice through the criminal justice system, civil lawsuits and by seeking widespread policy reform.

We’ll specifically focus on the mental health challenges facing youth and children who experience such abuse.

How does sexual abuse impact the lives of children during and after school, and years later? What support is there for these children, particularly the most vulnerable?

We will look also at the intersections of social inequities and exclusion, with an eye for how abuse impacts people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as students and families whose primary language isn’t English. We’ll explore the role of stigma and trauma in different communities, as well as the varied experiences of LGBTQ+ youth. 

The long-term goal of the project will be to guage the extent of this alleged abuse, and then report our findings to make public what we have uncovered.  

My hope is that our reporting could prevent more victims of abuse in our school system, and effect systematic change to both laws and school policy to protect students in our local cities and state. 

We will also investigate the extent of prevention and training requirements for teachers, school administrators and students about sexual assault.

We’ll highlight pilot programs addressing sexual abuse, and look at already launched programs to see how such programs are working or not, and whether marginalized students are being reached.

Data sources will include federal crime data, federal Department of Education data, court records including sworn testimony, police reports, school records of email and other correspondence uncovered through public records requests.