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When is a School Responsible for a Sexual Assault?

Schools need to be safe for children to play, learn, socialize, and develop important skills. But that does not happen when a child is sexually abused at school. While it is often an adult who sexually abused a student at school, students also sexually abuse other students at school. When a student is sexually abused at school by either an adult or a student, the school might be responsible.

A school district may be liable when a staff member, student, teacher, or principal sexual assaults a student or coworker if it occurred on school property or at a school-sanctioned event such as a field trip or school dance.

Online sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is easier to understand in situations involving rape or forced oral copulation, but it is still sexual abuse when a child is harassed online.

A school district may be held liable when its employees sexual harass its students online, which includes the following situations:

  • Leaving sexual comments on social media
  • Sending or requesting nude photos or videos
  • Sexploitation: using pictures/videos to extort the child
  • Harassing the child about gender identity, sexual preference, or how his or her body appears
  • Sharing personal information about the child (“doxing”)

What if sexual abuse was committed by another student?

Student-on-student sexual abuse occurs more often than people realize. In the United States between 2011 and 2015, more than 17,000 reports of sexual assaults of students in grades K-12th were made.

If a student sexually abused or assaulted another student while at school, the school district may also be liable if it knew of prior similar misconduct and acted carelessly when it discovered the prior misconduct. It’s the school’s responsibility to ensure its students are safe by installing security cameras, proper lighting, and other safety measures in its hallways, classrooms and outdoor areas.

Filing a lawsuit against a school

When your child is sexually abused at school by a teacher, administrator or another student, you can file a lawsuit not only against the perpetrator but also the school district. School districts typically have insurance and thus typically would have more funding available to pay for a settlement or judgment than an individual perpetrator. For that reason, suing the school district is often a more effective strategy to recover damages. It is also important to hold school districts accountable to ensure that they prevent future abuse.

Generally, a civil lawsuit can be filed against the school district, if the school district failed to provide a safe learning environment for its students by failing to properly vet instructors and staff with background checks, or failing to report the abuse or assault, or failing to enforce its own zero-tolerance policies.

Public, Charter, and Private Schools

Sexual abuse and assault are crimes regardless of whether it happens at a private, charter, or public school. Each school system will have its own set of rules for students and staff to follow. But public schools that take federal funding have strict standards for reporting sexual abuse and assault.

The effects of sexual abuse can have a lasting impact on children

Children who are sexually abused can suffer many negative impacts, such as reduced education achievement, reduced future job performance, reduced future earnings, and reduced health and well-being. It can also be a catalyst for unhealthy relationships. All children can be impacted in these ways regardless of the child’s age or who the perpetrator was.

If your child has been a victim of sexual abuse at school it’s important to seek help from a sexual harassment and assault law firm. The lawyers at Seber Bulger Law can ensure that your child gets the medical attention he or she needs, handle media requests and ensure the child’s privacy is upheld, handle all depositions and witness interviews and work with experts such as doctors and counsellors. Don’t wait to seek legal help if your child has been abused in school.