Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

Hidden and Unreported: Sexual Abuse of Students
We admit that it goes on, but we're not stopping it

The Toronto Star, Kerry Gillespie, Staff Reporter, June 3, 2001

School Predators

Everybody says this doesn't happen any Read More ../p>

For 21 years, Kenneth DeLuca, a teacher in Sault Ste. Marie, sexually abused female students in his elementary and high school classes. He coerced them into sexual situations that ranged from kissing to intercourse.

Sometimes he promised better grades; other times he threatened punishment if they didn't co-operate.

As far back as 1973, students were complaining about him to other teachers, principals and school board officials. But the board simply moved DeLuca to a new school or a new grade.

Finally in 1996 DeLuca pleaded guilty to indecent and sexual assaults involving 13 victims. The youngest student was 10; the oldest, 18. He got a 40-month sentence.

Educators insist there's little chance any of Ontario's 180,000 teachers now could get away with this kind of blatant, frequently reported abuse.

They're probably right. DeLuca's case, and the expensive civil suit that followed, was enough of a shock to force some change on a reluctant system.

 But sexual abuse of students by teachers albeit a tiny minoritypersists. It continues on a small scale, in all types of schools throughout Ontario. It happens to boys and girls of all ages, leaving scars that last a lifetime.

The problem is far Read More ..despread than we realize, says retired judge Sydney Robins, who, in the aftermath of the DeLuca case, conducted a public inquiry.

 "It can be safely assumed that many, perhaps most, incidents of sexual misconduct remain hidden and unreported," Robins wrote in his April, 2000 report. It "is sufficiently prevalent to warrant special attention."

Of the 76 discipline hearings held in the past three years by the Ontario College of Teachers, 51 involved sexual misconductwhich includes everything from sexual comments to intercoursewith elementary and high school students; another five involved other minors. At any given time, the college is conducting about 120 investigations, and sexual misconduct is the largest category of behaviour being probed.

 Laws and policies are in place to prevent abuse, but teachers and principals the front-line defence against sexual predators in schoolsoften don't see the signs of abuse, or ignore them.

 "In the 1970s, people didn't believe child sexual abuse happened. It was denied totally," says Peter Jaffe, a London, Ont., psychologist. Now, "we believe it happens, people acknowledge child sexual abuse as a reality, but we still don't understand who the perpetrators are and what the real impact is.

"We're 10 kilometres down a 100-kilometre road."

A Star investigation shows:

We don't know how many teachers sexually harass and abuse their students each year. Those with the ability to track the cases that are discovered either don't keep complete records or won't make them public.

But sexual misconduct against students is the top reason Ontario teachers lose their licences 42 in the past three years so it is going on. Offences include sexual comments, kissing, intercourse and using students to make child pornography.

 Abuse of elementary school children by male teachers and incidents involving female teachers get most of the media attention, but 65 per cent of all sexual misconduct cases at the college involve male teachers and teenage girls.

Teachers who abuse are often among the most popular and well-respected in the school.

Teachers often discount signs of abuse because they're conditioned by their unions to believe most allegations are false. When they see behaviour that ought to trigger concern, their first instinct is to worry that a colleague is leaving himself open to a false complaint, not to wonder if abuse is actually occurring.

The predators are skilled at selecting their victimsgoing after those they know will keep quietso most cases are never investigated.

Ontario universities are not required to educate student teachers about preventing and dealing with child sex abuse in schools.

Robins' report made 101 recommendations, most focused on better training of teachers and response to complaints. more than a year laterdespite the handwringing that accompanied the DeLuca casemany of the major ones still haven't been implemented and the issue appears to have been shoved on to a back burner.

Educators deal with each case as an aberration, and parents go on believing child sex abuse in schools is largely a problem of the past.

"When someone does something dramatic and jumps off the Bloor St. viaduct, it's a front-page story and then there's a public outpouring," says Jaffe, whose clinic did much of the research for Robins' report.

"Otherwise, we sort of rationalizeit didn't really happen, or it happened and it wasn't that bad."

When complaints of sexual abuse are made, teachers may be charged with a criminal offence, investigated by the children's aid society, or disciplined by their board or the college. The college, created in 1997, replaced the education ministry and teachers' unions as the profession's regulatory and disciplinary body.

School boards won't divulge how many teachers are investigated and disciplined for sexual misconduct; police don't keep records of charges based on occupation; there is no central registry for cases that make it to court; and the teachers' unions, which often provide lawyers to defend their members, say they don't record the cases in a trackable way.

The college is the only body that makes details of the discipline of teachers public.

It investigates formal complaints against teachers that come from students, parents, the public and other educators as well as those reported by school boards.

But it doesn't hear about many of the complaints lodged initially with schools or boards. That's because a board is required to inform the college only if one of its teachers is convicted of a sexual crime against a minor or if it is their "opinion" that the teacher's conduct should be reviewed.

College registrar Joe Atkinson says heightened awareness and public discipline of teachers will help to educate and improve the profession.

"I see it as a deterrent," Atkinson says. "What we want to say to predators is, first of all, your behaviour is unacceptable and, second, there is no place for you in Ontario education."

While other teachers may not be thrilled to see the headlines, Atkinson says they, too, aren't in favour of keeping abuse cases quiet.

"Absolute nonsense: Teachers don't want these people in their profession either."

Positive change has come out of publicity from past abuse scandals: School boards have created sexual-abuse policies, the college has raised professional standards, police investigations are Read More ..mmon and support for victims has improved.

"Steps have been taken. Read More ..eds to be done so we can better protect kids," says Education Minister Janet Ecker.

However, "you can write truckloads of policies, but if you don't change the mindset then it's just another policy on a shelf," says Liz Sandals, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.

It's unlikely that all the teachers who might abuse students could ever be kept from getting teaching posts. They're simply too hard to spot.

The crucial step is to make sure their colleagues detect and act upon signs of trouble. And that depends on increasing awareness, and changing attitudes.

But coping with abuse is not a mandatory part of teacher training. Each of Ontario's 10 faculties of education decide whether to include sexual abuse prevention in their program.

Alan Pearson, the dean of education at the University of Western Ontario in London, has analyzed each university's course material on child sexual abuse. He says all graduating teachers in Ontario are taught, at least, that they have a legal responsibility to report suspected child abuse. But some programs are better than others at educating student teachers on the signs of abuse, Pearson says.

Each year, more than 8,000 new teachers enter Ontario classrooms.

And experts fear until mandatory and consistent education is in place, the newcomers will make the same mistakes.

"In almost every case we're involved in there were warning signs," Jaffe says.

"I haven't had a case yet where other teachers didn't know something was going on," says Tom McEwen, who has represented victims in several civil suits against teachers and boards. "It never ceases to amaze how otherwise right-thinking people who know there's inappropriate sexual behaviour continually fail to report it."

Some educators simply don't know the law. A 14-year-old can legally consent to sex unless it's with an adult who is in a position of trust and authoritylike a teacher. Then, the age jumps to 18.

Others don't realize that abuse can harm even older students who appear to consent to a sexual act. The impact depends Read More .. the child's relationship with the abuser than on the intrusiveness of the acts. Being touched on the breast by a trusted teacher can do far greater damage than a Read More ..rious assault by a stranger.

Victims need encouragement to report sexual abuse. According to Statistics Canada, more than 80 per cent don't.

Principals and other teachers don't always know how to interpret what children tell them. Students may approach someone and report the least serious part of the abuse, to gauge the response. If it isn't favourable, they won't keep talking, experts say.

Toronto police Sergeant Hector Colantoni has been involved in 30 investigations into sexual misconduct by teachers, and says that in  almost all of them, the students feared they wouldn't be believed.

Paul Chambers, a Toronto high school science teacher, was found guilty in 1999 of sexual exploitation for French kissing two female students at two high schools. He told one victim that no one would believe her if she told anyone what he was doing.

Percy Norman Beirness, a principal in Durham board, pleaded guilty in court to indecent assault of three minors, including a 12-year-old boy who testified he didn't tell him to stop because "he was doing me favours and he was my principal."

When students accuse a teacher of sexual misconduct, the attitude of the person who hears the complaint makes all the difference in whether they're believed, says Vicki Kelman, a social worker with the Toronto District School Board:

If the accused teacher is gay, or viewed as shy or a loner, the victim is more likely to be believed.

Kids who are often in trouble or have difficult home lives are the least likely to be believedyet they're the most likely targets of abuse.

It makes a big difference whether the person hearing the complaint understands abuse, or mistakenly believes it always involves pedophilia or that kids usually lie.

Kelman has investigated about 50 cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers in the Toronto board over the past 10 years. Despite growing awareness, teachers still have a hard time accepting its presence in their own ranks, she says.

"Teachers are well informed about child abuse. They're fine when they don't know the perpetrator." But "when it's their colleague that they've had lunch with every day, they get upset and confused and they don't always do the right thing.

"If you're a caring, dedicated teacher, you simply can't believe that other people in the profession would do something to hurt kids."

The myth of the abuser as the strange, socially inept man still clouds perceptions.

"The reality is, the people who abuse you are the people you know and trust," says Jaffe. "It's more likely to be a teacher, a scout leader, a minister, a family member, than a stranger lurking in the bushes."

People often assume that if they ever saw someone sexually abusing a child they'd know it.

But "the people that do this are very good at disguising their behaviour and staying below the radar screen," says Robert Shoop, an education law professor at Kansas State University.

In fact, the signs of an abusive teacher can closely mimic those of a great teacher. Many are attractive, married men, with children of their own, professionals who have been lauded for their achievements in teaching and contributions to the community.

They often spend extra time at school with students, particularly troubled ones. They tend to be popular, often considered to be "cool," with a following among the students. They run the school plays, sports events, the yearbook, all the things that need to be done.

Before the abuse comes to light, many parents of victims are proud that such a well-respected teacher is taking a special interest in their child.

London teacher Fred Tyrrell received an Educator of the Year award in 1996. In 1999, he was convicted of committing a variety of sexual crimes against two 14-year-old students, decades earlier.

Grandes Rivres, Ont., teacher Henri Lamerise was so well regarded that he was given temporary custody of a boy he was sexually abusing after the boy's parents separated.

"Tell the first-year (teaching) students this is the reality," says Jaffe. "It may be one of your colleagues and it's not going to be the pervert that everyone is worried about. It's going to be somebody in the staff room, somebody who seems like a decent person."

Pedophilesthose with a strong sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally 13 and youngerare the minority among sexual offenders. Most abuse occurs for different reasons.

Some turn to their students for sex because of their own loneliness, depression or stress.

Claudio Squillaro had his licence to teach revoked after he sent love letters to a student at St. Robert Catholic High School in York Region and encouraged her to return his affection. He claimed he was under stress because his marriage was ending.

Others think a relationship with a high school student is a consensual affair.

Greg Shafley, an Elliot Lake high school teacher who coerced female students to pose for nude and sadomasochistic photos, didn't think he had done anything wrong because the girls, aged 14 to 18, agreed to work with him.

In fact, other teachers often don't see anything wrong with this behaviour either. Some even suggest the victim, generally a teenage girl, seduced the teacher.

"You certainly do still come across a lot of blame the victim," Kelman says. "Teenage girls have got to be the most maligned species on the planet."

And there are abusers, motivated by power, control or sexual gratification, who simply prey on whatever victims are at hand.

When DeLuca was asked at his parole hearing why he assaulted students aged 10 to 18, he responded: "The availability.

"When I taught Grade 5, I assaulted Grade 5. When I taught Grade 7, I assaulted Grade 7. When I taught Grade 13, I assaulted Grade 13. I chose them because I had power."

Abusive teachers have direct access to hundreds of potential victims. They have the time and the opportunity to pick the ones who will be most receptive to their advances and most easily pressured not to tell.

They target vulnerable studentsthose who lack a strong relationship with their parents and have few friends.

John Dollar, a London, Ont., elementary school vice-principal, lavished special attention on his potential victimssomething missing in their own lives.

He took them swimming and, under the guise of hygiene, washed their backs and buttocks. Some objected and he didn't push any further.

One boy who didn't object grew to trust Dollar, and was eventually sexually assaulted by him.

In court, the boy was asked about what happened after the assault.

"Did he say anything to you when he drove you home?" he was asked.

"He said, 'This can be our little secret. Don't tell anybody cause it can get in trouble,'" the boy answered.

"That he could get in trouble or you?"


"Did he say anything further about any consequences if you did tell anybody?"

"He said I wouldn't pass."

"I'm sorry, he said you wouldn't pass. What did you think he meant by that?"

"Pass Grade 7."

Jaffe asked a 10-year-old boy, in another case, why he didn't tell anyone what happened to him.

The boy told him: "By the time I could figure out what was going on, I felt like I'd already let him touch me once, I'd already let him soap me in the shower, I'd already let him sleep in the same bed when we went to Toronto. So it was too late; then I felt like I was part of it, that it was my fault that I let him do these things."

Because students who are sexually abused by teachers often wait until they are out of the school system to tell anyone, Jaffe says, it is a mistake to assume the few cases we hear about are the only ones happening.

"I think the jury is still out whether in 2020 we're going to be hearing about things in 2000 that never got reported," Jaffe says. "We might hear things in 2020 that are equally shocking as the things we heard 20 or 30 years ago."

Copyright 2001 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.

Health Canada

What's Wrong with Spanking

PDF Click here

Laws on Corporal Punishment of Children from around the World

Other countries don't allow assaults on children

Like Britain, countries such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Austria had a defence to assaults on children similar to our s. 43. These defences were removed between 1957 and 1977. The criminal law of these countries therefore gives children the same protection from assault as it gives adults. Beginning with Sweden in 1979, these countries also amended their civil child welfare laws to expressly prohibit corporal punishment so that the public fully understood it was illegal.

Resource on Effective Disciplining of children

City of Toronto

Public Health
October-December 2006

Spanking: It hurts more than you think

Spanking hurts more than you think is an early child development public education campaign that includes TV ads to remind parents that spanking is hitting and never a positive way to discipline your child.

Parenting is very rewarding, but nobody ever said it was easy. There are ups and downs, and both you and your child will make mistakes along the way. That's okay. You're not alone.

One of the major challenges you might face is discipline. When your child's behaviour pushes you to the edge, how do you handle it? Do you see spanking as a solution?

View the TV ads

Read about: The problem with spanking

Reasons not to spank

Why discipline works. Use discipline to encourage good behaviour

Use discipline when your child misbehaves


Making it work Brochure, Posters "Take 1" Information Sheet Media Links for more parenting information

website link click here

Repeal 43 logo

Committee to Repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada Which Allows Hitting Children to "Correct" Them

The Repeal 43 Committee is a national, voluntary committee of lawyers, paediatricians, social workers and educators formed in 1994 to advocate repeal of section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

It is an offence under our Criminal Code to use force against anyone without their consent. This right to personal security is the most fundamental of all human rights. It is a protection against assault that all adults take for granted.

Children do not have the full benefit of this protection because section 43 of the Criminal Code justifies hitting children for disciplinary or "correction" reasons. This violates a child's right to the equal protection and benefit of the law guaranteed by our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It violates a child's dignity and shows a lack of respect. It can lead to serious physical and emotional harm.

Over 400 organizations from across Canada that deal with children are against corporal punishment