Sexual Abuse in School: Who’s Affected?

Were you the victim of sexual abuse or assault in a school or academic setting?

Sexual abuse is a tragic, distressing occurrence. Victims can be faced with the consequences of sexual violence for years or decades after the incident occurs. When authorities fail to seek justice for victims, these consequences can be even more devastating.

Victims of sexual violence in a school setting may be able to pursue justice by filing a civil lawsuit against their abuser, authorities, or other entities, that may have been complicit. For example, if a school failed to follow up on reports of harassment, sexual assault, or sexual abuse, victims may be able to take legal action for negligence.

Such abuse may take place in the following settings:

  • Public school
  • Private school
  • College campuses
  • Preschool
  • Daycare
  • Others

Although no amount of compensation or any legal verdict is able to undo the harm of sexual violence, a sexual assault lawsuit may help victims move forward or illicit action from negligent parties.

If you or someone you love was the victim of sexual abuse in a school or academic setting, you may be able to participate in a school sexual abuse lawsuit investigation.

Fill out the form on this page for more information.

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual violence is defined as any form of rape, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and other types of sexual abuse. This sexual abuse can lead to significant psychological, emotional, and physical consequences which can stay with a survivor for years and even decades.

An important part of understanding sexual abuse is understanding consent. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), consent is an agreement between participants in a sexual activity. The legal definition of consent may vary from state to state. However, if consent is not established, any sexual activity can be considered non-consensual.

Private School vs Public Sexual Abuse


Sexual abuse also occurs in schools, whether they are private or public. In public schools, sexual abuse could be perpetrated by teachers, staff, other students, on-site medical staff, coaches, and others. Sexual abuse in private schools includes these perpetrators as well as any institution-specific people such as religious leaders.

Regardless of the environment, sexual abuse in elementary, middle school, and high school settings can cause significant harm. Often times, the minors harmed by this abuse may feel the consequences for years to come.

“Not only do the survivors’ emotional and psychological scars endure long after the attack, their social lives, education, and career dreams are shattered,” Esther Warkov, founder of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS), told NEA Today.

“For some, the trauma is insurmountable; gender-based harassment and sexual assault have driven an increasing number of adolescent students to suicide.”

Sexual Abuse in Public Schools

When children are abused in public schools, more entities may be responsible for the abuse when compared to a private school. For example, the perpetrator, other staff members, the school district, the city, and even the state could be held accountable for abuse in public schools if they were negligent.

Daycare Center Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse can take place in a variety of settings: family, school, religious, and even daycare. When parents bring their children to a daycare center, they assume that they will be provided with the best care possible. Unfortunately, this may not always be true.

Children may suffer various forms of abuse at daycare centers, including sexual abuse. This abuse can be perpetrated by caretakers, instructors, older playmates, or others.

Last year, a Pennsylvania man was hit with criminal charges alleging that he sexually abused multiple children through in-home daycare services he offered with his wife. Allegedly, one of the victims was only three years old when the child was sexually assaulted.

Sexual Abuse in School Cases


In a 2019 Sacramento sexual abuse case, the City of Sacramento agreed to pay $12.5 million to resolve allegations that an after-school program supervisor sexually abused several young female students between the ages of seven and ten, according to ABC10 in Sacramento.

In addition to payments from the city and the school district, the perpetrator was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to 150 years of life in prison.

In San Diego, a high school assistant band teacher pleaded guilty to criminal charges of sexual assault against underage students. The drum instructor started working in April 2016 and soon after started to groom victims by calling them “the one” and “star-crossed lovers.”

In some instances, the perpetrator of sexual abuse is not a teacher but is instead another student. According to the Associated Press’ analysis of federal data on sexual crimes, around 17,000 instances of sexual assault by students were recorded over a four-year period.

Unfortunately, this figure may not fully capture the problem since so many sexual assaults are under reported out of fear, shame, or coercion.

Differing Forms of Sexual Abuse

sexual abuse in school sign

“Sexual violence” or sexual abuse is an umbrella term which can refer to a variety of non-consensual sexual situations, according to RAINN, which includes the following:

  • Sexual assault: Unwanted sexual contact or behavior including rape, unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, and more.
  • Sexual harassment: Harassment, usually verbal or physical, of a sexual nature. This can include general, negative comments about a group (women, men, etc.) in general.
  • Child sexual abuse: Any sexual activity with a minor—children are never able to consent to any form of sexual activity.
  • Intimate partner sexual violence: Sexual assault, harassment, or abuse against a victim by their partner such as a spouse.
  • Incest: Unwanted sexual contact from a family member.
  • Drug-facilitated sexual assault: Sexual violence against a victim who has been drugged using alcohol, prescription drugs, street drugs, and other substances.
  • Stalking: A pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or contact. Stalking can be sexual in nature.
  • Multi-perpetrator sexual assault: Sexual assault or abuse where multiple perpetrators harm the same victim.
  • Elder abuse: Sexual abuse against older adults in nursing homes, medical settings, or other situations where an elder person is taken advantage of.
  • Prisoner rape: Sexual assault or abuse against people who are in prison. This includes abuse from prison guards or other inmates.
  • Military sexual trauma: Sexual abuse or assault experienced while a person is serving in the military.

These are only some of the many forms of sexual abuse which people may experience. If you’ve experienced non-consensual sexual violence, your experience is valid even if your situation is not reflected in the list above.

Child Victims Act of California

Unfortunately, many states have very short statutes of limitations which only allow criminal sexual assault charges to be brought for a finite length of time after misconduct occurs. Sexual abuse survivors—particularly those who were abused as children—may not even realize they were a victim until years after the statute of limitations expires.

In California, lawmakers have worked to expand these limits for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Governor Gavin Newson signed the Child Victims Act in October 2019 to extend the age that childhood sexual abuse survivors could file civil lawsuits. Before the act was passed, survivors had until the age of 26 to take action. With the Child Victims Act California extension, child sex abuse survivors have until age 40 to file a civil lawsuit.

“We know it takes survivors decades to come forward,” a sexual abuse survivor, who testified for the bill, said in a statement. “And by the time that they’re able to come forward and healed enough, their statute of limitation is expired.”

Although the California Child Victims Act was prompted by allegations of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, this new extension will benefit all victims of child sexual abuse, including those abused in a school setting.

In fact, the law allowed for the dismissal of a sexual abuse case against a California school to be reversed in January 2020. The revived lawsuit accused a California elementary school art teacher of sexually abusing a first grader.

Department of Education’s Responsibility

The Department of Education (DOE) is responsible for investigating sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of students. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, this sexual abuse is prohibited by employees, peers, or third-parties.

Unfortunately, the DOE may not always do their due diligence in these cases. According to the New York Post, the DOE failed to investigate several reports of rape at a New York school.

According to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of four girls between the ages of 11 and 18, several instances of rape were dismissed by the school instead of being reported to the Department of Education and investigated.

“Our schools must be safe and inclusive environments, and there is absolutely zero tolerance for any sexual misconduct,” Department of Education spokesman Doug Cohen said in response to the lawsuit. “Any allegation must be reported, investigated and addressed, and this work is a shared responsibility of all DOE staff.”

How to Report Sexual Abuse in School


Sexual abuse in school or on college campuses is prohibited by Title IX. School administrators have the responsibility to take sexual assault allegations seriously, investigate reports, and, if necessary, act against assault perpetrators.

If you or someone one you know is the victim of sexual abuse in a school setting, you have a couple of options for reporting the abuse:

  • Report the abuse to school or campus administrators. If you report the abuse to school administrators, they are required under Title IX to take measures to protect you from further abuse “even before it completes any investigation.”
  • Report the abuse to local law enforcement. If you report the abuse to law enforcement, the school is still required to take protective measures under Title IX by responding “promptly and effectively.”

Should administrators fail to follow regulations and protect sexual abuse victims, these victims may be able to take legal action against them.

For example, a Berkeley, California high school student filed a lawsuit against her former school in February 2020. The student alleges that the campus failed to properly handle her attempted rape despite six to ten other girls being assaulted by the same person.

Despite her school counselor being a mandatory reporter, the student’s assault was not reported to Child Protective Services. Additionally, the administrator allegedly failed to protect students from future assaults despite being aware of the problem.

What to Do When School Administrators Fail in Their Responsibilities

Several organizations, including Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS), aim to hold administrators accountable under federal anti-discriminatory laws.

According to the SSAIS, schools which fail to protect students under Title IX and other regulations can suffer “painful regulatory and financial consequences,” “bad press,” and “a loss of public support.”

‘Victim Blaming’ of Sexual Abuse Survivors

Unfortunately, administration failures may be associated with a phenomenon known as “victim blaming.”

Victim blaming occurs in a variety of situations but usually involves blaming the victim of the abuse entirely or in part for the harm that they experienced.

In cases of sexual assault, this may portray victims as “asking for it” based on previous promiscuity, clothing choices, or other similar allegations. These factors may be used in an attempt to invalidate a victim’s trauma or excuse the perpetrator’s behavior.

The culture of victim blaming can make it hard for sexual abuse survivors to come forward against their abusers due to fears of being misunderstood, dismissed, or blamed for their tragic experiences. Even if abusers are successfully held accountable, many victims find themselves faced with the stigma of being a sexual abuse survivor.

Sexual abuse survivors who believe they were failed by school administrators may be able to take legal action against school administrators, authorities, and other entities. These groups may have failed to sufficiently investigate reports of sexual abuse, encouraged an environment of sexual violence, or otherwise contributed to sexual misconduct.

If you or someone you love was the victim of sexual abuse in a school setting, legal help is available. 

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