Hager: Preventing sexual abuse in NYC schools

This is a first grade classroom at Branch

This is a first grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

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I once tried to initiate a relationship with my high school science teacher. I was 15 and he was in his late 40s -- gray hair and all.

I lacked a father figure growing up, and the teacher didn't mind my questions about his personal life. Did he have a girlfriend? If so, what was she like? I lingered around his classroom after school to be alone with him.

Looking back, it's difficult to say whether I really wanted anything to come of it. I goaded him, but I certainly didn't know what I was doing as a naive teenager. He never acted on my advances. But in NYC public schools, not every teacher shows restraint.

In a report released last month, the Department of Education said it fielded nearly 600 complaints of sexual misconduct against teachers and faculty since 2009. The special commissioner of investigations, Richard Condon, said 104 of those cases were substantiated.

Among the findings:

A female teacher at Aviation Career and Technical High School in Queens had sex with a student at least four times in 2010. She was fired.

A male teacher at the High School of Graphic Communications in Manhattan allegedly texted a student a sexually explicit photo. He resigned and is banned from DOE.

While nothing happened with my teacher, I never told anyone either. As I did, some students think they can handle adult relationships. More often than not, victims blame themselves and sometimes don't realize what happened until years later.

Parents should look for changes in their children and not be so quick to equate them with hormonal imbalances. They should look for the warning signs in children who have been sexually abused. According to experts, some signs include nightmares, distraction, sudden mood swings of rage, fear or withdrawal and thoughts of themselves as repulsive or dirty. Teens may show signs of self-injury, inadequate personal hygiene or drug abuse.

Don't dismiss the signs. Instead, children and teens should be encouraged to be honest. They should be reminded that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Adults should respect their privacy, but try to help them regain a sense of control over their lives that was stolen from them.

Hannah Hager is a content director and freelance writer living in Alphabet City.

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