Nearly 1,300 students victims of sexual offences by school staff over last 2 decades, Canadian study says
714 employees and former employees implicated, child protection centre says
Nearly 1,300 Canadian children have been victims of sexual offences carried out — or alleged to have been carried out — by school employees in the last two decades, according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
An examination of sexual assault cases involving staff at kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Canada found 714 employees or former employees were linked to sexual offences against schoolchildren between 1997 and 2017, says a report from the child protection centre, based in Manitoba.
Officials believe the study is the most comprehensive inventory of child sexual abuse involving school employees in Canadian history.
Researchers involved in gathering information for the report estimated that sexual offences were committed against at least 1,272 children — an "unquestionably alarming" statistic, the centre says. The data was collected through a search of disciplinary decisions, media reports and criminal case law.
Of the accused, 86 per cent of offenders were employed as teachers. Educational assistants, student teachers, special needs assistants, lunch monitors, volunteers, secretaries, custodians and school bus drivers made up the remaining perpetrators.
Seventy per cent of the perpetrators engaged in grooming practices, in which an authority figure builds trust with a child and the adults around them over time to gain one-on-one access to the child.
Along with their primary occupation in a grade school, 138 offenders received further access to exploited children through another position, such as coaching a sports team.
The victims were 75 per cent female (69 per cent high school, 17 per cent middle school and 14 per cent elementary school) and 25 per cent male (69 per cent high school, 20 per cent middle school and 11 per cent elementary school).
"School personnel have a privileged position of trust with children. When that trust is abused, that betrayal is extremely damaging to a child," said Noni Classen, director of education at the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection, in a news release.
"The statements made by some of these victims in court make it clear that these crimes have lifelong impacts. They were left feeling shame, anxiety and worthlessness, when they should have been enjoying childhood."
A province-by-province breakdown was not provided.
In Manitoba, 86 per cent of the sexual offences that researchers discovered were only known through media reporting — the highest percentage of any province or territory. Researchers also required media reports for three-quarters of the cases in Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and Alberta.
In total, the media was the only source of information for 33 per cent of cases.
"With this type of privileged access to children in schools, there is a public interest" in making this information available, Classen said in an interview.
'My mind will be forever scarred'
The study included damning comments from abuse victims.
"Keeping my mouth shut for three years was one of the most horrific and destructive experiences of my life thus far," said a Calgary student who contracted an incurable sexual infection from a teacher while being abused.
"My mind will be forever scarred," a Sherwood Park, Alta., student said in a victim impact statement about abuse by her teacher. "You took my childhood and my hope for happiness. I went from a child to an adult in a matter of moments and there is no way back."
The study recommended several preventative measures.
The child protection centre said disciplinary decisions against teachers should be made public by the organizations responsible for teacher certification. Ontario and B.C. were the only provinces in Canada to do so until Saskatchewan joined them in 2017.
Classen believes other provinces and territories should follow suit.
"I don't think it's kept hidden purposefully, but when you're looking for the information and can't find it, then it is quite hidden."
The centre also wants training and education on sexual abuse prevention to be mandatory for all school personnel, and updated reporting obligations, including policies and practices for bringing forward allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
The report was published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse this week.
Parents shouldn't treat schools as dangerous places to take their children, Classen said.
She wants more oversight outside school hours to ensure relationships do not develop "informally without any awareness."