Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Issues in the Sexual Molestation of Deaf Youth

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Issues in the Sexual Molestation of Deaf Youth

Article excerpt

An overview is provided of issues involved in sexual abuse in schools (as well as the general problem of child molestation in society), some characteristics of pedophiles and hebephiles, and data on how sexual molesters are dealt with by the criminal justice system. Specific information is provided on how sexual abuse becomes an issue in schools for children who are deaf, what can be done to prevent it, and symptoms to look for in identifying deaf children who are being victimized.

Over the last decade, there has been a steadily lengthening series of revelations of the widespread nature of child sexual molestation by pedophiles both in the United States and Canada (Boyle, 1994; Tomes, 1996). Molestation is occurring in the most respected institutions working with children in the United States (Boyle, 1994). For example, the Roman Catholic Church is reported to have paid up to $1 billion in settlements to victims of pedophilic priests. In the Archdiocese of Boston alone, bishops have been forced to resign and the names of 80 suspected priests whose offenses go back as far as 40 years have been turned over to local prosecutors ("Lax Church Policies," 2002; Zoll, 2002). Since 1995, more than 130 people have claimed that one former priest, John Geogan, fondled or raped them over 3 decades (Zoll, 2002). The problem also exists within the clergy of the Protestant and Jewish faiths (Boyle, 1994). The Boy Scouts have had to pay out huge settlements to boys victimized by pedophiles who were scout leaders (Boyle, 1994). In Canada, potential scoutmasters now face mandatory police checks whose purpose is to weed out pedophiles ("Scouts Plan Police Check," 1996). Schools, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers, YMCAs, Little League baseball, high school sports programs, and many other kinds of organizations serving children increasingly are facing lawsuits growing out of new revelations about problems with child molesters (Boyle, 1994).

Schools for children who are deaf are no exception. In an expose series that has focused national attention on the issue as it relates to these children, newspaper journalist Ruth Teichroeb (2002) reported on recent sexual abuse cases in eight schools for the Deaf.

The aspect of sexual abuse we focus on in the present article is that committed by pedophiles or hebephiles. Pedophiles are adults who molest pre-pubertal children (Figure 1). Hebephiles are those who molest children ages 13 to 16 years (Greenberg, Bradford, & Curry, 1993). We will look at some characteristics of these individuals, how they operate, and how schools can cope with the problems they present.

Historically, all of the service organizations we have mentioned handled the problem of child sexual abuse, once it was discovered, in basically similar ways (Boyle, 1994; Teichroeb, 2002). First, every effort was made to keep the problem as secret as possible, especially from the media, but also from coworkers, parents, teachers, and boards of directors or other superiors. This was done in part to protect the school or organization, because this kind of publicity can be devastating. It has contributed to the closing of several schools serving deaf youth, for example, the Nebraska School for the Deaf and the Central North Carolina School for the Deaf.

With the advent of laws that make the reporting of sexual abuse mandatory, the practice of secrecy has been significantly reduced. However, it has not been stopped altogether, even though failure to report sexual abuse is a crime. In addition, attempts at secrecy leave the perpetuator and the school open to costly civil suits.

The second way sexual abuse was handled historically was either to reprimand the offender, talk the offender into leaving, or terminate the offender's employment. At some schools, offenders were even promoted, or transferred to positions providing less direct contact with students (Teichroeb, 2002). However, this was done without making clear to the public and the police that the offender was a pedophile. …

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