Ministry of Education figures released on Monday show that the number of teachers found to have sexually assaulted or harassed students at public schools has increased, with 83 suspected sexual assault cases reported last year alone.
K-12 Education Administration Division of Student Affairs and Campus Security head Lin Liang-ching (林良慶) said the issue has to do with an unbalanced power dynamic between teachers and students, which is true in most sexual offenses. However, his suggestion that teachers know where to draw the line when it comes to advances from students oversimplifies the problem.
Even if a person in their early 20s is teaching a third-year high-school class, they should consider themselves the students’ guide and mentor, rather than a peer. Failure to think this way indicates that the teacher is not mature enough to be head of a classroom, whether due to insufficient training or mental unpreparedness. If a teacher is aware of the distinction between themselves and the students, but engages in a relationship with a student regardless, this could mean they are taking advantage of their authority — meaning they are a threat and should not be in the classroom.
An article published on the Psychology Today Web site on Nov. 14, 2017, said that “when someone rapes, assaults or harasses, the motivation stems from the perpetrator’s need for dominance and control.”
As Lin said: “There is no such thing as a student-teacher romance.” No relationship between a teacher and a school student is acceptable.
However, some cases are never reported. This could be for many reasons: The student is in shock and unable to act, the teacher could be threatening to fail the student if they report them, or the student might feel that nobody would believe them.
Perpetrators often “confuse and control [victims] by dangling enticements with one hand and wielding threats, implied or explicit, with the other,” the article said.
It is not unreasonable for a student to be concerned that they might not be believed.
Humanistic Education Foundation executive director Joanna Feng (馮喬蘭) said that a common response by parents when allegations of assault surface is to question whether their child did anything to create a misunderstanding.
Author Lin Yi-han (林奕含), who committed suicide two years ago and who was thought to have been sexually assaulted by a teacher, never came forward about the assault. The allegations only arose after her book on the topic was published and her subsequent suicide.
To tackle abuse of children at schools, the threat must be removed before incidents occur.
An article published by online journal Phi Delta Kappan on Sept. 24 last year suggested a tiered approach. Teachers’ colleges could be required to provide better training on “appropriate professional boundaries, as well as bystander responsibility.”
Schools could also improve screening of candidates by asking open-ended questions during interviews about student-teacher relationships and when it is appropriate to touch a child. Schools could also use training partners who have expertise in sexual abuse prevention to work with schools on guidelines, help train part-time and full-time instructors, and assist schools to establish supervisory mechanisms, the article said.
Schools could ensure that teachers are not left alone with students, and that any suspicious activity witnessed by fellow teachers — including teachers providing transport for students or spending an excessive amount of time with them — be reported.
Teachers are invaluable in contributing to a child’s development, but a safe environment is needed for good educators, as well as for students.
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