[Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse]
In this week’s Vegas Seven I wrote about Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the good work happening at the Rape Crisis Center. One program in particular, the Enough Abuse Campaign, resonates with me personally as a survivor of sexual abuse. The program is designed to teach adults how to spot predators and to stop abuse before it starts. Nevada is only the sixth state to sign on to the campaign, which has already proven to be incredibly effective in other states.
The Enough Abuse Campaign couldn’t come at a better time as we face what seems like an endless line-up of sexual predators in our schools. This isn’t just hyperbole. As the Las Vegas Sun reported last year, there have been more than 30 Clark County School District employees arrested for sexual misconduct during the past 10 years. To put that in perspective, between the years of 1994 and 2005, there were 50 arrests.
Nationally, an average of 15 teachers are arrested for sexual abuse every week. Clearly, this is a problem in every community as the national data shows that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused (total, not just schools). That’s higher than your chance of getting breast cancer (1 in 8) and significantly higher than getting type 1 diabetes (1 in 100). In fact, 15 percent of rape victims are under the age of 12, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Unfortunately, as in the case of rape for all other age groups, sexual abuse often goes unreported. And when it is, victim’s stories are often not believed and dismissed as not credible.
This makes what is happening in our schools that much more alarming. The public is paying the salaries of these predators! Already in 2016 there has been an arrest every single month in Clark County in which a teacher is charged with committing one or more acts of sexual violence.
Just look at this partial list of arrests from 2015 and 2016:
- *NEW* Jonathan Scheaffer, Desert Pines High: charged with 11 counts of sexual assault of a minor and kidnapping, June 2016.
- Nicole Wilfinget, Molasky Junior High: charged with seduction, lewdness, and sex acts with a minor in May 2016.
- Frank Bayer, Legacy High School teacher: Charged with kidnapping and sex with a minor in March.
- Robyn-Lea Gentile, Harney Middle School teacher: Arrested on two counts of felony sex act with a student and was found to have sent 800 text messages with the student in December.
- William F. Crawford, Somerset Academy band teacher: Arrested in February for “lewdness with a minor.” Crawford previously taught at Eldorado High School for the 2013/2014 school year.
- Jillian Lafave, Valley High School teacher: Arrested in January for having sex with a minor and was found to have exchanged more than 13,000 texts with the student in a three-month period. (She was also found to not have her teaching credentials with the state of Nevada.)
- Kelly Hoffman, substitute teacher: Arrested in April 2015 for sexually assaulting a minor. He worked at seven CCSD schools.
- Jason Lofthouse, Rancho High School teacher: Found guilty in March 2016 of kidnapping and sexual misconduct with a student (of which he was arrested for in 2015).
- Charles Young, Marvin M. Sedway Middle School teacher’s aide: Arrested for luring a boy to his apartment for sex and exchanging nude photos.
- Ramiro Garcia, CCSD school bus driver: Arrested for sexual assault of a child. Because Garcia drove bus routes for the district from 2011-2015, authorities are concerned Garcia could have victimized other children as well.
When it comes to our schools, no one wants to think that there are sexual predators in the mix, but the reality is that a wolf or two get in the mix from time to time. A system as large as a school system is going to have holes in their defenses, but the nation’s fifth largest school district is failing to protect kids at an alarming rate.
As Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Daniele Dreitzer told me this week, part of the problem is that even when abuse is reported, administrator’s hands are often tied by laws that limit what they can do and a criminal justice system that will only respond after a crime has been committed. One example is Garcia, the CCSD bus driver who was arrested for sexually assaulting a child last year. Since Garcia drove for the district for four years, it is possible there are other victims out there.
Dreitzer could (understandably) barely contain her outrage:
“That bus driver had other complaints against him, but nobody could legally do anything,” Dreitzer says. “I have parents who say to me, ‘Do I have to let my child get raped before I can do something?’ How many children have to be harmed for something to happen, for it to change?”
In 2013, there were 540 cases of sexual abuse in this state, according a 2014 report by the Nevada Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. Statistics for that same year show that 11 children died stemming from maltreatment related to sexual abuse.
With so many headlines in recent months, CCSD has had no choice but to finally act. On Tuesday, the school district announced plans to implement new rules for communication between students and teachers.
It’s a start, but rules about how and when to use social media, texting, and other platforms is just slapping a bandaid on a gaping wound. The school district must do more to ensure students are protected by strengthening background check investigations, requiring proper licensing to work in the classroom, and creating more fail-safes for students and parents to report problems.
Another part of the problem is that the Legislature needs to increase school funding to properly staff up schools and to ratify school budgets much earlier in the year so that CCSD isn’t left scrambling late in the hiring season and being left with the dregs that no other district wants.
Honestly, do we really want to be a community known for a high rate of sexual abuse in our schools? Do we really want to leave parents with no way to protect their kids? This is not just an issue of reforming the school district policies or even the criminal justice system, although both of those are needed.
This is a moral imperative. We must do more to protect our kids.
To learn more about the Enough Abuse Campaign or any of the other Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities planned for April, go to http://rcclv.org. The Rape Crisis Center also offers a 24-hour hotline at 702-366-1640.
*Updated: May 2, 2016