I just found out that my teenage daughter had sexual contact with her coach at a private school in Pennsylvania. What should I do?

There are widespread reports of sexual misconduct by school employees across Pennsylvania. Teachers, coaches and assistants often engage in inappropriate behavior with students, young and old. In some cases, sexual assault can occur. What should parents do if they discover that their child has had such contact with a school employee?

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These types of “relationships” are increasingly common across the U.S., including Pennsylvania. In 2014, there were over 450 cases involving sexual misconduct by a school employee in the U.S. This averages out to about 9 per state. However, of the 450 cases in 2014, 20 were in Pennsylvania.

Despite the fact that Pennsylvania has seen some of the largest child molestation scandals, i.e., Jerry Sandusky Penn State scandal or the Philadelphia Catholic Church scandal, educators in PA are not getting the message. Over the last 5 years, there have been dozens of sex abuse lawsuits filed against teachers and schools cross Pennsylvania.

Parents who discover that their child has had sexual contact with a school employee should consider the following steps.

File a Report with Local Law Enforcement

The first step is to file a report with the local police. Every police department has special victims units which investigate sex crimes, including child molestation and sex assault. In addition, recent changes to sex abuse laws now make it a third degree felony for a school employee to engage in certain acts of sexual misconduct with a student. See 18 Pa. C.S. § 3124.2 Institutional sexual assault, which was passed in 2011.  Since then, multiple teachers throughout Pennsylvania have been convicted of the crime of Institutional Sexual Assault.

Some parents are naturally concerned about a criminal investigation and how it may impact their child. Some parents are concerned about privacy, the child’s reputation, etc. In a criminal case, victims who are underage often don’t testify at trial. Prosecutors often negotiate terms of a plea deal with defendants to avoid this. In addition, Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law prevents a criminal defendant from admitting any evidence of a victim’s past sexual behavior or reputation concerning sexual behavior.

The reality is that in a criminal case, the student gets the opportunity to take an active role in getting justice. Oftentimes, prosecutors defer to the wishes of the family and victim when it comes to seeking trial, offering a plea deal, etc. Going through the criminal process tends to provide a sense of justice.

In addition, there is another benefit, and that is stopping the abuser or at least, sending a message. Perpetrators of sexual abuse or assault don’t just develop overnight. It takes months or years. A teacher or educator who engages in sexual contact with a student must be stopped before the conduct escalates. What begins as hugging or kissing can turn into rape, and oftentimes there are multiple victims over the course of years. When an educator who engages in sexual misconduct with a student is finally caught, you can bet that there were other victims.  Engaging the criminal process can prevent future abuse.

Visit our school sex abuse victims law library for more info.

File a Report with the School

Under Pennsylvania law, schools are mandatory reporters. This means schools are required to report sexual molestation by a school employee. Reporting sexual misconduct to the school creates an important paper trail.

Legal Rights – Criminal and Civil Cases

Parents of children who have been sexually abused or assaulted by a school employee usually aren’t thinking about their child’s criminal AND civil legal rights. Usually, the focus is on the criminal case. What most people don’t know is that Pennsylvania law allows the victim of sex abuse to seek retribution through the civil courts. This means filing a civil lawsuit to seek compensation for the damages caused by the abuse.

Why School Sex Abuse Cases are Increasing, A Little Perspective From Our Sex Abuse Victims Lawyers

Our lawyers routinely get frantic calls from parents who have discovered that a teacher or coach has been engaging in sexual misconduct with their child or teenager. A parent may find texts or pictures on their child’s phone. In some cases, a parent learns about the misconduct after meeting with a school counselor or the principal.

These are scenarios no parent ever wants to encounter, but they are all too common. One reason is technology. Cell phones and emails make it easier for a predator to communicate with a child without the parent’s knowledge. Before the age of cell phones, predators had to go to great lengths to have any kind of contact with a child. Calling the home phone was just too risky, especially since a parent or sibling could answer the phone. Cell phones and emails have eliminated that risk. At any given time, a sexual predator can have immediate access to a child. This is even more true for older kids, like teenagers.

About Our Sex Abuse Victims Lawyers

Our law firm has handled dozens of sex assault and abuse lawsuits across the country, including the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area. Firm partner Brian Kent is a former sex crimes unit prosecutor who helps his clients through the criminal process while working to preserve any civil legal rights. Call our firm for a free consultation. (866) 641-0806

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.