Sexually harassing a child is not a crime
Opinion by Andrew Harris
Sometimes you have to use the power of repetition to make a point. I hope that headline caused you to read this opinion of mine immediately. This is an hyper-urgent issue and recent local school investigations tell us the matter is standing right in front of our faces. Sexual harassment and abuse is all around us, in schools, homes, and workplaces.
In the adult world, if another person sends you threatening text message, email, phone call, or personal visit; you can have them arrested for misdemeanor harassment. You can use that arrest as a basis for requesting a protection order, for filing for divorce, and that arrest can be used to request damages in a civil lawsuit.
In the world of a K-12 student, if a teacher repeatedly makes inappropriate comments to you and causes serious emotional distress, the matter is not criminal in nature. No arrest, sexually harassing a child is not a crime.
The MeToo# movement has totally changed the way the modern workplace works. Thirty years ago, did you hear about anyone being fired for sexual harassment in the workplace? Now it ends the careers of a powerful executive or a staff accountant every single day. As a society we have made sexual harassment at work more taboo and unacceptable as ever.
We’ve created norms and laws to impose legal consequences and punitive measures like job loss or even incarceration on adults who harass other adults. Yet this shift doesn’t seem to have included the youth and future of our communities?
A student in an educational institution, private or public, can be sexually harassed by an employee of that institution and the entire matter remains out of the district attorney’s power. Sexually harassing a child is not a crime.
Schools and other institutions can receive complaints, analyze the information, perform a risk analysis, and decide what is the best course of action. The information they are given, they obtain, or that comes from the internal investigation are kept in top secret personnel files. When those complaints reach the local police department, that file is not accessible unless they are demanded by a court order. Without any criminal charges to be filed, good luck getting a court order to inspect a public schools personnel files.
Can you see the difference? If an employee of a business files a complaint, an organization reacts swiftly in order to minimize liability. A business wouldn’t be caught trying to “keep it quiet,” because that is now additional liability in the post MeToo# world. If a student files a complaint about a school employee, a quiet internal investigation takes place and even if that investigation finds that sexual harassment took place, sexually harassing a child is not a crime. That school isn’t obliged to fire the employee who was acting poorly, after all they didn’t break the law.
In the case of the school system under the direction of the Dioceses of Buffalo, the common practice was to simply move the accused teacher or priest to a different school. Based on my research and investigation of the investigation, this practice has occurred repeatedly in Allegany County public schools. Worse, in some instances a student who has been sexually harassed by a teacher was moved to an isolated remote learning environment after complaining. Certainly a different standard then today’s business world which is one strike and you are out.
Senator Borrello and Assemblyman Gigilio: This is your opportunity to change the reality of sexual harassment of children. Shouldn’t it be illegal for an adult to say to a child, “insert any sexualized comment?” Shouldn’t the bar be set in New York State to firmly establish that adults may not sexually harass a child in any way?
If the act of harassing, sexually or otherwise, a child was clearly illegal in 1980, would the alleged behavior currently being litigated with Wellsville Central Schools, ever happened? If the current plaintiff in the lawsuit was living in a different world, one like todays corporate world where zero tolerance reigns supreme, would she have been subject to years of horrors she has complained about?
The end of the argument is about mitigating childhood abuse, limiting it to rare events. In order to do that we have to make the sexual harassment of a child a serious crime. Whether the harassment takes place in the school, or the home, or the sports team: It should be a criminal act to sexualize a child via sexual harassment of any kind.
If a student reports being sexually harassed, the matter should be considered criminal. We have the tools and methods to investigate sexual harassment amongst high powered executives. Those tools and methods should be used to investigate those who sexually harass a child.
No one should be allowed to sexually harass a child without serious criminal consequences.
Senator Borrello and Assemblyman Giglio, please consider sponsoring a law that bans the sexual harassment of children in any way, shape, or form. New York State just announced all new protections against harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It is time for New York State and our elected leaders to make a dramatic change: Sexually harassing a child should be a criminal act.