Sexual offenses creep into elementary, middle schools
Experts say 'stranger danger' no longer an adequate warning
HOUSTON – Talking with your kids about sexual assault and unwanted touching is not easy, but it is imperative, as child psychiatrists and parents say "stranger danger" is no longer enough of a warning.
“How could that happen?" a father said. "How could students end up in the bathroom together?"
This father, who KPRC is not identifying so as not to indirectly identify his 4-year-old daughter, is talking about a situation every parent fears.
The father said he immediately knew there was a problem when he picked up his daughter from pre-kindergarten at at De Zavala Elementary School and noticed her pants were on inside-out and backward.
"Was it difficult to get her to tell you what happened?" Channel 2 investigator Robert Arnold asked.
"I had to ask her several questions before I got to the point that something had happened," he said.
The father said a 4-year old boy followed his daughter into the school's bathroom and touched her inappropriately.
"I just never thought she would be that unsafe at school," he said.
Officials with the Goose Creek Independent School District told KPRC the children's teacher didn't properly supervise her students and she has since resigned. However, what happened to this father's daughter is not isolated.
Channel 2 Investigates looked at campus-level incident reports for every school in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Wharton, Galveston, Waller and Chambers counties. According to the data provided by the Texas Education Agency, an average of 131 campuses reported some type of sexual incident each year for the past three school years. These incidents include everything from sexual assault, to public lewdness, to indecency with a child. An average of 35 percent of these incidents were reported at middle and elementary schools.
"Have the talk with your children (who are) 3 years old, 4 years old," the father said. "Looking back on it now, I wish to God I would have had that talk sooner."
The man said he didn't realize he would have to talk with his daughter about appropriate touching at such a young age, and even then, he thought it would revolve around strangers, not another child.
"I thought that talk would come at a later time," he said.
Talking with your children about appropriate touching can start at a very early age, said Dr. Jonathan Stevens, a psychiatrist and medical director for outpatient services at the Menninger Clinic.
"Those are conversations that we should not be uncomfortable talking with our children about," Stevens said. "Start with safe hands and private areas."
Stevens said there is no such thing as too young to at least begin talking with your children about who is allowed to touch them.
"(Don't make) up a euphemism for genitals, something like that, you want to use direct language with them," Stevens said.
Stevens also said the talk with your children needs to be a "rolling conversation" that evolves as they get older and are exposed to more things, especially online.
"You want to talk about what you would see -- kissing, hugging (and) things they've never heard before," Stevens said. "Make sure to tell your children if they see something they don’t understand, they need to come and ask you about it."
Stevens said a good starting point is a communication toolkit provided online by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
KPRC also spoke with parents at the Motherhood Center, off West Alabama.
"Did you find yourself having to have 'the talk' younger than expected?" Arnold asked.
"Yes, much younger," said Angela Shah, a mother of two young children.
Shah said she was surprised to learn the prevalence of children inappropriately touching other children when she went through training at her children’s school to become a volunteer.
"We had to start thinking about (it) as soon as we went into preschool," Shah said.
As the father we spoke with warned, not talking with your children leaves them vulnerable to the problem of not knowing when someone touches them inappropriately.
"(My daughter) didn't have an understanding (that) what occurred was wrong," he said. "You may not be able to get it all across to them and they may not understand, but have the talk."
The father also urged parents to take note of a school’s grievance process. He said when he felt school officials were not being as forthcoming as he wanted about his daughter’s incident, he filed a grievance. This is a process where parents can formally ask for more information on an incident, what school policies and procedures weren’t followed and what changes have been made. During the process, parents can even formally ask the district to take certain actions in light of an incident.
The father is currently in the midst of the grievance process, but immediately had his daughter moved to another school.
Below are three databases of all the incidents reported at every campus in Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Wharton, Galveston, Waller and Chambers counties. The databases are broken down by the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.
Parents can search by school name and filter by different type of offenses.
Note: Federal privacy law states if there are fewer than five incidents/students in a particular category, then the states must mask the actual number. The feds believe putting the actual number would make it too easy to identify the students involved. Texas uses -99 to mask this number. When you see -99, that means anywhere from one to four incidents/students were involved in a particular offense. If the number is five or higher, then the actual number is listed.
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