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Is teacher a risk because of behaviors as a child?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

When I was six, the eleven year old daughter of my mom's friend made advances toward me. We kissed a lot, but I decided later that I did not think it was appropriate. The next time we saw each other, she asked me if I wanted to make out again and accepted my answer of "No."

I hadn't thought about it in years. But now she has become a day care teacher for young children, and I don't know if I should try to tell someone. I don't know if what happened to me would be considered abuse or if it is something that she is likely to try with the children in her care. I don't know what to do and I need some advice.

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Adult,

Children’s sexual behaviors can be confusing, and when talking about much younger children, using the term “sexual abuse” doesn’t always feel correct. We call them “sexually harmful behaviors” – because even if a child doesn’t realize the impact of their behavior, it can still be harmful to the other child involved.

Children’s Sexual Behaviors
Children’s sexual behaviors occur for very different reasons than adults, like curiosity, poor boundaries, or acting out their own abuse. Because of this, the treatment these children receive is different than the treatment adults receive for abusing a child. Children who had sexual behavior problems do not necessarily grow into adults who abuse children, but it’s important that they receive the help they need to address their behaviors and learn healthier, safer ones. It may help you to read our guidebook, Do Children Sexually Abuse Other Children?    

If this had occurred with someone nearer to her own age, this woman’s actions would perhaps be considered Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior. But you’re right – the age gap did make her actions inappropriate.

Sexual Behavior Problem?
It’s good that you were able to speak up when you felt uncomfortable, and that she was able to respect your “no” when you asked to stop. It’s possible that this woman was confused about boundaries or experimenting with sexual curiosity, and that she may not be at risk to the children now in her care. But if this happened over a long period of time, involved any force or coercion (like telling you not to tell for any reason), or was part of a larger pattern of behavior (like if she did this with other younger children as well), it would be very concerning.

Though it may be difficult, it may help to think back on whether she may have shown these Signs That A Child May Be At Risk To Harm Another Child. It may also help to talk with friends or family and ask if they remember noticing any of these behaviors. If this is the case, I would want to know whether she ever received the treatment she needed as a child to address this behavior.

Warning Signs
Since behaviors can change so much with age and support, the best indicator of whether this woman may still be at-risk is to look for Behaviors To Watch For When Adults Are With Children or Signs That An Adult May Be At Risk To Harm A Child in her behavior as an adult. If you do notice any of these warning signs, you’re right that it’s important to speak up.

Speaking Up
This can include talking with her directly about your concerns. It can help to have an ally – someone who can hear or may already share your concerns - who can support you by helping you practice what you might say or by joining you in the conversation. You can tell this woman what you remembered from when you were children, as well as other warning signs you may have noticed in her behavior as an adult. You can express your worry about what this may mean for her students and encourage her to take next steps for everyone’s safety, like finding another position and getting treatment. Our guidebook, Let’s Talk, can help you through this conversation.

Speaking up can also include filing a report. You can let your local Child Protective Services (CPS) know about the warning signs you’ve seen in her behavior, as well as what happened to you when you were younger. You can file a report by calling your state or local CPS hotline.

Finding Support
Please know that whether or not this woman may be at risk as an adult does not invalidate any feelings you may have about what happened when you were young. Not being at risk now doesn’t make what she did as a child any less harmful then. If thinking about what happened causes you any distress, I hope that you can reach out for support.

You mention that this is the first time you’ve thought about this in years, but it sounds like it may still be causing stress. Whether it’s because you feel harmed, worried about these children, or overwhelmed as to next steps – or even all three – it’s important to find help for yourself as well. You may want to consider Finding Treatment to help with this decision as well as how this memory may be affecting you. A professional counselor can help you talk through your options and your feelings both on the situation now and what happened when you were younger.

It’s great that you’re looking for the safety of the children in this woman’s class and are willing to take action on their behalf. Even if you feel that there’s no risk to report, I hope that you’ll also seek support for your own well-being.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: March 20th, 2017