Thursday, March 10, 2016

Child Abuse: A case illustrating the difficulties of reporting - what would you have done?

Guest post regarding actual events.

Some of the details have been changed to protect privacy.

The Situation

A male teacher is in charge of a small class of girls at an Orthodox school. The girls are aged seven and eight years old.

The girls have been told not to touch the teacher. With one exception, the girls observe this rule.

One girl has a habit of sticking her arm out when she passes by the teacher and brushing him with her hand. She does this, apparently, unconsciously. When it is brought to her attention, she apologizes.

The words of the apology indicate that the girl touched the teacher accidentally. This would seem to be the case, since it generally happens when she is not facing the teacher directly. Yet the girl's tone tells a different story. She seems to only become aware that she touched the teacher after she touches him.

That is, only when she is notified of what happened does she realize what she did and recognize that she touched the teacher.

The teacher gently rebukes the girl numerous times. He devises games for the class where they practice consciously keeping their distance from the teacher. Still, this girl repeats her behavior of touching the teacher, and sometimes at the most inopportune times, such as in the presence of her patents.

Warning: the following is a graphic description.

Even though the girl touches the teacher without looking at him, invariably her hand strokes his crotch. As stated, this can happen even when there are other people, including her parents, around; and even with a large space to play. The girl drifts over to the teacher and without warning extends her arm.

The girl's reaction is also invariable: "Sorry," without the least hint of having intended to break a rule.


(1) The girl likes the teacher. The girl enjoys being near the teacher. Her arm moving towards him is not intentional, and given the height difference, the contact point is just incidental.

(2) Same as (1), with the added understanding that pre-pubescent children can exhibit some overt sexual behavior. This can be intuitive, picked up from observing adults, or some combination.

(3) The girl is being sexually abused. Aa male in her life is engaging her in some activity that involves the girl touching him. The girl is non-verbally communicating this to the teacher when she touches him.

The Question

What should the teacher do? The context is that the only men having regular contact with the girl are her father and her teacher.

An independent investigation will almost certainly center on the father, and may ultimately boomerang on the teacher.

The teacher is under stress because of the constant vigilance required for him to be aware of the location of the girl in the class at all times. Furthermore, he finds himself lashing out at her because she often manages to touch him when his guard is down.

The teacher is reluctant to broach the subject with the parents because if there is ongoing abuse, one or both of them may be involved, or aware of the abuse. For example, the girl's mother may tolerate the father abusing her daughter, since to deal with it could lead to the breakup of the family. The mother does not have a paying job and is dependent on her husband for financial support.

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