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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Statement

For immediate release: Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SNAP praises new MO child sex law

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

We hope Gov. Nixon signs this legislation. If it helps prevent even one child sex crime, it's worthwhile.

Few threats or penalties will deter child sex crimes. For the most part, child molesters are sick, compulsive and driven. But threats or penalties WILL deter those who ignore, conceal or enable child sex crimes. That's what this law will do - force those who might be tempted to turn a blind eye to reports, admissions or suspicions of child sex crimes to speak up instead of stay quiet.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact - David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, peterisely@yahoo.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)

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Missouri bill calls for districts to share information about teachers accused of sex abuse

BY ELISA CROUCH • ecrouch@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8119 STLtoday.com | Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 12:47 am

A bill headed to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk seeks to address what many say happens all too often within some public schools: Teachers and coaches accused of sexual misconduct are being passed from district to district without information on their history being shared.

It's unclear how prevalent that practice is. Even some supporters of the Missouri measure say that while they welcome the legislation, they don't see the practice as widespread.

Still, advocates of the legislation describe a culture in which some districts keep quiet about alleged sexual misconduct in exchange for a quick resignation. In some cases, critics say, district officials even provide a positive recommendation to help the employee get a job elsewhere.

"The practice has become so common," said Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, sponsor of the bill, who has filed a version of the legislation since 2008.

Several states in the past few years have toughened laws on the reporting of allegations of sexual misconduct involving school employees and students. That action followed a 2007 Associated Press series that concluded that the majority of sex abuse by teachers is not reported or shared with other districts, and that educators often obtain other teaching jobs after an incident.

In Missouri, the bill passed with unanimous support in the House and Senate.

The legislation requires school officials to report any allegations of sexual misconduct involving staff and students to the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services within 24 hours. The division, and not the school district, is to investigate the claim.

If the allegations are substantiated, the legislation requires school systems to suspend the employee. The school district then must share the information about the misconduct with other districts who call for a reference for that individual. Otherwise, the school district where the incident occurred would be held liable if that employee were to repeat the behavior in other schools.

The measure gives school districts legal protection if they ever have to share such information with other employers — a provision that alleviated concerns some groups had about the legislation in previous years.

Cunningham first introduced the measure in 2008 after an investigation by The Associated Press found that 87 licensed teachers in Missouri lost their credentials from 2001 through 2005 because of sexual misconduct. However, those teachers went on to teach in other school districts.

Since then, she has pointed to cases like that of Amy Hestir Surdin, 44, who has gone to Jefferson City numerous times over the years to testify in support of the legislation. While attending middle school in Moberly, Mo., she said, she entered into a sexual relationship with her art teacher, a popular coach in the district.

"It took me so long to understand how sick it was," Surdin said. She knew the teacher to be involved with one other student, she said. The man went on to work in other school districts and now is retired, Surdin said. Seeing the legislation pass was "healing," she added.

"It doesn't fix what happened to me, but if it changes what might happen to one of my son's classmates or someone down the road, it will make the best of a bad situation."

In 2004, Charol Shakeshaft, a leading expert in teacher sex abuse and head of the educational leadership department at Virginia Commonwealth University, prepared a study for the U.S. Department of Education that found 9.6 percent of students in public school are the victims of abuse.

"Very often what happens is the student reports something. The district isn't sure they can prove it so they tell the teacher to move on," she said. "It's a fairly common way school districts have dealt with teachers and others who work in the schools who abuse kids."

Among the groups supporting the measure is the Missouri National Education Association, a teachers union with more than 35,000 members. But Otto Fajen, legislative director for the organization, said the magnitude of the problem is less severe than Cunningham claims.

Brent Ghan of the Missouri School Boards' Association, which supports the measure, also questions the scale of the problem.

"I don't think it's prevalent at all," Ghan said. "I think these cases are extremely rare. Schools are among the safest places for children. That's not to say there haven't been isolated incidents in the country or in Missouri."

The legislation requires annual background checks of all Missouri educators with active teaching certificates. The process will be handled through the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Each year, school districts throughout the region continue to dismiss at least a dozen school employees who are alleged to be involved in sexual misconduct. For example, this school year, there have been alleged cases out of Parkway Central, Parkway West, Pattonville and Troy Buchanan high schools.

Just how often employees involved in sex abuse cases get jobs at other schools is uncertain.

In some school districts, many more incidents of sexual misconduct are uncovered than are ever made public, said Thomas Wright, a school resource officer who investigates such allegations in the Eldon School District, 30 miles south of Jefferson City.

While testifying before a legislative committee, Wright said among his first investigations at Eldon Schools concerned allegations that a coach/teacher had been having sexual contact with at least one student. Within days, Wright found that the individual had been having sex with multiple students on and off campus. No charges were ever filed. The employee resigned.

"I discovered later that the same coach/teacher was able to obtain another teaching job in a nearby school district," Wright told the committee. "The school district I worked for provided a good work reference and did not share any information concerning the investigation."

Wright said that it's not unusual for school district officials to make deals with teachers or coaches after sexual misconduct allegations are substantiated. The employee is asked to leave quietly, in exchange for a good recommendation.

"It's just terrible," Wright said. "We're not doing any of the victims any justice."

Copyright 2011 STLtoday.com. All rights reserved.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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