BE VISIBLE AND KEEP DETAILED RECORDS
I offer this vignette in cautionary terms. Teaching is a profession that requires increasing vigilance in human relations on the part of teachers, school leaders and principals.
In recent years, the issue of child abuse has increasingly come to the fore. Lots of abuse issues, most of a historical nature, are being raised. Various Royal Commissions and Inquiries have highlighted the matter. I have heard that from Victorian inquiries, around 1,600 issues have been and are being followed up (July 2015).
Without doubt many of the allegations being brought against alleged perpetrators of past abuse, especially sexual abuse, are justified. However, there are instances when allegations are made with mischievous and malevolent intent.
The recent program on ABC “Four Corners”illustrates this point. A female teacher in Melbourne was accused of sexually interfering with two boys around 30 years ago. She was dragged through a messy court process, including being accused, found guilty, and jailed. The case was subsequently appealed and another grimy court process ensued. At the end, she was found not guilty of these crimes and acquitted. Her career, of course was absolutely ruined. The protagonists who had brought the case against her, two men in their early 30s (they had been boys of seven or eight at the time referred to in the allegation) have not to this point in time been charged with their own gross criminal conduct. The story’s inference is that they have simply shrugged it off! Significantly, the Victorian Department of Education, Teachers Union and Teachers Registration Authority appear to have offered no support to the teacher.
Allegations made against teachers presume guilt until the teacher proves his or her innocence.
I have sought advice on what recourse is available to people who are falsely accused of interference with children, particularly when cases are brought years and years later. The response I have received is that it is very unlikely prosecution will be brought against false complainants. The only recourse available to someone falsely accused and acquitted, is to seek redress through the civil court.
The purpose of this particular vignette is not to pursue issue of recompense. Rather, to strongly suggest educators keep a clear, detailed and time noted record of instances when they have been connected with students in counselling and developing them. Nothing beats a detailed diary. When moving schools, retiring or otherwise moving on, take these records with you (I would suggest a diary). Always keep them in accessible place. Under no circumstances destroy or discard those records.
If allegations are then brought, there is a clear record to show the date, time, place, and nature of the counselling. Often details brought by the complainant are fairly vague and being able to refute them with accurate data is if inestimable value.
There are one or two other points to keep in mind.
If counselling children, make sure that you do so in a space that has visibility from the outside. A room with a see-through window, a common area within, a learning module, or a location within a linear classroom close to an open door are suggested. In the circumstances it’s not a bad idea to write down the names of people who observed, or were in the “visible” proximity at the time.
If the classroom teacher, it is always useful and indeed recommended that you report matters of counselling and discipline to a senior or to the principal along with having kept a written record.
Those who have false accusations brought against them, regardless of outcomes, are never the same people again. I understand they look at life differently. Their outlook becomes tinged with suspicion. They wonder if they can never be part of trustful relationships again. This issue is one of growing consequence and something all educators need to take on board and carefully consider. Don’t live in fear but never think it can’t happen to you: It can.