This piece was published in an edition of the (NT) Territory Teacher. The issue is one teachers and those working with children need to consider.
INTERACTION WITH STUDENTS NEEDS TO BE CIRCUMSPECT
The rash of child abuse inquiries happening around our nation at the moment have lifted this issue to the forefront of public awareness. Without doubt, some of the allegations levelled against teachers and others are as a result of the “stimulation” generated by these inquiries. Sins against children need to be visited and perpetrators punished. However, the reputations of those who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing need to be protected. Current actions need to be such that educators protect and guard against allegations at some future time.
Teaching is a profession that requires increasing vigilance in human relations by teachers, school leaders and principals. In recent years, the issue of child abuse has gained traction. Lots of abuse issues, most of an historical nature, are being raised. Various Royal Commissions and Inquiries have highlighted the matter. I have heard from Victorian Inquiries, that around 1,600 issues have been and are being followed up (July 2015). There are inquiries taking place in other states and territories.
Without doubt many of the allegations being brought against alleged perpetrators of past abuse, especially sexual abuse, are justified. They need to be followed through. However, there are instances when allegations are made with mischievous and malevolent intent. They hang those falsely accused out to dry. Accusations may be levelled against people many years after the alleged abuse occurred.
A quite 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 misconduct. 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 visible support to the teacher. These cases are not rare.
Allegations made against teachers presume guilt until the teacher proves his or her innocence.
I have been told 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. That is costly, messy and continues the hurt.
It is wise for teachers to keep a clear, detailed and time noted record of instances when they have been connected with students in counselling and development. Nothing beats a detailed diary. When moving schools, retiring or otherwise moving on, take these records with you (I would suggest a diary). Maintain their accessibility. Keeping this data in USB or electronic form is an option.
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 of inestimable value.
There are one or two other points to keep in mind.
If counselling or working one-on-one with children, ensure that it is 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 options.
I believe it paramount for teachers to report matters of counselling and discipline to a senior or to the principal along with keeping 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 because it can.