Teacher predators: Honest conversation with youth way to curb teen sexual escapades

Levi Mabonga (right) a Chemistry teacher at Moi Highs school Kabrak during a chemistry practical lesson with Form two East students [Photo:Kipsang Joseph/Standard]
While teachers are part of the essence of moulding future leaders, the activities of some, especially those sexually molesting students under their tutelage, are increasing and worrisome. Rather than protecting students, some educators take advantage, abusing power and violating trust.

Why is this becoming a new normal yet it is a horrifying trend? If you ask teachers, they are just as mortified with these cases as the rest of us. That 1,077 teachers have been sacked for having sexual relations with students in the past eight years is actually bad news because that translates to about 135 teachers sacked every year or just about 11 teachers monthly.

And here we haven’t yet looked at the twin issue of pregnancies in school. A report by the Ministry of Education released last year exposed shocking details on the rates of teenage pregnancies, child defilement and drug abuse in schools.

So, why are we seeing a rise in reported cases of sexual misconduct and teacher student relationships? What is influencing an increase in these crimes? Has it always been so frequent; hidden from the public because it was taboo to report years ago? Or is it happening more and more because of a different generation of teachers and underdeveloped emotional levels?

Would it be partially due to more transparency as schools seek to report what they formally kept hidden and tried to deal with on their own? More than likely, the upward trend and the change of things can be explained by two things which have become popular and had a massive effect on the prevalence of sexual misconduct in schools: social media and text messaging. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat didn’t exist 15 years ago, and the number of teenagers with their own cell phones has ballooned in recent years.

The opportunity

Many youth aged 12 to 17 years now own a cell phone, and have a Facebook account. Sexual predators exploit these unsupervised modes of communication to develop improper relationships with students. These instantaneous, omnipresent and discreet connections have created an open gateway for inappropriate behavior. First, one has to understand the opportunity for the offender. Teens are probably the most susceptible to this type of violation because of puberty, psychological reasons, and accessibility. They also spend a lot of time at school where a natural rapport is built between teachers, school officials and themselves.

The teachers are trusted individuals. They are entrusted with our children. Students also trust them, somewhat automatically, because they are teachers. School is supposed to be safe.

If one takes time to critically look at the offenders, many of these teachers seem successful, well-liked, and get along with the students. They might even be excellent educators. Parents and students may even consider them top of the best. Just like a rapist, the motives of this kind of teachers are internally driven. They may also lack emotional development, something the teachers’ employer, supervisor or colleagues may not be aware of.

Proper boundaries

In other instances, there could also be a disconnect or marital dysfunction in the offenders home life, or loneliness overpowering other factors of life. A victim’s personal life could also mirror these instances. They could also be living in a disruptive environment or experiencing troubles with a broken home. This is not always true, but sometimes when these elements are present, they add to the emotional connection of understanding the other’s circumstances.

To aid prevention, difficult and ongoing conversations must be held with our youth. Parents have to teach them about what kind of boundaries ought to be maintained by the adults in their lives, about what seduction looks and feels like, and about the inappropriateness and danger inherent in secret interactions with adults. Maintaining proper boundaries with students must be fully integrated into training curricula in teacher training and be part of ongoing continuing education of everyone who works with students in schools.

Education administrators and schools must have targeted policies governing electronic communication. Policymakers and school leaders also need to review existing employee guidelines and make sure they tightly control social media interaction between school employees and students.

Parents also need to take more proactive involvement and monitoring of their children while in and out of schools. This with strong parents associations within schools can also help in dealing with these issues at school level before they get out of hand. Loss of careers, public shaming, and criminal penalties must aid in slowing this phenomenon.

Ultimately, parental involvement, maintaining better national data on teacher misconduct and keeping track of the sexual-misconduct offenders in our schools is a sure way of arresting the situation.

Prof. Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi.hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk

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Moi Highs school Kabrakchemistry practicalfuture leadersteachers