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4 SEX-ABUSE BILLS TARGET EDUCATORS

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The teacher was the sort who went out of his way to make education interesting for children. He provided enrichment with computers, games, sports and other attractive activities. He spent time with children when school wasn't in session.

And he sexually abused some of them.Mrs. Brown (not her real name, but a real mother who agreed to talk with the Deseret News on condition of anonymity) was pleased to see her child spending time with a teacher who took a special interest in his exceptional needs. A bright youngster, the child was enrolled in a program for the gifted.

"This teacher was all of the things kids like. He had games, played sports, had a telescope," Brown said.

When this "special" teacher was arrested and then convicted on seven counts of sodomy with several children, including hers, it was the end of innocence for a lot of people.

"By the time we had any inkling of what was going on, there had been three summers of abuse. It was too late," Brown said.

For her son, it was the prelude to a troubled adolescence in which he was disturbed by thoughts that he might be homosexual, drifted into drug abuse to alleviate his psychological suffering and staged a futile search for a childhood irretrievably lost. His abuser had made him feel he was responsible for the relationship gone awry.

"The damage that is done is both emotional and physical. Some victims never recover," said the mother.

For all the family it was the end of trust. As a mother, Brown said, she beat herself with guilt that she hadn't protected her son, hadn't recognized something that would have alerted her to the abuse. She struggles with the temptation to tilt toward "smother love" as she tries to compensate with all of her children. She worries how things might be if and when the abuser is released from prison.

"If you can't trust a teacher, who can you trust?" she said. The disclosure that the teacher had earlier been guilty of sexually abusing children in another school district before he got a job in the Browns' district was like pouring salt into an open wound.

Utah's Legislature, sensitive to several Utah cases of this type, is considering four bills that would tighten certification standards for teachers and ensure that they don't return to the classroom if they are found to be sexually abusing children.

The Legislature has struggled with the issue for three years, trying to balance the rights of teachers against the need to protect children in schools, a place where they are particularly vulnerable. This year, the bills seem to be progressing through the legislative process with less resistance than before, said Douglas Bates, legal/legislative counsel for the State Office of Education.

"I think these bills will give us all the tools we need in terms of access to records and being able to take action against child abusers (who are educators). I feel good about that," said Bates.

Concerns that teachers would be treated differently under the law, as a class of citizens, appear to be weakening to the more compelling argument that children must be protected. "Teachers are in a different situation. They have access to kids," Bates said.

Rep. Jerrold Jensen, R-Salt Lake, agrees that people in "trust relationships" with children have a greater obligation to honor that trust and refrain from harming youngsters.

Jensen's bill, HB148, adds educators to an existing legal list that includes church leaders, leaders in youth organizations and any others who have authority and direct influence over children. Such individuals have the potential to "exercise undue influence over a victim," he said. The measure says that sex offenses against a minor cannot be considered consensual if the adult partner has such a trust relationship.

Related bills include:

- HB151 allows the state to take a variety of disciplinary actions, including permanent decertification of an educator found guilty of a sexual offense against a minor. It allows state certification personnel to retrieve criminal records from the Bureau of Criminal Identification.

- HB152 disallows expungement of the conviction of an educator on child sex abuse charges. The bill also provides due process for the person seeking expungement.

- HB160 counters some of the elements of HB152. It would call for an investigation of any incident alleging sexual abuse of a child by an educator, even if the educator had surrendered his certificate without a hearing. But the state's Professional Practices Commission would not be allowed access to records sealed and expunged under current state laws.

Bates said he expects the differences in the bills to be resolved as the houses act on them. He said he believes the bar on expungement of sex abuse records for educators will hold.

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Statistics

Statistics compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that:

- The typical child sexual abuse offender is Caucasian, has attended college a year or more and holds a full-time job. The great majority are men. He may be married and a father.

- Girls are molested more often than boys when all offenses are considered, including "flashing" and window-peeping. But in more serious cases involving touching, about two-thirds of the victims are boys.

- The average offender who targets boys outside their homes is 15 years old when he begins molesting. During a lifetime, he is likely to sexually abuse a large number of victims. One study of 153 male molesters found they had each committed an average of 281 sexual acts against children.