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Greater transparency, accountability urged after researchers delve into sexual abuse by school employees

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is calling for more transparency after a new report found school employees were responsible for hundreds of alleged sexual offences involving students.

“This causes a lot of damage to children when this misuse of a relationship occurs, and it can be profound,” Noni Classen, the centre’s director of education said Thursday.

“This can ruin children’s lives.”

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Researchers found 750 cases of sexual offences involving at least 1,272 children were perpetrated by employees or former employees. The vast majority — 86 per cent — were certified teachers, but other staff such as educational assistants and custodians were also charged.

Most of the victims were in middle school and high school. They were primarily girls while the alleged offenders were largely men.

“It really was something where you needed to sit back and take a moment and say, ‘OK we really need to look at this. We need to question what’s being done. This is something where there can be harm to children’,” Classen said.

Researchers at the centre started to collect and analyze data following Project Spade, an international police investigation into child pornography which led to more than 400 arrests around the world. Of the 100 people arrested in Canada, Classen said 40 were teachers.

Researchers wanted to understand the scope of the problem so that they could see how to prevent future abuse.

However, they quickly ran into roadblocks. Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the only provinces where the organizations responsible for certifying teachers make disciplinary decisions public.

Researchers had to meticulously scour media reports and case law for abuse in other parts of the country. Classen said that means the numbers are probably even higher.

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They also uncovered troubling trends with teachers using technology to make relationships with students too personal and, in some cases, sexual.

Over the last decade, Classen said technology such as social media and messaging services were used to groom children. In one case, a teacher was texting a student as much as 30 times a day.

Often, the inappropriate relationship was uncovered when that online communication was discovered by family members.

It shows policies must be modernized to make sure there is better accountability and transparency around communication between teachers and students, Classen said.

Parents should have the right to know about any professional misconduct involving people who have contact with their children, she added.

“It’s an opportunity to really take time to examine what are we doing purposefully and formally to ensure we are mitigating this risk,” she said.

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