A horrifying report on sexual abuse in Chicago public schools sank without a trace last week. Why?
In what has become a familiar and dismal ritual, the Archbishop of Kansas City, released an apology for sexual abuse by Catholic clergy last week. He joined “bishops across the state of Kansas in offering his deepest apologies to the victims, their families, the faithful of the church, and the Kansas Catholic community at large”
He was responding to a report by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation which identified dozens of Catholic clergy suspected of committing sex crimes against children over the last 70 years.
According to an Associated Press report on Saturday:
… a six-member task force had interviewed 137 victims of abuse, initiated 125 criminal cases and distributed 30 affidavits to prosecutors for charging consideration. Investigators identified 188 clergy members suspected of committing various criminal acts from records that stretched to the 1950s.
Catholics should feel ashamed of these terrible crimes. One abused child is one too many. One hundred and thirty-seven, even over 70 years, is almost too painful to contemplate. And Kansas is a drop in the American bucket; other states have issued similar reports.
However, to eliminate the scourge of child sexual abuse, it’s important to know whether Catholic clergy are the principal perpetrators – as the media often assumes -- or whether other institutions have the same problem – or worse.
The latter possibility is looking very likely.
Another scathing report about sexual abuse was released last week. It shone a spotlight on the Chicago Public Schools system. It wasn’t covered by Associated Press, or the Chicago Tribune, or the Washington Post, or the New York Times, or the Boston Globe. In fact, it was barely covered at all.
And yet it was horrifying.
Here is the way Chicago City Wire, a tiny news service, summarized its findings: “Hundreds of Chicago Public Schools teachers sexually groomed, assaulted and raped CPS students last school year.” It included several lurid stories.
Its article was based on a report from the Chicago Public Schools Office of the Inspector General (OIG). It had received more than 470 adult-on-student sexual misconduct allegations during the 2021-22 school year. In 16 cases over the past four years criminal charges were initiated.
Hardly anyone paid attention.
A much bigger website whose focus is education in Chicago ran the news under the headline: “Chicago Public Schools’ watchdog flags unchecked overtime pay, lost students, sexual misconduct”. The sickening allegations were buried at the end of the article.
If the abuse chronicled in this report had happened in a Catholic diocese, it would have been on the front page of every newspaper in the United States – and possibly around the world.
Apparently this is just scratching the surface of the level of abuse in America’s public schools. The Chicago Inspector General’s report reassures readers that: “there is no indication that the frequency of these occurrences is higher within CPS than in other districts nationwide.”
How consoling for Illinois parents!
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The Inspector-General’s Sexual Allegations Unit (SAU) says that it is the only K-12 investigative unit of its kind in the US. It is also the only entity which publishes public reports. “Reliable statistics from other school districts are simply not available,” it admits.
The SAU reported that between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, it opened investigations into 81 cases of sexual touching, 35 of grooming, 33 of sexual abuse, 26 of sexual acts, 25 of in-person sexual comments, and 14 sexual electronic communications. There were 243 cases of leering, “creepy” behaviour or other matters of concern. There were numerous cases of school officials who failed to report allegations of sexual misconduct.
And these happened in just one year. And these were only the reported incidents.
What is extremely concerning is that there were only eight cases of "outcry” about past abuse – victims who reported historic sexual abuse. The experience of the Catholic Church shows that there is often a dark cesspit of abuse dating back decades. Victims are often so traumatised that they delay reporting their abusers for years.
But Chicago Public Schools does not seem interested in investigating historic abuse. It has enough work to do in sweeping current abuse under the carpet.
To give a sense of perspective, here is the current status of sexual abuse in the US Catholic Church. According to the most recent annual report by StoneBridge Business Partners, an independent auditor, Catholic organisations received 3,103 allegations between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021– but only 30 related to the current period. And only six of those were substantiated.
Six cases of abuse by clergy in the whole United States in one year is six too many. But it is far fewer than the hundreds credibly reported in the Chicago Public Schools.
When will American parents see reports on other public school systems? When will the Governor issue an apology? When will the Chicago Teachers Union?
Michael Cook is editor of Mercator
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