Violation of trust: When teachers are accused of having sex with students

Study suggests cases are becoming more common
Former teacher Brittany Howard being taken to jail. (David Whisenant-WBTV)
Former teacher Brittany Howard being taken to jail. (David Whisenant-WBTV)
Updated: Mar. 27, 2019 at 3:21 PM CDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - In the last two days there have been two local cases where teachers are accused of having sexual relationships with students.

Arrests were made in Iredell County and in Rowan County, where one teacher is facing a second round of charges. While media stories often focus on the suspect, many ask what happens to the alleged victims in these cases. And can there be lifelong damage?

Brittany Leigh Howard is a former teacher at China Grove Elementary School. First arrested in November, China Grove Police discovered a second alleged victim and brought 15 new charges against Howard on Tuesday, and in Statesville, Derone McNeill faces 78 charges. He was a teacher assistant and bus driver at Pressly Alternative School.

“A lot of times when these perpetrators do this it’s a shock to everybody around them," said Beth McKeithan, Director of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan.

The first question for many, why would a teacher do this?

“Predators do what they do for different types of reasons," McKeithan said. “People study this and they do a lot of in-depth research and sometimes these people do it because of their own childhood trauma and their own issues, and sometimes not.”

While not speaking specifically about these cases, she says many such incidents have common factors.

“These kids trusted these teachers and sometimes kids don’t have anywhere else that’s safe, school is their safe place and when a teacher violates that, it puts a whole new level of trauma on the situation," McKeithan added.

And as far as the victims go, what is the lasting impact?

“When that relationship between a student and teacher is violated," McKeithan said, "it’s going to change their career, education career, ongoing. We can’t take back what has already happened, we know that, we’ve got to deal with what’s going on.”

McKeithan says that’s why it’s important for victims to get help as soon as possible.

“We want to do some education and some trauma work and make sure the kids get counseling because most of the time these kids don’t even realize that they are the victims.”

McKeithan credited steps taken by the Rowan-Salisbury School System to deal with the issue and to get help for students quickly when allegations are made.

Nationally, the trend for such crimes seems to be on the rise.

A 2017 study sponsored by the US Department of justice found that: “An estimated 10% of K–12 students will experience sexual misconduct by a school employee by the time they graduate from high school. Such misconduct can result in lifelong consequences for students including negative physical, psychological, and academic outcomes.”

The study also concluded that:

-Victims of school employee sexual misconduct span most demographic characteristics, though students who are low income, female, and in high school are most likely to experience sexual misconduct by a school employee.

-Research has shown that offenders target victims who appear needy, may be picked on by others, or do not have a happy home life because it is easier to gain the friendship of these vulnerable children.

-Students with disabilities are more likely to experience school employee sexual misconduct than students without disabilities.

-School employee sexual misconduct offenders are typically popular and they often have been recognized for excellence. Offenders include all types of school employees, such as teachers, school psychologists, coaches, principals, and superintendents.

-Offenders are most frequently male.

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