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Negligent Security Seminar | March 2015

Florida personal injury lawyers



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    Teachers are Not Supposed to Be Touchers: Student Sex Abuse in Florida Schools

    From kindergarten through high school, public and private schools alike are intended to be safe havens where students can learn and grow. Yet unfortunately, students face a variety of threats to their physical and mental health, from bullying to the risk of gun violence. One of the most egregious threats, however, may come from the teachers and other school officials who are supposed to help protect students: according to a report from the U.S. Department of Education, an estimated 10% of children will be the victims of sexual misconduct by school officials before graduating high school.

    As a parent, the idea that a trusted teacher could sexually abuse your child is horrific. Here are some key things to know about student sex abuse:

    Sexual abuse can take many forms

    Both boys and girls can be victims of sexual abuse; likewise, predators can be either male or female. However, the Department of Education’s report found that the typical offender was male, well-liked among staff and students, and likely to have been recognized for excellence at their job. Many predators use their stellar reputation as a cloak that enables them to secretly abuse children.

    While sexual abuse includes obvious acts such as rape, groping, or other physical contact, it can also include various other inappropriate interactions between teachers and students. For example:

    • A teacher exposing his or her genitals to a student
    • Exposing a child to pornography
    • Taking nude or otherwise inappropriate photos of students
    • Sexual harassment, including lewd comments or gestures
    • Offering students a reward, such as a higher grade, in exchange for sexual favors

    It’s important to remember that the age of consent in Florida is 18. This means that a child under 18 can never legally consent to a sexual act with an adult, even if they “agree” to it.

    Many instances of student sex abuse are unreported

    Due to feelings of shame, a fear of retaliation, and various other factors, many victims do not tell anyone that they have been sexually abused. Therefore, it is crucial for parents and caregivers to be on alert for signs that their child may have been victimized. These may include:

    • Physical symptoms, such as unexplained injuries
    • Behavioral changes, like acting out, withdrawing from friends or family, regressive behaviors, or a sudden lack of interest in studying or school activities
    • New signs of depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues

    Schools may be held liable when teachers sexually abuse students

    Sexual abuse of students is not only a criminal matter—it may also give rise to civil lawsuits against the school or district. For instance, schools may be held liable for negligent hiring or supervision if they failed to adequately supervise an employee, or should not have hired them in the first place due to a history of criminal or sexual misconduct. The key to successfully pursuing a lawsuit against a school on these grounds is to work with an attorney who is experienced at handling child sex abuse cases.

    At Leighton Panoff Law, our team has both the knowledge and sensitivity required to represent victims of sexual abuse. With over 35 years of experience in this emotionally challenging area of law, we have won several high-profile cases, including a staggering $49.3 million verdict on behalf of a student who was sexually abused by her teacher in a classroom. If you suspect that your child has been sexually abused by a teacher or other school official, please call us at 888.988.1774 to schedule a consultation.

    Article by:

    John Leighton

    A nationally-recognized trial lawyer who handles catastrophic injury and death cases. He manages Leighton Law, P.A. trial lawyers, with offices in Miami and Orlando, Florida. He is President of The National Crime Victim Bar Association, author of the 2-volume textbook,Litigating Premises Security Cases, and past Chairman of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America’s Motor Vehicle, Highway & Premises Liability Section. Having won some of the largest verdicts in Florida history, Mr. Leighton is listed inThe Best Lawyers in America (14 years), “Top Lawyers” in the South Florida Legal Guide (15 years), Top 100 Florida SuperLawyer™ and Florida SuperLawyers (14 years), “Orlando Legal Elite” by Orlando Style magazine, and FloridaTrend magazine “Florida Legal Elite


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