A small but “not insignificant” number of teachers in Ontario prey on students for sex. That was the conclusion of retired Ontario Court of Appeal judge Sydney Robins, who produced a nearly 600-page report into the abuse of students by teachers a decade ago. His findings seem forgotten in the breathless rush to report that a female Toronto elementary school teacher, Mary Gowans (inset), has been charged with sexually assaulting a former student.
If Gowans is guilty, she’ll join a long list of female teachers caught having sex with students or seeking sex from vulnerable pupils, like Leanne Carla Hanselman, who had sex with a 17-year-old female student and sometimes had threesomes with the student and her boyfriend. Elizabeth Ann Jeffrey confessed her sexual relationship with a 17-year-old drama student she was tutoring, promising the mother of the student she’d stop it. She didn’t. Erinne Renata Acciaroli, who was a high school teacher charged with helping troubled students, tried to coerce a former student into having sex. She kissed him, then sent notes, gifts, and emails when he rebuffed her. Jennifer Elizabeth Allan was a private school teacher who went after a 16-year-old male student. She served him booze, kissed and cuddled. She was caught when emails were discovered. Tiffany Dawn Angus struck up a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old male student soon after she began her probationary high school teaching job. She bought and drank booze with the boy, kissed and hugged in the school library and had intercourse at his home. Caught by school officials, she refused to end the relationship. Supply teacher Heidi Franziska Coleman had sex with a 13-year-old male student. Annie Mary Markson told a 14-year-old male student she pursued that “the thought of you kissing/talking/breathing with another female except with me drives me crazy.”
There have been significant changes to oversight, investigation, and discipline for teachers since 1997, when an independent professional college was established. It made the discipline process mostly public. Once-secret deals that allowed teachers to shuffle between schools and school districts are a thing of the past. Discipline meted out to teachers caught exploiting or abusing students is now conducted in court-like hearings that are open to the public, with the results published in a college magazine and online.
The Robins report brought much needed attention to a mostly hidden and dramatically underreported issue. But the report didn’t make the problem go away. Talk frankly with female students at any high school and ask them about the “creepshow teachers,” the ones they all know to avoid.
If you’re looking for more research and advocacy around the issue, you’ll have a hard time finding it in Canada. This is a good starting point, a longstanding American organization dedicated to exposing and stopping teacher-student sexual abuse and exploitation.
Here’s my assessment of the Robins report, published a decade ago:
The Kingston Whig-Standard
Saturday, April 8, 2000
By Rob Tripp
Governments, school boards and other agencies must do more to protect students from sexual predators in the ranks of Ontario’s 144,000 teachers, says a retired Ontario judge.
“While the vast majority of educators are highly dedicated and caring individuals who seek to ensure a safe learning environment, there is a small, but not insignificant number of ‘bad apples’ who engage in sexual misconduct with their students,” concludes Mr. Justice Sydney Robins, in a mammoth report on sexual misconduct by Ontario teachers.
Robins’ 568-page report, nine months in the making, was released yesterday at Queen’s Park by Attorney General Jim Flaherty, who said he was “deeply disturbed” by the findings.
“His conclusion is, there’s a significant incidence of this conduct [by teachers] and there are problems of underreporting and the cases we do see are the tip of the iceberg,” Flaherty said at a news conference.
Robins was commissioned last May to study and make recommendations to prevent abuse and exploitation of students.
Robins’ findings echo the conclusions of a three-month probe of sexual misconduct in Ontario schools conducted by The Whig-Standard in 1997.
The newspaper found that school boards and school staff were poorly equipped to stop sexual abuse or respond to allegations against teachers, engaging in many cases in a conspiracy of silence designed to protect the reputations of teachers and institutions.
The case of a Sault Ste. Marie teacher, Kenneth DeLuca, whose abuse of students was concealed for roughly 20 years, was a key factor in the government decision last year to study the problem.
Robins made 101 recommendations aimed at making it easier to expose, prosecute and kick out of the profession teachers who sexually abuse their students.
The report calls for changes to the Criminal Code and a host of provincial laws, including the act that guides the operations of the Ontario College of Teachers. The changes would also close loopholes that allow teachers accused of misconduct to resign and move on to teach in other areas.
Flaherty said the province is moving swiftly on some recommendations, including:
-mandatory criminal background checks for anyone teaching or working in Ontario schools;
-urging prosecutors to make better use of a Criminal Code provision that could keep teachers convicted of sex offences away from children;
-changes to make courts less intimidating to child witnesses.
Flaherty said he has also written to his federal counterpart, Justice Minister Anne McLellan, asking her to implement changes to the Criminal Code.
Queen’s law professor Nick Bala, an expert on issues of child abuse and the law, was consulted by Robins during the preparation of the report.
“I think there’s a lot of really important, positive, constructive things here to better recognize and deal with the sets of issues,” Bala said, after readin
g an executive summary of the report.
Nearly half of the Robins recommendations, 45, are aimed at changes to federal and provincial laws.
“Our evidentiary laws, our procedural laws have often made it very difficult to prove abuse and we need to continue to review and monitor those laws,” he said.
Bala said a key to the success of the proposals is government commitment to provide resources, such as support for abuse victims and ongoing training for new teachers, child protection workers, police and prosecutors.
“Merely changing the law, while certainly important, is not going to solve the problems in our justice system unless we have training, which means resources,” he said.
Bala said he is concerned that the report does not address the lack of training for teachers, as students in faculties of education or during later years, in issues of student sexuality.
“Teachers have to have an understanding of adolescent sexuality,” he said, noting that there have been cases of high school teachers who defended themselves against sexual misconduct allegations by claiming that the student initiated the contact or wanted a sexual relationship.
The Robins report also suggests broadening the definition of sexual misconduct used by the Ontario College of Teachers to “offensive conduct of a sexual nature which may affect the personal integrity or security of any student or the school environment.”
The Ontario Teachers’ Federation, the umbrella group for the province’s teacher unions, pledged to help protect students.
“On behalf of the federation, we will be contacting the Ontario College of Teachers and other educational stakeholders to get started on the work of pursuing these recommendations,” said Barbara Sargent, president of the federation, in a release.