CDC awards $1.6M grant to study prevention of school employee sexual abuse of students

Abigail H. Conley, Ph.D., Kellie E. Carlyle, Ph.D. and Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.D.
From left: Abigail H. Conley, Ph.D., Kellie E. Carlyle, Ph.D. and Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.D.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded Virginia Commonwealth University researchers a $1.6 million grant to launch a study to evaluate a program focused on the prevention of school employee perpetrated sexual abuse, misconduct and exploitation of students.

This study, “Rigorously Evaluating Approaches to Prevent Adult-Perpetrated Child Sex Abuse,” will be conducted by Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership in the School of Education; Kellie E. Carlyle, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy in the School of Medicine; and Abigail Conley, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education.

The CDC has identified sexual abuse as a preventable adverse childhood experience and a serious threat to the health and development of children in the United States. Noting gaps in research and practice — particularly for sexual abuse by adults in child-serving organizations — the CDC identifies child sexual abuse as a public health problem.

“Ten percent of students in the United States report that they are targets of school employee sexual misconduct,” said Shakeshaft, the study’s principal investigator. “For many reasons, schools and districts have not paid enough attention to preventing the abuse of students by adult employees. We need better prevention. We need systems that work and are possible to implement in schools. This research seeks to identify and document effective prevention of school employee sexual misconduct and abuse.”

The study will involve a randomized controlled trial of a prevention model that includes education and training for employees, students and parents; attention to enforcement of school policies; monitoring staff; enforcing safe hiring and screening of new employees; and addressing sexual and physical boundary crossing by school employees.

The four-year multisite, randomized controlled trial in school districts in multiple states will assess the efficacy of ecological prevention, examining official records, self-reports of school employee child sexual abuse, boundary-crossing behaviors, Title IX and insurance reports as primary outcomes.

Results of this study will provide the first rigorous evidence for a prevention program focused on school employee perpetrated sexual abuse of students.

Shakeshaft has studied school employee sexual misconduct for decades and authored a U.S. Department of Education study in 2004 commissioned by the U.S. Senate on the problem of school employee sexual misconduct, abuse and exploitation of students. That report indicated that 10% of K-12 students, as many as 4.5 million children each year, report being the target of school employee sexual misconduct.

Subscribe to VCU News

Subscribe to the VCU News newsletter at newsletter.vcu.edu and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Monday and Thursday.