Middle Division (MD) holds sexual abuse prevention training for faculty members


Jiya Chatterjee and Brody Grossman

New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) held the Middle Division’s (MD) first ever sexual abuse prevention training for teachers this Tuesday. The goal of the meeting was to give faculty and staff proper information to notice, prevent, and report sexual abuse, as well as learn about child sexual abuse myths, facts, signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse, MD Dean of Faculty and history teacher Eva Abbamonte said.

In the past, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly held meetings with teachers to discuss the issue, but this was the first year a formal training was done, Khan said. “This school has a long history of abusing students, and we are following the charge of Dr. Kelly by saying we are no longer going to sweep these sorts of issues under the rug,” Head of the MD Javaid Khan said. Just as students are required to go through sexual abuse prevention trainings annually, it is important that teachers go through similar meetings, he said.

“Teachers see students regularly for long periods of time, and this is why it’s possible for us to notice patterns that might be missed by others,” MD history teacher Caitlin Hickerson said. “As such, it’s important that people who have regular contact with youth have the training to protect them should that need to be the case.”

The NYSPCC has been leading assemblies at the school for student trainings on sexual abuse prevention, and works with the school to craft discussions about the topic. Previously, the school had additional measures in place when it came to sexual abuse prevention knowledge amongst MD teachers, through faculty-led meetings and hiring requirements, Khan said. “When we sat down with the [NYSPCC], we acknowledged that when you’re hired at HM, you are a certified mandated reporter,” he said.

Mandated reporters are certified to identify potential signs of abuse in victims, and are required by law to report to a hotline if evidence of abuse is observed. “It is particularly important for teachers to know about the signs of abuse and to have the tools to support a student who may be experiencing abuse,” Abbamonte said. “Not only are teachers mandated reporters in New York State, but because they are often the trusted adult that a child may turn to.”

The meeting was divided into two halves: one half was centered around defining abuse and inappropriate teacher-student relationships, and the other half focused on how to spot if an adult is potentially abusing a child, Khan said. “We supplemented the meeting with two videos: a video of a man that discussed his experience being sexually abused, and another where a sexual predator discussed his behavior with a child he abused and he gained the access do so,” he said.

After watching these videos, the faculty discussed potential signs to look out for, and what are the appropriate ways and inappropriate ways to ask if a student is in an abusive situation, MD science teacher Donnett Bryan said. “As mandated reporters, these are things that we already have good sense for, but it’s important to be reminded of them through such meetings,” she said. 

In the first half, the faculty went over certain behaviors between students and adults that are deemed inappropriate, and reviewed a no-touching policy, Bryan said. This policy included not taking individual students in their car anywhere, unless there were some emergency, and restricting intimate actions such as hugging or even secret handshakes with one particular student, Khan said. “We covered appropriate boundaries, but also how to take care of anybody who might think is the survivor of any kind of abuse,” Hickerson said. “[Sexual abuse] is a topic that is often difficult to talk about because it can be very uncomfortable, but I think it’s important to be open and transparent about it so that we do the best that we can to protect students.”

These types of meetings are important to Bryan because everyone needs to be aware that abuse can happen in any environment and can look different from victim to victim. This is why she appreciates having regular faculty meetings about this sort of issue, she said. “Unfortunately, children usually have more to fear from people they know than from strangers,” Abbamonte said. “With that said, it is so important for kids to know who their trusted adults are so that they know there is always someone available to support them and answer any questions they may have.” 

“I hope this is something we continue to do every year,” Khan said. “It’s always important to drive these messages home, and give reminders about the existence of this type of abuse in private institutions everywhere.”