Citation for oft-quoted stat on sex abuse by teachers

I coordinate RCIA for my local parish. In discussing Church history last week, we talked about the sex abuse scandal, and the person presenting mentioned the stat about how the incidence of sex abuse among priests has landed at about 2%, whereas the incidence of child sex abuse among teachers is as much as 8%. I’ve seen it stated as 4-8% in the past. Well, one of my class members is a college professor who followed up with me asking if I could cite the source of the “4-8%” number about teachers. He found the same article I did from Psychology Today, but it incorrectly cites a study which says 4-8% of students experience sex abuse at the hands of a teacher (a sort of mutant statistic…4-8% of students experiencing abuse by a teacher isn’t the same thing as 4-8% of teachers being abusers.)

Can anyone point me toward a reliable source for the stats on sex abuse perpetrated by teachers?

Naturally we couched this very heavily in the frame of mind that no amount of abuse among priests is acceptable, but that we shouldn’t have a disproportionate paranoia about letting our kids be around priests, because the incidence of abuse among priests is less than the incidence of abuse among other adults who have access to children (whether it be family members, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, etc.)

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I don’t know of a recent comprehensive study…I have my suspicions why. Charol Shakeshaft is a name to google, she is professor who did work on a dept of education report in 2004 I believe. She said up to 10% of public school student will be abused before graduation.

Right, but 10% of public school students being abused before graduation isn’t the same thing as x percent of teachers are abusers.

Correct…not a lot of information on the topic. I’d also suggest a book by David Pierre, called “Double Standard”.

Yes…this is a very good question that I’ve wondered about myself. Yes abuse happens in high schools. However, what are details? Not only is there the question of how many public school students are abused and what percentage of teachers are abusers?..

There is also the question of the level and nature of the the abuse? For example, you hear these horrifying stories of the prolonged abuse by a Catholic priest of a child or several children the are either prepubescent or close to it. I’ve simply never heard of this type of extensive abuse in public schools by teachers. The abuse in public schools I’ve heard about is far briefer or is something to the effect of Mr. X from economics is dating the 16 year girl in his class. No doubt this is bad stuff, but I don’t hear about Teacher X from a public school taking an 11 year student on retreats and abusing him or her.

I’ve heard this claim several times that abuse is worse or just as bad comparing catholic clergy vs. public school teachers. I think this claim needs to be better understand.


The vast majority of priest abuse victims were post-pubescent males, not pre-pubescent (hence the use of the word “pedophile” isn’t technically accurate, but that’s a whole other discussion.) As to teachers engaging in longterm abuse of students, there have been numerous high-profile cases in the USA where exactly that happened.

I believe you…those cases from public schools certainly don’t seem to make the news…

I’m not sure about teachers, but I’ve definitely seen it claimed that the percentage of priest abusers is lower than the percentage of general public abusers. That’s a horrifying thought. If 1/50 (if we go with 2%) of priests were abusers…a higher number than that of the general public are?? That would mean in my building right now there would be, statistically, at least a few child abusers. Down my street there would be several. Within walking distance there would be potentially dozens of child abusers… if those stats are true it is beyond horrific, beyond the pale…I find it hard to believe that child abusers are around every corner, but that’s LITERALLY and precisely what these alleged statistics point to.

And so many of those statistics were double sided.

A few years ago, sitting on a panel for a veteran’s group interviewing candidates for local office, some cited the figure that the coroner’s Jurys found 97% of local police shootings to be justified, as a condemnation of the process.

I reacted in horror, as 3% of shootings not being justified is horrific and a call to action . . .


I only skimmed your post so I don’t know if these address what you are seeking.

A 1995 study gave a range of 0.04 to 5% of teachers sexually abused children. This means abuse at the hands of teachers isn’t that different from that of priests. This is an estimation.

This is the study mentioned in the above James Madison University link.
The abstract shows why an estimation can only be arrived at:

But few studies of sexual abuse in schools exist. There are many reason why this is the case. Such studies are difficult to undertake, since not all cases of abuse are reported. Moreover, even when cases are reported, many school districts are unwilling to make information on their experiences available to researchers. In some instances this reluctance stems from a laudable desire to guard the privacy of those involved; in others it stems from a fear of negative publicity, combined with a wish on the part of school personnel to protect their jobs.

Honestly, this is completely apples to oranges. The scandal in the Church is not merely that many priests are abusers, although that is certainly terrible. It is also that Church officials covered up the abuse for many years, moved priests around to avoid scrutiny, and promoted known abusers to positions of authority. While it may be possible to find an example here or there of that kind of thing in schools, there is no evidence I have seen of that kind of persistent institutional misconduct in the public school system.


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