Chapter V: Avoiding False Accusations

The review's mandate is designed to facilitate the identification and prevention of sexual misconduct by teachers. Its prime focus must inevitably be upon the relatively small, though significant, number of educators who sexually mistreat students. However, this focus did not blind the Chair to the concerns raised by teachers about false allegations of sexual impropriety. Recommendations as to the law and as to policies and protocols contained in this Report are designed to promote child safety, but not at the expense of fairness to teachers.

Teachers' concerns, however, are not confined to false accusations. Education and training of teachers, financial resources, enhancing the school environment, and sexual harassment policies are some of the topics that teachers' representatives raised with members of the review staff.

According to teachers, concerns about false accusations of sexual misconduct are presently manifested in various ways. Fear of false accusations causes some teachers to avoid the most innocent physical contact with students. After-hour activities with students are sometimes curtailed. Some teachers will never meet with a student alone. Classroom doors are kept open during such meetings that do take place. Teachers also maintain that a culture of over-reporting complaints which are either groundless or do not involve criminality may result in children's aid societies and police officers being brought in to address unclear boundary issues, or frivolous, ill-motivated complaints rather than true crimes.

There is no means of quantifying the number of false accusations of sexual impropriety made against teachers. Diametrically opposed views on the prevalence of false complaints were presented. The Report does not reach the conclusion that there is a plethora of false accusations of sexual impropriety made against teachers. In particular, it does not conclude that young children routinely or commonly lie about sexual abuse. Nor does the Report conclude that false accusations are extremely rare. However, this debate is beside the point. False complaints are made against teachers. These may represent a deliberately false accusation or a misinterpretation of a teacher's conduct. Once one recognizes that false complaints of sexual impropriety do occur, in whatever number, the issue must be addressed. Such complaints can be devastating to an accused person, and the stigma associated with the complaint may linger, regardless of its disposition.

The investigation and evaluation of sexual complaints must make the best interests of children paramount. However, the serious impact of false complaints compels an approach to such complaints which remains open-minded and fair in all respects. Each case should be evaluated on its own merits, devoid of stereotypical notions about either party or about sexual misconduct itself. Students need to feel that they will be heard, that their accounts will not be discounted or minimized solely because they are students and the alleged offender is a teacher. Teachers also need to feel that they will be heard and that complaints will not be accepted just because they are made by children.

Reference was earlier made to the fact that heightened awareness of sexual abuse may, as a byproduct, alter the ways in which teachers interrelate with children, sometimes to the detriment of those children. However, teachers are not rendered immune from false complaints by withdrawing from students and focussing on the possibility of false allegations. The Report concludes that better education and training of teachers, parents and students about boundary issues, and the existence of a system in place that is perceived by teachers to fairly address complaints offer the best hope for ensuring that teachers are not unduly inhibited in their appropriate interchanges with students.

Much of teachers' concerns regarding false accusations reflect, at least in part, in level of distrust between teachers' unions and children's aid societies. While a close examination of this issue was beyond the scope of the review, it is clear that the suspicion and distrust between children's aid workers and teachers is inconsistent with the ability of each to perform their respective jobs to their fullest potential. Recommendations 46 to 47 promote the education and training of children's aid society workers and teachers, including joint educational programming, on the investigation and evaluation of sexual misconduct. Such educational programming should address, among other things, the exchange of information between children's aid investigators and counsel for the suspected party during the investigative process. Recommendation 48 addresses concerns about "over-reporting" through further education as to the meaning and use of section 72 of the Child and Family Services Act.