Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching & Learning


This study examined the responses of various school systems to learning of the sexual abuse of students by adult members of the school communities. The focus was on the reasons for the school systems decisions to accept or reject a report of sexual victimization of students, the levels of acceptance or rejection indicated by their reactions to the reports, and the aftermaths of the choices.

Data were gathered primarily through in-depth interviews with victims and their family members and friends, perpetrators, and school administrators, board members, and counselors. Document analysis supplemented the interviews. Themes in the data were elicited by a process of coding and reducing data until the major patterns emerged. Multiple interviews with people as diverse as victims and perpetrators allowed cross-checking for credibility.

Findings described and supported by the data were grouped into four stages of decision-making as the reports of victimization moved into the school systems: the initial reporting, the determination to accept or reject the reports, the type of actions to take, and the impact of the choice to accept or reject the reports. These stages reflect the decisions school systems have to make as they contemplate a reporting of sexual abuse by members of their adult population and the factors that may affect the reasons for their decisions made at each stage.

The decision-making process is followed through five case studies of known victimization in five school systems in North Dakota. In three of the five cases, no action was taken by the school systems. This study addresses the stages of decision-making pieced together through interviews and documents with victims, perpetrators, school officials and others.

The first stage addresses the notification of victimization and discussion about when and how school systems may know of the victimization prior to official recognition. The second stage begins as the school systems decide to accept or reject the reports of victimization based on considerations of the credibility of the victims and perpetrators and the characteristics of the local communities. Stage three discusses the influences that can be brought by community attitudes and the types of actions school systems may take. Stage four contains the potential ramifications of the school systems decisions. Within each stage, the major factors that might influence the decision-making process are discussed.