A story from Boston illustrates one difficulty that mandated reporters often face, which is piecing together details that, by themselves, don't necessarily signal abuse. In this incident, middle school boys started keeping a database of "creepy" actions and statements by one of their teachers. When other adults lodged serious claims of inappropriate behavior, the boys' list, which they called their "Pedo Database," became a piece of evidence in that ongoing investigation.

Reading through the list contained in the news reports, I can understand why administrators might have had difficulty acting on the students' reports. Most of the entries are violations of professional boundaries, but not actionable in isolation. It is only when the teacher's actions added up to a pattern that they became clearly grooming behavior. The news reports don't make clear how many reports the students made or which behavior they reported. The administrators they told may not have had the entire story.

This incident illustrates the need to listen carefully to students' reports and to ask more questions. It is true that most law enforcement agencies tell teachers to not  ask questions and to simply report to child protection. Yet, most investigators also would have screened out the individual incidents in the list. They might or might not have asked more questions to establish a pattern. Mandated reporters who hear these sort of disclosures need to ask enough questions to know whether the incidents are isolated or part of a significant pattern.

Students also get discouraged easily. If adults don't respond to their first reports, no matter how vague or tenuous, students will assume that the adults don't care and won't come back with any new tales. Thus, administrators likely will not obtain the entire picture until too late.

Youth organizations need a clear chain of reporting incidents, and to encourage reporting. Even if there is nothing actionable in the initial report, encourage the students to bring any new information. If there is a pattern, you need to hear it from them sooner rather than later.

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