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School abuse: Institutional danger

School is supposed to be a safe place. A place where a child goes for education and socialisation. A place where they can learn, play, and ultimately be moulded into the person they will one day become. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In some scenarios, school becomes the opposite setting – a place where they feel fear, pain, and confusion. Schools have an obligation to keep students safe, and school abuse can be detrimental to their future.

Abuse can happen anywhere, from anyone

School abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional. As defined by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, physical abuse is non-accidental and causes physical harm. Sexual abuse is anything that exposes the child to, or involves the child in, sexual processes beyond their understanding or contrary to accepted community standards. And emotional abuse is anything that results in the child suffering significant emotional deprivation or trauma.

Unfortunately, these forms of abuse can come from anyone. An educator, staff member, or fellow student can be an abuser. An entire institution can be abusive as well. Institutional abuse (or organisational abuse) happens when a person or group is either neglected or suffers because of the system or practices within it. 

Emotional abuse at school is the most challenging to identify because it’s a bit more subjective than child sexual abuse or physical abuse by school staff. It’s more about the impact on the student than the behaviour that caused it. If a teacher slaps a student, for example, that is physical abuse. As for a teacher insulting a student, that’s emotional abuse, especially if the behaviour is a pattern. Yelling at a student might also be considered emotional abuse depending on the circumstances. 

Sexual abuse by a teacher can take a variety of forms. But it’s safe to say that if a child is indicating there were sexual acts, discussions, or even implied behaviors outside of the typical health curriculum, it’s worth investigating further. When young people speak up about abuse, or if you notice any signs of abuse, it’s important to take it seriously.

Student abuse and what to look for

When it comes to school abuse, it’s not always as straightforward as your child experiencing an incident, reporting it to you, and it is rectified. If your child tells you they were hit by their teacher, for example, you would immediately report that and there would be little doubt that the incident was wrong. 

However, sometimes a child doesn’t even realise that what they’re facing is abuse. Or if they do, they might feel ashamed, embarrassed, or a variety of other emotions that might prevent them from speaking up. As a parent or guardian, you should keep an eye out for signs of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The following are warning signs to look out for and are worth investigating further:

  • A student facing abuse might have a change in behaviour or school performance. If they’re depressed or anxious, losing sleep, or suddenly seem more aggressive, angry, or hostile, you might consider having a conversation to see what’s going on.
  • If they have bruises or marks, certainly you should get to the root of why that is. If the injuries don’t match up with your child’s explanation, that could also be a sign of child maltreatment that they’re hiding from you (possibly for a variety of reasons). They may also tell you they are experiencing physical punishment or have a personal injury, but might not know it’s wrong.
  • A child who has experienced a loss of previously developed skills, decreased interest in school and performance, general social withdrawal, or loss of self-esteem, might be involved in emotional abuse. They also might avoid going to school or taking the bus.


Regarding sexual offences, like sexual assault or harrassment, some signs to look out for in your child would be:

  • Sexual behavior or knowledge inappropriate to the child’s age.
  • Pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections, along with bleeding or injury.


Sexual harassment, exploitation, and assault can all lead to emotional and behavioral reactions, both short term and long term. It can impact physical and mental health, and the traumas could cause post-traumatic distress. The longer the trauma continues, the harder it is for one to recover.

As a parent, it can be difficult to determine if your child is facing abuse. Children put trust in their schools and teachers, and it can be hard for survivors to comprehend what has happened or is happening to them. School abuse can be complex, so having adults who don’t neglect to take care of them is vital. If your child isn’t speaking up but you have concerns, take them seriously. Talk to the child’s paediatrician or other trusted professionals, and consider getting legal advice. In an emergency situation, bring the child to the hospital.

Filing a child abuse claim

If a student tells you about abuse at school, you have a duty to report it. As a professional at the school, there is mandatory reporting if you are aware of alleged abuse. As a parent or guardian of the child, in addition to reporting on the basis of reasonable grounds, you should contact a lawyer to ensure you’re following the best possible route for your situation. 

You have to gather any information you have, keep a record for yourself, and file a claim with the appropriate school department or authorities. After the notification, the informed department should conduct an investigation. From there, there would be a substantiation. This is when an investigation concludes there is reasonable cause to believe the student has been abused. 

After reporting the abuse to school, keep track of how they react. This can help you to avoid falling victim to retaliation. If the school does not take any significant action based on your report, they begin showing signs of retaliation, or the behaviour of the abuser continues or gets worse, you should also seek legal action.

The claim you make can be filed against a specific teacher, person, or the school itself. It all depends on the nature of the abuse and the specific situation. Although it can’t reverse the damage of harmful sexual behaviour, injury, or emotional trauma that was done to the survivor of child abuse, you may be entitled to compensation. And by taking action, you are helping the prevention of future abuse.

What professional school abuse legal advice can do to help

Seeking legal advice from a reputable law office can help ensure that you know your rights and that of your child while at school. The professionals at Gerard Malouf & Partners can help you file a claim and deal with legal matters along the way to support you, keep documentation, and attempt to right the wrongs that have been done.

If there were teachers or other administrators at school who failed to fulfil the promise or mandatory reporting, that is yet another way the system failed the survivor. A child’s claim is reasonable grounds for investigation. Your child has a right to be safe at school, free from harm. If there is anything jeopardising that, action is necessary.

If your child has been a victim of school abuse, contact Gerard Malouf & Partners today. We offer free, confidential over-the-phone or face-to-face consultations. Our lawyers are assisted by expert consultants, including doctors and psychiatrists, to ensure your claim is well supported and that the pain you and your child have suffered is both properly documented and substantiated. School abuse law can be complicated to navigate on your own. Speak to a lawyer at Gerard Malouf & Partners today.

© 2022 
Gerard Malouf & Partners
 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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