Breaking News
More () »

'I blamed myself:' Sexual assault survivor shares story of courage after being abused by male teacher

Jamie Forbes is the CEO of a non-profit devoted to reducing incidents and improving responses to sexual misconduct in schools. He's also a survivor.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There's a growing problem in classrooms across the country, and it's not about what your kids are being taught. It's about the person who is teaching them.

According to reports, the number of inappropriate student/teacher relationships is on the rise. 

Seven percent of middle and high school students surveyed have experienced unwanted, inappropriate touching from an adult, most often a teacher or a coach. That may not seem like a lot, but it equals 3.5 million students nationwide. 

In the picture below, you see a 13-year-old boy who appears to be happy. But behind that smile is an awful memory.

"I was sexually abused by a male teacher when I was a freshman in high school," Forbes said.

Credit: Jamie Forbes

It was the 1980s, and Forbes says the abuse happened more than once. 

"He was my advisor at the time, my abuser. While he was removed as my advisor, he was actually not fired from his position."

Forbes alleged abuser, Rey Buono, was charged with multiple counts of sexual misconduct in 2019. Most of those charges were dropped because of the statute of limitations, but the Massachusetts Supreme Court reinstated some and those prosecutions are ongoing. 

Buono has pleaded not guilty. 

"I blamed myself for not what I felt was not having the strength to protect myself," Forbes explained. 

Forbes has found his strength in a new mission. He's the CEO of Learning Courage, a non-profit devoted to reducing incidents and improving responses to sexual misconduct in schools. 

"We, first of all, try to normalize the conversation. It's rare to find people who feel comfortable talking about the topic of sex in schools. The more information and knowledge students have, the better able they are to protect themselves and protect their friends," Forbes explained. 

Learning Courage gives school leaders the tools they need to reduce the number of incidents and respond appropriately when they do occur. 

"The first thing is they helped us look at practices and policies around sexual misconduct," Michael Hirschfeld told First Coast News. 

Hirschfeld is the Head of School at Kent School, a boarding school in Connecticut. He came from a previous school that went through a sexual assault scandal. He says he understands the need for this program and that's why he's using it right now with his students and staff. 

RELATED: Parents charged with murder after child found unresponsive in RV at Georgia Buc-ee's

Credit: Michael Hirschfeld

Hirschfeld says the program has taught him to support and focus on survivors of sexual assault. 

"The second thing they've helped us with in terms of teaching is understanding sexual misconduct, particularly that perpetrated by adults on students, is really about power."

Forbes hopes more schools take advantage of the program and make it a part of ongoing discussions, so what happened to him doesn't happen to another child. 

"For many people, those are memories that stick with them throughout their life," Forbes said. 

Forbes recommends asking your school leaders these two questions:

  • What kind of training does school staff receive on boundaries?
  • How do you ensure employees have no background of sexual misconduct?

We asked our three largest school districts about sexual assault policies/protocols:

Clay County

Our staff is trained on multiple facets involving child abuse, including the prevention of child trafficking. We make students aware that they can talk to any adult advocate on campus. They are required to take mandatory training through DCF surrounding child abuse.

St. Johns County

The school district has acknowledged our request and is preparing to send information. 

Duval County

Student Education

Students participate in Wellness Wednesday lessons each month. February’s focus is on healthy relationships. Students in grades K-12 receive developmentally appropriate education on what is healthy/unhealthy, safe/unsafe, and good/bad with regard to relationships. Information on how to talk to a trusted adult (and report misbehavior) is included in each lesson (but is not limited to sexual assault).

 Additionally, students receive instruction through health education. The health education curriculum for students in grades seven through 12 provides a teen dating violence and abuse component that includes the definition of dating violence and abuse, the warning signs of dating violence and abusive behavior, the characteristics of healthy relationships, measures to prevent and stop dating violence and abuse, and community resources available to victims of dating violence and abuse.

 Staff Training

Every year school-based staff are required to complete the district’s mandatory Code of Ethics and Professionalism training.  This training is also included in the new hire onboarding process.  This training is comprehensive and includes the following topics which are relevant to your questions:

Employee Conduct

School Board Policy 6.80 states that “All District employees shall conduct themselves at all times in an ethical manner and shall maintain and promote integrity.”   Employees must use professional language and engage in professional behavior towards students. Employees should not engage in physical and/or verbal misconduct towards students.  There are several forms of misconduct.  Some examples of misconduct include, but are not limited to the following:

Inappropriate Communication

Ø  Profanity or lewd comments

Ø  Yelling and name-calling

Ø  Threatening students or embarrassing students

 Inappropriate Physical Contact

Ø  Touching Students inappropriately

Ø  Touching students aggressively

Ø  Touching students sexually

Poor Judgement

Ø  Holding back food or water as a punishment

Ø  Using any form of corporal punishment

Fraternization with Students - School Board Policy 6.84 discusses Fraternization with Students.  It prohibits employees and authority figures from engaging in inappropriate relationships with students enrolled in any pre-kindergarten to 12th grade program. This policy defines who is an authority figure, inappropriate behavior, and the consequence of inappropriate behavior according to Florida law.

1. Authority Figure – Any person 18 years of age or older employed by, volunteering at, or under contract with a school or the district, including school resource officers.

2. Inappropriate Relationship – One that may not be sexual in nature, but that violates the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida.  Prohibited behaviors include but are not limited to:

a. Soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct, a relationship of a romantic nature, dating or agreeing to date a student;

b. Having a relationship with a student for personal gain or advantage;

c. Having a relationship with a student that is harmful to the student’s mental and/or physical health and/or safety, or;

d. Engaging in lewd conduct.

3. Consequence – An authority figure that solicits or engages in sexual conduct, a relationship of a romantic nature, or lewd conduct with a student commits a felony pursuant to Section 800.101, Florida Statutes.

Before You Leave, Check This Out