Sending an anonymous email about inappropriate comments about minors?
September 24, 2015 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a new school, new social circle. Someone in this circle (let's call him X) was talking about the previous school he worked at and made several inappropriate (sexual) comments about minors (13-16). X seemed sketchy and creepy in general. He went on the reveal that he's interviewing for a job in another school and revealed the name of the school. A quick google search led me to the email address of his new supervisor.

Thinking of going to the library and sending an anonymous email saying, "x is known to make inappropriate sexual comments about minors. Be careful who you hire" or something like that.

Since I'm the new person in X's friend group, I'm slightly concerned that his potential supervisor may not believe my anonymous message and will tell X she received this email, which X will narrow down to me."

Any advice?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (28 answers total)
Is there a reason for the cloak-and-dagger nature of the email phrasing? I feel like you could just say something like "I've heard X say the following things about students at his previous school and I thought this would be something you'd want brought to your attention, I'd prefer if you didn't tell him about this email but I couldn't in good conscience leave you in the dark." I think it sounds more creditable than the cryptic approach, so it's more likely to be effective AND less likely to get back to X.
posted by babelfish at 1:47 PM on September 24, 2015 [49 favorites]

Agree with babelfish. Your proposed phrasing sounds like it came from a vengeful ex, not a concerned citizen.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:49 PM on September 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

Without knowing the nature of the comments, it is hard to put too fine a point on this.

Saying something in a misguided attempt at humor in a social setting is very different than saying something about malicious intent to perpetrate some crime (or worse, admitting some past crime) in a school/work environment.

My general thought here (with no further information than what you've written) is that writing some anonymous email to a prospective supervisor is WAY into the realm of meddling. By this measure, you should also tell his current supervisor (presumably your goal is to keep this person from working with minors?). Also, if you are even sort of willing to do this, you are DEFINITELY not in his friend group. A friend would confront this person directly and have an adult, professional conversation about the risks and or implications of this kind of statement.

Would you want people posing as your friend to send anonymous messages to your professional contacts without your knowledge (or ability to explain/apologize/contextualize) because you made an off-color joke that they perceived to be offensive?

You shouldn't do this... not because you might get caught, but because you shouldn't do this to begin with. If you do decide to do this, do it openly. That way everyone in the group knows where you stand on the issue and can decide how to react on their own. After all, if these people are your friends and you are their friends, presumably you all share the same ethical opinion on this and you will be free from judgment and/or consequences... right?
posted by milqman at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2015 [21 favorites]

I agree that babelfish's proposed wording is better, and less likely to get back to X, but there is no way you can guarantee that. Some interviewers might deliberately mention it to X to see what his reaction is. I understand your concern, but I don't think it's possible for you to damage X's prospects with no risk to yourself.
posted by ubiquity at 1:56 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think if you're going to make such a big statement to this person's future employer, then you should have the guts to stand behind it, using your name and being available for further clarification. Too bad if X finds out that you did Y. If confronted you should be able to feel you can stand by it. People who don't want to put their names to things they say, especially about others, are not acting with integrity. Unless you feel you're in more danger than looking over zealous with your new friends.

ETA I would NOT do this. You're making a very serious allegation. If you really have child welfare at heart, do something adult and find out more information about this person, maybe even asking them about their comments openly.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:23 PM on September 24, 2015 [15 favorites]

Actually I have been in this situation, where a teacher at another school showed a serious transgression around children, and I made my letter to her principal confidential but I put my name on it and contact details. I was nervous about it, but the details could be understood clearly.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:33 PM on September 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

agree with the above commenters. if his comments are disturbing enough to warrant your sending this message, you should be willing to send them over your name and be willing to accept any blowback from him or your mutual friends.

take a more serious example. if someone admitted to me and other friends that he'd molested a child, I'd send that message over my name as soon as I could reach an internet connection. what, a molester is aggrieved by my reporting him? too bad.

although this isn't "as heinous," obviously, taking a half measure where you report it but avoid ruffling his or the friend group's feathers is really not an option. either this is serious enough to warrant torpedoeing his career and your relationship with him and his loyal buddies, or it isn't.
posted by jayder at 2:40 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

If I'm understanding the situation correctly, you both work at one school, and he's applying for a position at a new school. If you warn the new school out of hiring him, he'll presumably end up staying at your school. It would seem to make more sense to just go ahead and say something to your shared principal right now.

If I'm reading that wrong and you are studying together but not working together, I still think it makes more sense to talk to whoever's in charge where you are -- professor, dean, etc.
posted by jaguar at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

I work in government and anonymous comments are not taken as seriously, and sometimes not acted on at all as they can't be verified.

I don't know what the rules are where you are, but here information isn't "held" until it's written.

I'd call up and ask to speak to the principal privately.

Most privacy legislation would consider such correspondence to be confidential (if you email non-anon).
posted by jrobin276 at 2:50 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

No comment on as to whether or not you should do this. It does seem like, if nothing else, someone needs to speak up and say that these types of comments are inappropriate in a professional work environment. Either you or his current boss.

If you're willing to go to this potential workplace with this, then you should probably tell his current boss too. Let current boss look into it, talk to him, pull their reference or whatever. You could phrase it as "X has made Y comments repeatedly and it's making me really uncomfortable".
posted by jrobin276 at 3:05 PM on September 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Be prepared for it to come back to you. Also, might consider asking him about it sometime when you are out in a group. I wouldn't write an anonymous note. I think I would wait until I was in a situation where Mr. X again said something about youngsters and then say: Mr. X, that's the 3rd time I've heard you say something sexually suggestive about minors. What's up with that? And I would not sound angry or hostile but truly curious. Because I would be curious. But also being curious rather than angry is one way that you can help other people understand what they are doing. It's really hard to hear someone who is angry at you. It's fine to be angry; this guy sounds super creepy. But sometimes anger makes people less effective at communication. Do you want this guy to lose a job or do you want him to stop being creepy? It's not that you're control of either outcome, it's just that talking to him directly and with an audience might be an opportunity to hold up a mirror to him that he would never see otherwise. It's a long shot, of course.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:22 PM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I work in government and anonymous comments are not taken as seriously, and sometimes not acted on at all as they can't be verified.

Not only this, but the first question posed to a complainant in this situation where I work is (paraphrasing), "Have you approached the subject of your complaint about the comments in question, or do you feel personally unsafe doing so?" There's usually a need for some qualifier that asserts these comments are offered in a context that merits serious review, because employers will have a difficult time negotiating any action based on hearsay in an unofficial context (e.g. if comments were said in the office or within earshot of clients, then a supervisor would likely address them; if these comments were said in a taxi from dinner on a work trip, then a supervisor would not likely address them). If the nature of the comments meets some relevant threshold for safety, though, it's a moot point.

You're the judge of where these comments fall on that spectrum. Nevertheless, an unclarified and anonymous "tip" does little to help situations, even ones that may merit serious attention.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:24 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Bella Donna and honey-barbara have it right. If you truly believe X should not be teaching at the next school, X should not be teaching at your current school either. It is difficult to ask, but a neutral inquiry in public is the way to go. You may get a pretty quick read on whether you should really be concerned about X's behavior, or whether X needs to learn what an appropriate comment is and is not.
posted by Gotanda at 3:33 PM on September 24, 2015

Your revulsion sounds justified. But the downside is that you are opening yourself up to a potential lawsuit. I don't understand where there is any upside. Won't this person find an education job anyhow even if you were to scuttle this one attempt? If on the other hand you could find hard evidence of his being a threat to youth, like if you found out he had an account with the service Ron from Ron's Coffee Shop runs in Mr. Robot, you would be in a much stronger position than if you are just passing along gross remarks.
posted by johngoren at 4:05 PM on September 24, 2015

It sounds like you would like the recruiting school to read your email and quietly move his application to the "no" pile without telling him why. I'm not saying that can't happen, but actually I think it would be pretty inappropriate if it did, because an anonymous email like you're proposing could be sent by anyone for a whole lot of reasons that might have nothing at all to do with the person's employment (or even the truth). Where I am, many employers will give potential employees a right of reply even if they fail a criminal record check, which is far more objective information than your potential email. It's good procedural fairness and respect for natural justice.

If you send an email, the most appropriate things for the hiring committee to do would be either to ignore it, or to bring it up with the interviewee and ask them about it. If you feel like that will make it clear that you have dobbed him in, and that is unacceptable to you, then don't do it.

+1 to the ideas expressed above, that if this is really something that should prevent him working with children, his current employer needs to know - but if it doesn't reach that threshold, the appropriate thing would be to call him on it when he says those things rather than trying to go behind his back and secretly sabotage his life.
posted by Cheese Monster at 4:45 PM on September 24, 2015

OP, if you are in the US, and this is serious enough to warrant warning his new prospective employer, you are probably already a mandatory reporter of his comments, and you need to report them to either local law enforcement or DCFS, depending on where you live. You are not responsible for discovering the accuracy of his comments or whether he has ever actually abused a child; your responsibility is to report the behavior to specialist investigators who have the expertise to sort the wheat from the chaff. (And a great many reports are "non-indicated" which means no abuse or wrongdoing is found.)

You should absolutely also use whatever confidential reporting process is in place at your current employer; if you don't have confidence that the internal HR reporting process will keep your name a secret, another avenue might be to speak directly to a school board member. I definitely received reports of employee wrongdoing when I was on the school board where the reporter was too afraid of retaliation to use the internal process, and I was able to ask for an investigation without disclosing names of the reporting employees.

johngoren: "But the downside is that you are opening yourself up to a potential lawsuit. ... If on the other hand you could find hard evidence of his being a threat to youth"

This is flatly incorrect, and the OP's responsibility is NOT to investigate this. The investigation is for authorities with training in investigation; your responsibility, OP, is to report. Reporting this to the appropriate authorities WILL NOT open you up to a lawsuit unless you willfully and maliciously misrepresent what you heard. Reporters of potential or suspected child abuse (etc.) are protected by statute against legal retaliation (and employment retaliation). However, if you are a mandatory reporter, FAILURE to report can be a crime with jail time.

In the US, your state child abuse authorities will have a 1-800 number you can call if you have questions about your responsibilities as a mandatory reporter, and any concerns you may have about personal repercussions to you from reporting. In general you may report anonymously. However, if this is as serious as you imply, you don't have an option not to report it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2015 [19 favorites]

Yeah, if you're a mandatory reporter in the US reporting this to the designated authorities is likely your safest option.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 5:19 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

X made several inappropriate (sexual) comments about minors (13-16). X seemed sketchy and creepy in general
X very likely sexually harassed you and other listeners. Report to HR.
posted by theora55 at 5:42 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

My feeling is that you don't need to do this anonymously because it makes it much harder to take it seriously. Maybe he has a crazy ex or mentally ill father who wants to ruin his life? They won't know, and the anonymous nature of your already-vague email makes it hard for them to take it seriously.

Additionally, why would you only report this to a place he is interviewing for a job at? Uh, shouldn't you report it to the school he currently works at, especially if he is around kids?

He hasn't admitted to doing anything illegal, so I don't know if you can really call the police. But if he is creepy, people need to be on the look out and not allowing him to be alone with kids. I would report it to your current school.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:03 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

An anonymous email is reprehensible.

If you believe he is some threat , some pedo in a position of authority,
then stand up and say so.
You have a moral duty to do so.
posted by yyz at 6:24 PM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

OP, if you live in the U.S. the only correct answer is Eyebrows McGee's.
I've had mandatory reporter training as part of The Prison Rape Elimination Act as well as Working With Minors training annually. It sounds as though you are in the position of mandatory reporter now whether you realize it or not, and you should follow the steps outlined by EG above. There's no penalty for reporting this using the required channels and you are in fact legally responsible to do so. Your reporting of this episode will not automatically result in censure of the person who made the remarks. I'd also like to stress the point made above by EG that *you should not investigate or act on this further by sending an email/calling the potential employer* before filing a report, or for that matter after filing one either. There's a process in place to investigate whether or not complaints have merit, and it's required to err on the side of caution given the resulting investigations usually turn up no evidence of impropriety or worse.
posted by stagewhisper at 6:55 PM on September 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreed with those above that if you're working in a school, you are likely a mandatory reporter. In our training, it was made clear that the only employees in our whole university who were not mandatory reporters were clergy and one specific counselor who was designated to not be a mandatory reporter -- so unless you are in a position such as this, which I think you would have mentioned, you probably are.

When I had the training for this, it was explained to us that if we failed to report a concern and it was later discovered, we could be held personally liable, so this is nothing to mess around with. The potential here for a child to be harmed is way more important than not pissing off a friend. Go through the proper channels and don't mess around with trying to figure out more yourself or do some weird anonymous thing.

Finally, look, I get making friends in a new job is difficult. I really do. But: why are you so apparently okay with being friends with someone who is making sexual comments about thirteen year old children? Or being part of a friends group where this is apparently acceptable behavior? That is really beyond the pale in horrifying behavior. Imagine how parents would feel if they knew school employees were getting together and making/hearing these types of comments and letting it slide.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:06 PM on September 24, 2015 [8 favorites]

Given that this person works at your school, why not forget his hypothetical move to new schools and deal with it in situ, through HR /MR protocols and channels where you are. An anonymous email to a prospective employer is unlikely to garner greater child safety for anyone, but you could talk to relevant people where you are. I stick by the idea that anonymous drive by notes add treacle to the process, lacking any form of follow up review.

And Eyebrows McGee, I do take seriously mandatory reporting protocols. Anonymous notes to third parties outside of the direct sphere of influence and correction is not mandatory reporting.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:31 PM on September 24, 2015

Mandated reporting, at least as I understand it in my state, generally requires an identifiable victim. The goal is not to prosecute potential perpetrators but to protect victims.
posted by jaguar at 7:43 PM on September 24, 2015

The OP didn't say he made an inappropriate, off color joke. They said he "made several inappropriate (sexual) comments about minors (13-16)".
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:35 PM on September 24, 2015

I've interviewed and hired teachers and I'm a mandated reporter.

First, you need to get those comments straight in your mind. He may have made inappropriate comments about students (which is not okay), but did he in ANY way comment about actually touching/harassing the kids?

Example: "Those 13 year old girls dress like 21 year olds out on the town with their super short skirts where you can see everything." This is gross but it's just an observation. Educators have been known to say stupid things about their students.

If you have valid concerns, you should absolutely contact your local Child Services Office and tell them everything. If they think kids are in danger, they will investigate.

You can give them this information anonymously but even if you tell them your name, it will not come back to you.

You mentioned being concerned he would know it was you. What it boils down to is this:

If you think he's a danger to kids, it doesn't matter.

An anonymous email will do nothing.
posted by kinetic at 3:22 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Anonymous email will have little effect. And it may still come back to you.
So, you might end up in a situation where you accomplished nothing and still got the blowback.

If you really believe what you are saying, that this person is a threat to children, then you need to own it. Put your name on it.
Stand up for your beliefs.
posted by Flood at 5:20 AM on September 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

What did this person actually say? As kinetic says above, there are comments that could come across as creepy but don't actually indicate that any actual harassment took place or will take place. THere are other kinds of comments that could be a veiled reference to actual harassment.
posted by zipadee at 3:47 AM on September 28, 2015

« Older Timing for washer/dryer purchase   |   Out of bounds to suggest new clothes? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.