Friday, February 20, 2009

Sex Education in Schools: Private Lessons

by Lucy Puryear, M.D.

It seems to me that there are more and more reports in the news of female teachers having sexual relationships with their male students. We're all very aware of male teachers taking advantage of their female students. When that happens most of us are not surprised; older men and younger women are a dyad familiar throughout the ages. The man is attracted to the girl's youth and adoration; she is attracted to his power and the prestige of being the chosen one.

Male teachers and their students are a ubiquitous story. One of my good friends in high school married our physics teacher twenty years her senior, one week after graduation. We were all fascinated, jealous, and grossed out. My English teacher once asked me to sit on his lap; I declined. My Spanish teacher got down on his knees after class and told me I was beautiful. I was 15. He must have been 40. I laughed and quickly walked out of the room. But were I more vulnerable or insecure or confused, maybe I would have pursued a special relationship with him. I'm sure I'm not the only ones with stories.

In those days we didn't consider these men sex offenders, though we should have. We just considered them weird teachers to stay away from. I made sure to never be alone in the room with either teacher again. Today male teachers taking sexual advantage of their young students are tried and punished. It is not tolerated.

But I don't remember stories of any female teachers taking advantage of male students. Was it going on and we just didn't know about it? Were the guys too proud or too ashamed to tell? And a 35-year-old female teacher marrying an 18-year-old kid was taboo. Okay for men, but no way for women.

The times have changed. Either more women are taking advantage of their male students or we are more aware that any teacher sexually engaged with any student is a sexual assault, whether consensual or not. Mary Kay Letourneau (pictured above with student Vili Fualaau) opened the door into the world of female teachers having relationships with their male students. She was sentenced twice for having a sexual relationship with Fualaau, starting when he was twelve.

Our very our Women In Crime Ink contributor Kathryn Scardino recently defended a Spring teacher who was accused of giving oral sex t0 two football players. According to the Houston Chronicle, Shannon Hrozek (pictured right) was given ten years of deferred adjudication, and agreed to surrender her teacher's license. Reading the comments of the public in response to this case was enlightening. Many applauded the two young men for getting serviced. Others pointed out that were this a male teacher with a female student the sentence would have been much more grave. We would be looking at a registered sex offender as opposed to a teacher who might have done two young men a "favor."

It is assumed that males are not harmed by having sex with an older woman, whereas young girls must be forced and taken advantage of. It is hard for many to imagine that a young boy could have sex unwillingly. But let me be perfectly clear: Any time there is a differential in power between two people, potential coercion exists. This is true for a doctor and patient, lawyer and client, pastor and parishioner, reporter and source, and teacher and student. Any time there is an inequality in a relationship the relationship cannot, by definition, be consensual.

It is the responsibility of the doctor, lawyer, pastor, reporter, and teacher to err on the side of restraint—even if the other party is "asking for it," professing love, or seems to not be harmed. It doesn't matter if the student, or patient, or client walks in to the room naked, begging to be taken. It is ethically and often legally required for the person in power to say no. Teachers need to be reminded of the power they hold in a child's eye and what a privilege it is to be given this power. A young boy assaulted by his teacher has been abused, even if others think him lucky.


Shreela said...

I graduated high school 30 years ago. Our choir teacher was busted having an affair with one of his students.

I was told (a few years after graduation) by a girl I knew about her affair with one of the junior coaches -- I wouldn't be surprised if she was the aggressor, because she was that kind of girl, but still, he should have restrained himself, since he was the adult.

But what I mostly remember is from Junior high, when a young, attractive female teacher heavily flirted with the male athletes in front of the entire class. She'd give them the "come hither" looks, and "accidentally" brush against them with her breasts. She was what I'd consider a pedo-sexual predator.

FleaStiff said...

Crimes? We tend to make everything a crime now. I'm sure such activity took place in the past but was simply not considered to be particularly serious. One school district had two male teachers who transferred from Junior High to High School as their girlfriends did and then each of the two married those girls immediately after graduation. An officer and an enlisted person often marry but the military overlooks the fact that they undoubtedly fraternized before then. The schoolage male can be graduated and then go Cougar Hunting but we frown on his getting lucky prior to being graduated. There just no longer seems to be any tolerance. Its off to the courthouse and the TV cameras right away. Why? Are we so anxious to criminalize behavior that we fail to focus on people being happy and having freedom to choose their paths in life. Why can't we yank a squad of cops off those easy statutory rape cases and send them to work on the violent rape cases?

Anon said...

I tend to agree with you FleaStiff. Sex is a physiological issue more than anything. Men and women of all ages are attracted to each other and not always because they are pedos but because it is natural. I have never underststood how our justice system can decide to prosecute a minor as an adult for murder but if that same minor was involved in consentual sex with an adult, he/she isn't so adult anymore. Ummmm??

That said, I do think MKL and some of the other female teachers are mentally ill and that is how their illness manifested itself. That should not be tolerated, but I don't think they deserve to go to prison for being mentally ill.

The underlying problem is that we allow our government to put rules and regulations on every aspect of our lives and it hurts more than it helps sometimes.

Lucy Puryear MD said...

An adult, in a position of power, having sex with a minor under their influence, is NEVER consensual. I am not talking about 19 year olds having sex with their 16 year girlfriends. I am talking about a professional who is supposed to be a protector crossing boundaries and taking advantage of that influence for their own gain. Whether the receiver "enjoyed" it is irrelevant. A 42 year old, lonely and unhappy woman should not be giving oral sex to a student. It is unethical, wrong, and an abuse of power.

Donna Pendergast said...

In high School a science teacher more than 10 years older than me asked me to the cap and gown dance---- I guess that he thought no one would say anything because I was graduating.

It was well known that this teacher who was a little too friendly with students had a legnthy relationship with a student who graduated a year before me. Everyone in the school knew it but no one did anything.

Back to me----yes I was confused and didn't know what to do. I was the class president and didn't want to make waves because he was supposed to CHAPERONE the dance so I made a joke and then avoided him. He failed to show at the dance and got quite snarky with me when I nextsaw him in school.

The weird part----he started dating my next door neighbor who was a year younger than me when I went away to college. He of course met her at school and was dating her during her senior year.

They ended up getting married and had two children who to this day don't know that he met her when she was his student. My sister keeps in touch with her and she told my sis that they went to great legnths to conceal how they met from their kids. WEIRD all the way around!