Friday, October 1, 2010

Teachers Behaving Badly

by Anne Bremner 

This post has been written by a dear friend of mine and a true talent, Katherine Kaufmann (pictured left), better known as "Coach Kitty." She has been my personal trainer for years, and she voraciously follows media regarding crimes and legal issues. She always has a sharp and witty opinion about everything she sees, and I'm honored to give her an opportunity to voice that opinion here. Take it away, Coach Kitty! 

I heard a story today about a little girl, just 12 years old, and so cute. What happened to this young girl at the hands of someone who was charged with protecting and educating her is appalling and illegal. Upon entering the sixth grade, Vicki (not her real name) became quite a teacher’s pet. (In all fairness, she did come from a broken home and the teacher was just taking her under his wing, right?) This handsome sixth-grade teacher would invite her to his home for dinner, she joined him on family outings, and he showered her with gifts and attention. What Vicki didn’t know was that like any pedophile worth his salt, Mr. Larson (not his real name) was doing something known as grooming. Alas, he was preparing his young victim for an eventual sexual assault.

By the time Mr. Larson eventually raped Vicki, it seemed to her the natural progression of a close relationship. Although she did know that they were doing something wrong, she never thought it was illegal or really even bad. Remember, she was just 12 years old. Mr. Larson had invited her over for slumber parties with his kids and had shared a sleeping bag with her many times, so by the time he raped her, nothing really seemed amiss for Vicki. After all, Vicki had known Mr. Larson since she was in the second grade and he was her teacher,. She knew his wife and kids, and this must be how things work, right?

Mr. Larson was eventually charged with first-degree rape of a child and sentenced to 30 years in prison. You should have heard the radio and TV pundits in my city where this crime took place. The outrage and fury was palpable. One noted radio talk show host was ready to form a lynch mob to go after Mr. Larson and the people I heard discussing the case at Starbucks were beside themselves with horror. This poor little girl! And this pedophile in our schools--how could this happen? Now, everyone clings a bit closer to their little girls, and every real or perceived threat to them is swiftly investigated.

Okay, here’s the deal. That story is only partly true. The teacher’s name in the real story would have been Mary Kay LeTourneau and the student's name would have been Vili Fualaau. Oh ,and the other part that isn’t quite true is that Mary was only charged with second-degree rape and was sentenced to six months in the county jail and three years of treatment. She was not, however, forced to register as a sex offender. Then, two weeks after her jail sentence ended, LeTourneau was caught having sex with 13-year-old Fualaau in her car and was re-arrested. That time, she was sentenced to 7-1/2 years behind bars, and upon release required to register as a level-two sex offender.

The part where the radio pundits and public were outraged? Meh? Not so much. I actually heard Mary Kay referred to as a “dreammaker” and, if I had a dime for every time the song "Hot for Teacher" by Van Halen was played as an intro to a story about her, well, let’s just say I could quit my day job.

This double standard that society has with the way it reacts to female and male sexual predators is deep and complicated. On one hand, it appears to be rooted partly in the idea that women, unlike men, are incapable of sexual aggression. By the same token, it seems to many, that young boys are willing participants in these sexual encounters. Although both may or may not be true, it seems to me anyway, that it shouldn’t matter. If a child is unable to legally consent to sex before a certain age it is a crime for he, or she to have sex with anyone. If an adult has sex with a child, that act is considered rape. The punishment and social taboo associated with it should be the same for men and women.

Susan Strickland, a 
University of Georgia professor and social worker who treats sex offenders, surveyed 60 women 
serving time for sexual offenses. 
She found that women who have sex with boys:

a. lack the mature relationship skills to partner with men their age;

b. are also motivated by a need for power and control, and they see the boy as a blank slate they can turn into the partner they want;

c. may never have had relationship in which they felt safe.

You know what I say to that? So what? It’s either a criminal act or it’s not. I realize that the motivations between male and female predators might be different, but the outcome is the same. A child is stripped of his or her sense of security, autonomy, and ability to trust. And that is a crime. The society at large would do well to see children as children whether boys or girls. With the same developmental components and emotional capabilities.

In the case of Mary Kay LeTourneau, as well as Debra Lafave (a teacher charged with seducing a 14-year-old boy), the fact that both are blonde and stereotypically pretty has only added to the myth that they were fulfilling boyhood dreams rather than committing crimes. I did notice that the majority of media figures who had this impression were men. Perhaps they can’t see past sixth grade, and, lucky for them, they are now free to act on that hot-for-teacher fantasy they’ve been harboring all this time. However, as long as a child is under the age of consent, women and men who commit these crimes should be treated equally in the eyes of the law and society.

1 comment:

cheryl said...

I watched a recent interview that Mary Kay and Vili did with William Shatner. It was bizarre to say the least. She kept talking about their "affair" in third person, and referring to themselves as a "girl and boy" in love.
Mary Kay appeared as an older woman trying too hard to look young. I really do believe that her emotional growth is stunted. She relates better to a young person because I think in her mind she's perennially 15 years old.