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The disturbing world of teacher/student “romance”
Apparently Law & Order isn’t the only television show ripping plotlines from the headlines – the last new episode of Gossip Girl featured Dan (aka “Lonely Boy”) getting down with Constance Billard’s young, cute, new English teacher. Though I love it, GG‘s strong suit has never been reality, so this twist just provoked a lot of eye-rolling from my sofa. Until I remembered that misguided teacher/student romances do happen, far too often.
Parents in Bountiful, Utah, were stunned upon last week’s revelation that two teachers at the town’s junior high school were carrying on separate affairs with the same 13-year-old boy! The story came to light after 46-year-old history teacher Lisa Nef went to authorities and confessed to having a sexual relationship with the child. She shared that another teacher, Valynne Bowers, 39, was also sleeping with the boy.
Another recent case is that of 24-year-old teacher Lisa Lavoie and a 15-year-old male student, in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Lavoie and the boy took off after the student’s parents reported something suspicious about the pair’s relationship. The two went on a week-long road trip that stretched from New England down to West Virginia, where the pair was taken into custody. She faces charges of kidnapping and seducing a minor and is on administrative leave from her school, while the boy is in the custody of the Department of Social Services, which plans to move him to another school district.
The most notorious student/teacher assignation has to be that of Mary Kay LeTourneau and the young boy she later married. These two first got together in 1997 when Mary Kay was 34 and her victim was only 13! Two babies and a lot of jail time later, the two are married and live in a suburb outside of Seattle. Along the way they co-wrote a book about their relationship and sold the photo rights to their wedding to Entertainment Tonight.
It’s also important to remember that while the cases with female perpetrators are far more likely to make the news, though men make up only 15 percent of the teaching profession, they are responsible for two-thirds of the sexual abuse perpetrated on students. Somehow I doubt ET would be buying the wedding rights if the teacher was male, yet for some reason, female teachers often get a pass – and not just in the court of public opinion. When 43-year-old Pamela Diehl-Moore pled guilty to seducing a 13-year-old in her class, the judge assigned to her case said, “I do not believe she is a sexual predator. It’s just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship.” Ew.
These stories – especially when the teacher is good looking, like Debra LaFave, an ex-model who slept with a 14-year-old student – tend to get more of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge reaction from the public, turning up as jokes in late-night talk shows and laughed off by pretty much everyone except the victim and his family.
Conversely, the outrage is palpable when you hear of a male teacher seducing a female student. It’s no longer dubbed a “romance,” but tends to be classified more along the lines of sexual abuse. Same-sex assignations are punished even more harshly. When 28-year-old High School teacher Erica Umosella was caught romancing a 17-year-old female student, she was charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, among other charges. Contrast that with LaFave, who was charged with the far less serious statutory rape, even though Umosella’s student was above New Jersey’s age of consent (though because of the unfair power-balance, this rule is negated) and LaFave’s was well under.
According to an article in Reason magazine, in “1993 in Virginia, a male teacher who had sex with three teenage female students was sentenced to 26 years in prison – while the next day, a female swimming coach who had an ‘affair’ with an 11-year-old boy and sexual encounters with two others got 30 days.
Who’s to say that these male victims aren’t just as affected as their female counterparts? Rolling Stone did an excellent article about a 15-year-old student who got involved with a cute young gym teacher. When the gym teacher left him for a more age-appropriate football coach, the young man pretty much self-destructed. His promising athletic career derailed. He became an outcast in his hometown. Now 21, he still lives at home with his parents while the woman who molested him was fined $225 and pled guilty to a single charge of “offensive touching.”
An Edmonton, Alberta student/teacher affair in 2006 ended even more horribly, with the student killing himself after being confronted by his teacher’s husband. These devastating outcomes aren’t an aberration either. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, male victims of sexual abuse are more likely to suffer from emotional disorders, substance abuse, incontinence, and risk-taking behavior.
I’d go so far as to say that male victims may have a harder time recovering from sexual abuse than female victims do, because society puts such pressure on them to be sex-obsessed and looks down on them as less-than-manly if they voice a complaint about predatory women.