Amy Daves explores how the sexual abuse of boys by adult females is often dismissed if the perpetrator is attractive.
A few weeks ago, a Tacoma Washington high school math teacher was accused of, and confessed to, sexually abusing three teenaged students. In many aspects, this is not an uncommon story. Children are sexually abused every day, and society is arguably intolerant of any man who would engage in an inappropriate relationship of any type with a child, boy or girl. We are particularly incensed by those in trusted positions – be they priests, parents, teachers, employers – who would use their charges to gratify their own sexual needs.
This story, however, is less common in that the abuser is a female. It is not clear whether or not it actually happens less, or if it is simply reported less, that a female teacher would engage in sexual behavior with a student. What is clear, however, is that many people in our society have drastically different standards for male and female perpetrators, and likewise, different standards for male victims and female victims. It is important to note that for the purpose of this article, the word “victim” is not dependent upon the present state of mind of the victim, but rather as an identifier for the person involved in the crime who is defined by the
law as having significantly less power in the relationship than the perpetrator.
Remarkably, many people in the community are chiming in on this case, questioning the accusation by way of challenging the definition of abuse. Apparently, due to the fact that this teacher was female, and young, and arguably attractive, and that the victims are high school aged young men, the definition of abuse is challenged, and the actions of the teacher are redefined by some as an “opportunity.” A Facebook page was created in support of the teacher, and has at this writing 902 followers, many holding the students responsible and dismissing the teacher’s behavior as circumstantial and understandable, as she is “hot.”
A common sentiment among news clip comments is, “where were these teachers when ‘I’ was a 15 year old boy…” and, “I’d like to register as a student at that school.” These statements of bravado are largely unchallenged, which speaks loudly of a culture that would encourage boys to be sexually educated at a young age, even exploited, to perpetuate an image of virility, experience, and prowess.
In case anyone local might want to converse with their children, who undoubtedly will hear about this case from school friends who think that sex with a cute 24 year old math teacher might be groovy, here is why cute (or otherwise) teachers having sex with their students is a problem. Sex cannot be consensual when one person holds significant power over the other. In this case, both age and teacher/student eliminate the 15 year old students’ power. So while it might physically “feel” good, on a deeper emotional and psychological level where children are supposed to be ‘taken care of’ by adults and teachers, this teacher took advantage of her power to get her narcissistic needs met. This is not OK. Let’s make sure all of our children understand this….because plenty of tough guy kids and ignorant parents will blow this one off as “boys will be boys.”
Unfortunately, if we continue to dismiss the actions of the teacher (who was released from jail without bail and allowed to live with her mother and under-aged siblings until the trial) and to dismiss the sentiments of society who would either high five the victims or blame them, we will continue to perpetuate a society that sexualizes our children and disallows psychological, sexual, physical and mental boundaries for both males and females. Our boys, our children, deserve more from us.
While it is crucial that boys and girls are taught sexual limits and boundaries, and taught responsibility with the natural urges of their libido, it is always the teacher’s responsibility to hold the boundary, regardless of a child’s misplaced affections and actions. To do anything otherwise is to take advantage of a child’s vulnerability as a youth and as a student for the purposes of his or her own gratification. As a society we cannot afford to minimize the significant importance of such a boundary. We must send clear messages to our boys that fantasy is not reality, help them deal appropriately with their sexual feelings, and most importantly, we must reinforce our beliefs that teachers must not engage romantically or sexually with students under any circumstance. We will not be able to control for all events, but as a society we have an obligation to be clear of our expectations, not muddy the water with excuses and dual messages.