Predatory Teaching

kelseyYet another female middle school teacher has been involved in sexual assault of a minor in her care. This time, Kelsey Peterson, 25, was having what she characterizes as a consenual relationship with an 8th grader taking her 6th grade math class. Confiscated emails reveal they had been having sex and that Peterson claimed to love the boy and to be faithful only to him. School officials only put Peterson on paid leave pending an investigation one day before she disappeared, despite family members claims that they had tried to make school officials aware of their growing concern over the amount of time Peterson was spending with 13 year old Fernando unrelated to school. As the evidence mounted, Peterson took 13 year old Fernando across the Mexico border. He was considered missing from Oct. 26 until yesterdat Nov. 2 Luckily, a joint effort between Mexico and the U.S. led to her arrest and return to the U.S. However, Fernando was released into the custody of a Mexican relative with no notification of to his N. American family despite being a U.S. citizen.

This past summer, I warned female academics with blogs to avoid referring to the “hotness” of their students because we all read each others blogs and many of us either know for certain or can guess accurately about who writes which blog. My warning included the admonishment that lusting after students, regardless of age, is unacceptable as we have undue power in the situation regardless of gender. I further pointed out that all though men are the primary perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence, that gender does not exempt women from predatory behavior.

I am honestly at a loss as to why female middle school teachers are perpetrating in such large numbers (or at all). Regardless of the reasons, their behavior is inexcusable. In all of these cases, we are talking about adult women engaging in sexual activity with children, in some cases those children have not even reached teenage. Depending on the length of the relationship in this case, Fernando could well have been one of these pre-teens. Seeing a child, male or female, as a sexual object or a potential emotional-sexual equal is incomprehensible.

As college faculty, we have a distance from child predators because we don’t work with underage populations except on rare occasions. The policies that govern our relationships with students are based on ideas of power in which having the power to fail a student, prevent their matriculation, impact their funding, etc. all outweigh the “consenting adults” argument. Yet, I have sat in meetings where male faculty have argued that the policies are too strict and I have at least one friend who started her academic career teaching at a small college where 1/3 of the male faculty was married to former students.

Clearly there is a disconnect somewhere across academe. In these two instances, the child predators of middle schools and the male predators of the university system, it is clear that the sanctions governing these relationships has broken down. News reports that refer to the evidence in these cases as “love letters” or “love notes” further cloud the situation as child sexual abuse has very little to do with love beyond the mythmaking designed to hide the crime and ensure a pliable victim.

In light of interstate or international border chases, which are becoming all too common, it is time for us to develop new theories of sexual abuse and sexual manipulation. Failing to develop sophisticated language and theory around why female middle school students are perpetrating against the children in their care can only ensure that it will continue. Continuing to believe that gender exempts women from predatory action regardless of setting, allows for a culture milieu that may encourage predators.

We cannot forget that men remain the overwhelming majority of perpetrators in both child and adult physical and sexual violence cases. The statistics are generally quoted as 92-98% of predators are male. Acknowledging that there are female predators and addressing why they seem to be on the rise does not negate the facts, it simply makes the world safer.

* * *

Another aspect of this case, that needs to be addressed is why the authorities did not return Fernando to his parents nor inform them of his having been found safe. Clearly unspoken assumptions about Fernando’s citizenship and “correct” whereabouts, ie the other side of the border, were made without subsequent question. Again racism and xenophobia superseded in a clear case in which the youth of color was not the criminal. In this case, his status as a sexual abuse survivor who clearly identifies with his abuser should have warranted not only the direct return to his parents (which should have happened anyway) but referrals to follow up care. The failure of the U.S. led task force to provide any of this speaks volumes about the real worth of a child of color.

9 thoughts on “Predatory Teaching

  1. I completely agree w/ you re: boundaries and students at all levels. This whole Mary Kay LeTourneau type love affair that has been reported with more frequency lately with various teachers strikes me because I have noticed that all or most of these teachers are white women. And often, the victims are children of color. I don’t know if anyone has studied this, but I’m sure it is rooted in the whole notion of getting to have what is “forbidden.”

  2. Yeah, yet another white female teacher preying on young boys of color (and I have to raise the issue of race here, which also seems to offer these predators protection). Let’s not forget the most infamous case of that thirtysomething teacher who abused, then later married her former underaged lover, who was Samoan. Ugh! This is beyond despicable!

  3. “Continuing to believe that gender exempts women from predatory action regardless of setting, allows for a culture milieu that may encourage predators.”Very true. I’m glad you wrote about this – one of the reasons I read this blog to my profit is that your are direct and forthright about things, but you don’t seem to be an ideologue.As far as developing theories for why woman do this? I’m guessing they like the power, the imbalance of it. It probably feels gratifying to be in someones thrall, and that is why they seek out the young and vulnerable.And yes – it is troubling to see how Fernando was treated.

  4. On the citizenship issue, the report I read (I think AP) said the boy was in the US without his papers.So they were saying he was a Mexican citizen; I don’t know what the deal is.But regardless of his citizenship status he should be returned to his parents after he was basically kidnapped by a sexual predator and taken across the border. It surely seems that reuniting him with his parents is in his best interest. That seems way more important that stupid immigration laws.On another note, there was a case last year of a white female teach who molested two black boys one was 11 and the other was 13. That case never got much attention. I think I saw it on Afro-Neitzen.

  5. It is also important that we stop using the language of the abusers – love, affair, lovers etc. – when discussing these cases. These children are being groomed, molested, and manipulated into non-consenting sex.

  6. I have known more than one man who was exploited this way in his early teens. And it does seem like it’s often white women teachers who are preying on male children of color. Invariably I hear people talk about how “when a boy hits puberty he wants to be getting to have sex all the time anyway and this is actually a fantasy come true for a young dude!” I am glad you talk about it being predatory in this post. And I can’t help but feel like it definitely is about domination and entitlement-supremacy issues. It’s like, honestly, I am 39 and my entire 30’s have had me mostly in a sexual frenzy. I do get why a teenage boy who has hit puberty could be found desirable – as a feeling, a response a personal has internally. What is pathological is the translation of that feeling into a policy of right-to-ownership, of personal-desire-trumps-all. “If I feel drawn to sexual interaction with this 13/14/15 year old boy and I can use his seemingly positive response to validate my desire, then we are simply star-crossed lovers, not child molester and child-molested.”If it were about love rather than usage, the adult in the equation would put the young teen’s well being ahead of whatever frustrating (euphemism for inappropriate, in my opinion) desires were afoot. Period. I mean, what adult looks at a 13/14/15 year old that she/he is NOT attracted to and thinks “yeah, it’s a good idea for them to get into a long term, serious, sexual relationship with another 13/14/15 year old”? And if anybody wanders in here spouting off about Romeo and Juliet and however young they were – they are an example of how young people behave around first experiences with love and sex. Which is to say, they behave in crazy highs and lows. They are not an example of maturity in 13 year olds or suitability-for-partnership-with-much-older-adults.

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