Yet 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.