Editor’s note: WND has documented an alarming list of female teachers who have assaulted male students, part of the problem of teacher-on-student sexual offenses estimated to include millions of victims.
An estimated 5 million students in United States schools have been assaulted sexually by teachers, according to a congressional report. But no one is calling for investigations or law enforcement crackdowns, there have been no campaigns to ban the offenders from schools, and in many states there aren’t even any requirements such predator attacks be reported to education licensing agencies.
“We have approximately 5 million children suffering and no one is calling for an investigation, for any kind of data to be collected to find out why that many children are being hurt by teachers,” said Terri Miller, who runs probably the only organization in the nation that focuses specifically on assaults by educators on students. “This is an epidemic.”
In fact, in many cases, especially where the attacker is a woman and the student a male, such assaults are treated as a joke, with a hand-slap for the teacher, and some ribald locker room humor directed at the student.
WND has documented in recent months an alarming string of dozens of cases of female teacher-on-male student sexual assaults, but those are just part of the overall problem, Miller said.
Her volunteer group, called Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation, often feels overwhelmed by the dearth of information, injuries to students, and obstacles posed by opponents such as the National Education Association.
But she says it’s a do-or-die battle.
“I won’t give up trying. I have vowed to keep trying until we have good strong legislation to hold the perpetrators criminally responsible,” she told WND.
She said the problem easily could be many times larger than the scandals involving Catholic Church priests molesting children, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in civil liabilities already determined in those cases.
“You are not mandated to send your children to church, but you are mandated by law to send your children to school,” she said. “And, by God, schools better be mandated to keep them safe.”
She’s said she’s confident of two things: the problem is bigger than most people want to realize, and there’s very little being done to address it.
Debra LaFave, 25: Tampa, Fla., area teacher received no jail time despite having sex with her 14-year-old male student in a classroom and her Hillsborough County home. In another county, Marion, she was accused of having sex with the boy in an SUV. LaFave claimed at a March 2006 news conference she had a bipolar disorder. The boy’s father said LaFave should have received prison time in her plea deal, noting, “It’s a horrible, ugly thing that she’s done.”
“The U.S. Department of Education does not require any state to gather information on educators’ misconduct with students. Only 17 of the states require that schools report to their own state Department of Education when a teacher resigns or is fired for these circumstances,” Miller told WND.
And with so few requirements for reporting problems, the result is that offenders are not weeded out of the system, and in fact, many have been transferred and promoted even though their involvement in troubling situations is common knowledge, she said.
In one case, a school administrator had been in more than a dozen different school settings, with varying allegations of sexual misconduct in each case, before he finally was shut down, Miller said. And that happened only because the perpetrator drugged a student in order to assault him, and the student died of a drug overdose,
Even then, Miller said, it took the victim’s family to hire a private investigator who assembled the background information in pursuit of a lawsuit over the death.
Even further, the established influences of teacher unions and other groups actually work to protect such offenders, sometimes making arrangements for a teacher caught in a sexual assault on a student to resign – with a positive recommendation – so they can move on the another district., she said.
In one case, a teacher caught stepping outside the law actually was paid damages to resign and move on.
One federal study that compiled data from previous studies showed there sometimes are no consequences, even if a teacher’s sexual misdeeds are known to school administrators. It found:
- Of 225 select cases of teacher sex abuse in New York, although all the accused had admitted to sexually abusing a student, not one was reported to the police and only 1 percent lost their license to teach.
- A 2003 study reports that 159 Washington state coaches were “reprimanded, warned, or let go in the past decade because of sexual misconduct” – and yet, “at least 98 of them continued coaching or teaching afterward.”
- A 2004 study reports that many school districts make confidential agreements with abusers, essentially trading a positive recommendation for a resignation. In one case, a Seattle educator named Luke Markishtum “had two decades of complaints of sex with students and providing alcohol and marijuana to students prior to his arrest for smuggling six tons of marijuana into the state. The district paid Markishtum the remainder of his salary that year, agreed to keep the record secret, and gave him an additional $69,000.”
Miller said she’s frustrated and upset over the lack of attention paid to the attacks. But she said the facts are plain: Teachers assaulting students just don’t get much ink in newspapers or on police blotters.
For example, she said, over a couple of years 17 children in the Fallon, Nev., area were diagnosed with leukemia. What happened? The county and state health departments investigated, the national Centers for Disease Control did multiple research projects, Congress allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars and multiple promises have been made to find the cause, she said.
However, when she discovered 60 students had been sexually victimized over the course of one school teacher’s 20-year career in another Nevada town, she had to do the investigation herself.
There’s been only one significant study done on the problem in recent years, and that was a compilation and analysis of prior research. The 2004 study, ordered by Congress and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education – concluded that nearly 10 percent of U.S. public school students have been targeted by unwanted sexual attention from school workers.
“Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature,” was authored by Charol Shakeshaft, professor of educational administration at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and concluded that the mistreatment of those millions of students ranged from sexual comments to rape.
Her research backed up Miller’s belief that the problem of assaults on students by teachers is many times larger than the scandal involving priests.
Shakeshaft noted a recent study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded 10,667 young people were sexually mistreated by priests between 1950 and 2002.
She also extrapolated from a national survey conducted for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000 that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000.
The report itself puts the number of students subject to sexual misconduct by a school employee during the kindergarten-to-grade-12 years at about 4.5 million.
The NEA has disputed the study findings, according to Education Week, calling it a “misuse of data” to suggest public schools have a problem like the Catholic Church.
“I take great umbrage at that suggestion,” said NEA spokeswoman Kathleen Lyons. “That just seems like someone is reaching conclusions based on half the data that’s needed.”
But anecdotally, it’s clear there’s something to investigate. WND’s own reporting shows that cases are occurring every week.
But WND reports also have shown that the treatment of victims, especially males, is not always as victims of crimes usually are treated. The issue of only reprimands for female teachers who assault male students is typified by a recent case in Utah:
Melinda Lee Deluca, a Utah teacher, was 30 and the high school student was 16 when they had sex, allegedly in a car in the school parking lot and her home, and when she was arrested, she given a slap on the wrist – just 90 days in jail in a plea bargain.
Comments on the case at KSL-TV, while not absolutely unanimous, clearly showed a high level of agreement: the student, a male, wasn’t really a victim and the teacher, a female, wasn’t really a perpetrator:
- “Where were these teachers when I was in high school? I would have stuck around for all four years!!!” wrote Shawn H.
- “Mary Kay Leternou (sorry if spelled wrong) got the book thrown at her, and for what? She got out just to marry the reason she got locked up in the first place!! What the heck did that accomplish? 7 years of her children not having their mother? Good job, guys!!” said Rachael C.
- “This kid should feel lucky, I guarantee he blabbed to his buddies about it & then the parents found out somehow & then it all went from there,” said Steve C. “Sex Ed at its finest!!!!!!”
- “When this dude is 21, or 30, or whatever, he’s going to be like… ‘yea, I did it with my teacher’ and laugh about it,” said Alfonso J.
- “This kid was probably the hero in the locker room!” wrote Dr. Kenneth.
Mary Kay Letourneau
Mary Kay Letourneau, 34: Des Moines, Wash., teacher did prison time after having sex with a sixth-grade student, Vili Fualaau, in 1996 and eventually had two children by him. She originally had Fualaau in her second-grade class at Shorewood Elementary School in Burien, Wash. The couple has since married.
In another case, the teacher was 33 and a veteran of 10 years in the English department at a Colorado Springs High School and the student was 17. They had sex three times a week for months and were caught by a student teacher who found sexually explicit letters.
But this really wasn’t a case of rape, those involved in the case said, and not even really sexual assault, even though that was the technical charge in court. “This is an unfortunate situation because, in my opinion, this was bad human judgment rather than a criminal act,” the teacher’s lawyer, James Dostal, told reporters.
Judge Robert Lowrey must have agreed; because the teacher – Gwen Anne Cardozo – was given a four-year deferred sentence, which means that after her guilty plea to a felony count of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, she won’t go to prison unless she violates probation terms and she’ll have the chance to remove the conviction from her record in the future.
Deputy District Attorney Peter Reed even said the 17-year-old should have to shoulder a share of the blame, because he had a history of “seducing older women.”
While the sentencing often appears to consider the trauma to the victims as negligible, those victims don’t often feel that way.
In the Utah case, the mother of the male student told the court: “I’ve lost that child. I don’t have him anymore. He told me, ‘Mom, you’ll never have him back again. I’m a changed person.'”
He’s stopped participating in sports, which he once loved, and cannot even go to school; he’s doing home study to get a diploma.
Boys, especially, generally aren’t considered victims. Gary Searle, a prosecutor in Utah, said males just are not seen that way “and it’s especially true when it’s a female victimizing the male. Some people say, ‘How were you a victim in something every boy dreams about?’ I think we as a society have, for years and years, said, ‘A boy is a boy, and a boy does what a boy does.’ We pat them on the back, we want them to be out there doing things as men. Our daughters we want to be treated as vulnerable and innocent.”
Miller said her organization does work with providing support for males who have been victimized, and she recently had a conversation with a 53-year-old man who’d been assaulted by a female teacher when he was 12.
“He’s had numerous marriages but he never established a normal relationship,” she told WND. “He’s suffered his entire life.”
An official with a Utah Center for Safe and Healthy Families said boys who are raped are injured emotionally, just like girls.
“These romanticized notions of being broken into the sexual world by the kind and caring older woman are just wrong because it doesn’t work that way. Most of these women have severe psychological problems, or they wouldn’t be attracted to young boys,” said Julie Bradshaw.
Miller went so far as to blame the second generation of crime on the past assaults by teachers on students.
“Boys are less likely to be believed,” Miller said. “Boys end up suffering more severe psychological damage.”
“Because they are not able to report with the expectation they’re going to receive justice like a girl would, they are not provided services that girls are provided, and they are less likely to go forward and have normal relationships with women, what ends up happening in many cases with boys [they] overcompensate and end up becoming domestically violent abusers, rapists – because of the fact a woman dominated them,” she said.
In a column published on the SESAME website, Stephen Braveman, a therapist, writes that when teachers assault, the child perceives that no one would believe an accusation against him or her.
“The vow of secrecy not to tell, not to report it, is sealed if the child does speak up and is not believed. So, as the victim of teacher abuse grows up, they learn to hold on to many self-defeating patterns. This may include poor self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, inability to stand up for one’s rights, inability to speak in public, drug/alcohol abuse and a deliberate effort to sabotage relationships so as to not allow others to get ‘too close’ to them. Trust is a big issue.”
Besides the injury to children, there have been legal judgments that should make educational institutions want the highest level of scrutiny for teachers. One case in West Virginia resulted in a $2.25 million judge against a school, another one in North Carolina was $450,000, Miller said.
Shakeshaft’s report said in New York state alone, more than $18.7 million was paid from 1996-2001 to students who were sexually abused by educators, and that does not include attorneys’ fees and investigators costs.
The wink-wink attitude, many believe, has aggravated the situation, especially in light of that attitude on the part of judges. In New Jersey, Judge Bruce Gaeta sentenced a 43-year-old women for having sex with a child – a 13-year-old male student.
“I really don’t see the harm that was done here,” the judge proclaimed, “and certainly society doesn’t need to be worried. I do not believe she is a sexual predator. It’s just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship.”
She got probation.
In Kansas, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten openly questioned why he had to follow the law. “Where is the clear, credible evidence that underage sex is always injurious? If you tell me because it is illegal, I reject that,” Marten said, according to wire reports.
One of the conclusions that was drawn by Shakeshaft as she analyzed the study data available was that more work needs to be done on it.
“Educator sexual misconduct is woefully understudied,” Shakeshaft says in her report. “We have scant data on incidence and even less on descriptions of predators and targets. There are many questions that call for answers.”
Pamela Rogers Turner
Pamela Rogers Turner, 27: Former model and beauty-pageant contestant also taught at Centertown Elementary School in McMinnville, Tenn. She was arrested in February 2005 for allegedly having a three-month sexual relationship with a 13-year-old boy. She resigned her teaching position and was charged with 15 counts of sexual battery and 13 counts of statutory rape. Originally sentenced to 270 days in August 2005, she got in additional trouble in April 2006 for sending text messages, nude photos, and sex videos of herself to the same boy while using her father’s cellphone. In July 2006, she was sentenced to serve eight years for violating her probation, and in January 2007, was given an additional two years for sending the photos.
Miller would suggest it also is under-prosecuted.
“First, parents can demand that state laws are enacted that require reporting of these cases, whether a teacher resigns or not,” she said. “The case should never be closed because a teacher resigns. The first duty is to protect children and educate them. If they are doing anything other than that, they are protecting a perpetrator, allowing a teacher to move on and become a mobile molester.”
The education system is “very good” at reporting abuse when teachers suspect a family member is guilty, Miller said, “but when it comes to reporting their own teachers, they are failing miserable. They are not following mandatory reporting laws.”
One solution would be to make the laws strong enough that a teacher could lose a teaching certificate for not reporting. “They’re not going to risk their own profession for the sake of a perpetrating teacher,” Miller said. “They’re more likely to report that teacher as they should.”
Good background checks – that can be repeated periodically – also would help, she said. “Administrators need to make unannounced visits to classrooms, especially during teachers’ prep periods, and watch their activities with students. If they’re spending an inordinate amount of time with one or two particular students, the administrator needs to watch that closely.”
And parents must be part of the solution, she said.
“Parents need to be watching behaviors of teachers with children. If a teacher is wielding too much authority or having too much influence over a child, it’s a warning sign,” she said. Other signs would be secret telephone calls, e-mails and the like.
Guidance counselors also can help. “If a student is in a teacher’s class, and involved in extracurricular activities that teacher is supervising, also working as an aide in that classroom, and seems to be spending a lot of extra time with that teacher, that needs to be watched.”
The “grooming” process that a teacher will use to prepare a student for assaults is the same as what a child molester on the Internet would do: build a relationship, build trust, start exerting influence, make threats, use the power of the system, breaking down boundaries, engaging in inappropriate conversation, etc. Miller said.
“They know exactly how to do it. The only difference is that it’s taking place in person in the classroom,” she said.
The one circumstance that makes it worse for the children, Miller said, is that an offender often will use similar techniques on the child’s parents, ingratiating himself or herself, so the parents will trust this person with their child, and if an accusation is made, be less likely to believe it.
Shakeshaft cites the case of one teacher, Kenneth DeLuca, who was convicted of sexually abusing 13 students between the ages of 10 and 18 over a period of 21 years. Although nearly all of the students reported the abuse at the time it was occurring, school officials ignored the accusations. “Overwhelmingly, the girls experienced a disastrous response when they told about DeLuca’s behavior,” said the report. “Many were disbelieved, some were told to leave schools, parents were allegedly threatened with lawsuits.”
“They groom everybody,” Miller said. “When you read these stories, over and over again, community leaders and other parents are lauding and applauding this exemplary teacher and can’t even comprehend this [allegation],” Miller said.
Shakeshaft’s conclusions agreed:
The educators who target elementary school children are often professionally accomplished and even celebrated. Particularly compared to their non-abusing counterparts, they hold a disproportionate number of awards. It is common to find that educators who have been sexually abusing children are also the same educators who display on their walls a community “Excellence in Teaching” award or a “Teacher of the Year” certificate. This popularity confounds district officials and community members and prompts them to ignore allegations on the belief that “outstanding teachers” cannot be abusers. Many educators who abuse work at being recognized as good professionals in order to be able to sexually abuse children. For them, being a good educator is the path to children, especially those who abuse elementary and younger middle school students.
The ultimate solution? Could be a voucher system, Miller said. Let teachers and schools compete for students, and the ones who do cause problems soon will be rooted out by the very establishment they belong to, because a school required to compete for students wouldn’t be able to tolerate such behavior.
Shakeshaft’s report also sought further – and much more detailed – study of the problem so that it can be addressed, but to date no action has resulted.
And that case in West Virginia that resulted in a boy’s death? Here are the details:
Edgar Friedrichs had been accused – during his first teaching position in Interboro School District in Delaware County – of sexual misconduct. The school board told a parent the board could do nothing and the teacher resigned.
That parent got a telephone call from private investigator Dan Barber nearly 30 years later. He said Friedrichs was on trial for molesting two 11-year-old boys, and then described how 12-year-old Jeremy Bell and Friedrichs had been on a fishing trip when Bell died of an overdose of a drug that had not been prescribed to him. Authorities accused Friedrichs of drugging the child in order to assault him.
Friedrichs later was sent to prison, and Barber discovered that Friedrichs had gotten a letter of recommendation and had worked in a large number of school districts since the original complaints were voiced, moving to another location each time allegations surfaced for 30 years.
“They simply passed the trash over the mountains,” the investigator said.
Are you a member of the media who’d like to interview the author of this story? Let us know.