Experts who have counseled victims of educator sexual misconduct say there’s a major difference between male and female teachers who seduce and molest students.
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Men in the classroom are more predatory and groom their victims. They use their positions of power to sexually exploit children, said Dr. Stephen Braveman, a California-based psychologist who is nationally known in the area of educator sexual misconduct.
Women are more impulsive and don’t plan a relationship with their student. Often they have some kind of mental illness, such as a bipolar condition, or a substance abuse problem, that leads to reckless behavior. When the relationship is over, they often view themselves as the victim, Braveman said.
“Men tend to molest children more, but for women, it’s a situation of impulse and control,” said Braveman, who has counseled victims and abusers for 15 years. “A male teacher usually singles someone out he can seduce over a period of time, and a woman teacher usually runs on impulse rather than logic. The incident or relationship typically scars the child.”
POSITIONS OF POWER
The adult often accomplishes the goal of sexually exploiting the child by using a position of power and trust by paying extra attention to the student or promising good grades.
“The teacher usually singles out a student who is marginal, or isn’t the most popular student in the class — someone you’d never think it would happen to them even if they said it did,” said Lance D. Scalf, a psychologist in Tallahassee, Fla., who has treated victims of educator sexual abuse.
Scalf doesn’t mince words. He describes such a teacher as a pedophile and a rapist who will sexually abuse as many as 17 children during a career.
Other times a teacher will tell their victims they are special or that they are in love with them, a Valley counselor says.
“That’s intoxicating for a child to hear,” said Sandra Nettles, owner and clinical director of Deer Valley Counseling in Phoenix. Nettles counsels victims, as well as sex abusers for up to seven years after their parole.
“They think, 'Wow,’ I’m special. During the sex, the teacher might tell the student they are in love with them to make them believe it, but in the years I’ve been a counselor, I have never heard any of them say they were in love with their student they sexually abused — not once. Teachers are in an empowered position, and they use that to their advantage.”
Nettles, a licensed clinical counselor with a master’s degree in science and counseling, said it has been common for the last 10 years to have at least two former educators in her group counseling sessions. The former educators in her group have served jail or prison sentences and are on probation for sexual conduct with minors, she said.
Most of the former educators initially deny they ever did anything sexual with their students, but as counseling sessions progress, they eventually admit they did, Nettles said.
The victim often suffers through primary abuse and secondary abuse after the “relationship” is over, said Braveman and other experts in the field.
The primary abuse comes from participating in a sexual relationship with an adult in a position of trust. Often, the abuse continues through manipulation and coercion.
The secondary abuse comes from the fallout when the victim decides to make the relationship known or when there’s an outpouring of support for a popular teacher who is protected by school officials or the authorities, Braveman said. People sometimes accuse the victim of fabricating the relationship, further traumatizing them.
The victims, Braveman said, never fully recover from a sexual relationship with an educator, someone in a position of trust. The victim also has problems later on in life, by either having trouble maintaining a successful relationship and friendships or holding a job, he said.
Although the students sometimes are the ones who instigate the sexual encounter or relationship, they are not the one in control.
“Teachers are adults, and they should know better,” Braveman said. “It’s two people with various needs on very different levels drawn together who think the relationship is all right — but it isn’t appropriate. The child may have initiated it, but the adult is the responsible one. The child may want it, ask for it, but the teacher should say something like, 'no thank you, that would not be an appropriate thing for us to do. It’s against the law.’ It could save them from getting caught, losing their job and having to go to jail.”
Spouses of teachers who cross the line and enter into a sexual relationship with a student also can be victims.
Charles Robson, a former sixth-grade teacher at Scottsdale’s Tonalea Middle School between 1995 and 1998, pleaded guilty in Maricopa County Superior Court to child molestation and attempted sexual contact with a minor in 1999. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison with no chance for early parole and was ordered to pay $100,000 in restitution to his victim.
Robson, then 26, was perceived by students as a “cool” teacher. He would dye his hair and ride a skateboard to school. He began sexually exploiting a 14-year-old girl, a former student who initiated a kiss with him in April 1999, according to court documents.
But after five months, the relationship ended after the girl’s mother found hand-written notes from Robson to her daughter inside the girl’s book bag.
Robson’s wife, Rochelle Robson, remains married to him and said she forgives him. Now 36, Charles Robson is in the ninth year of his prison sentence at an Arizona Department of Corrections facility.
“It’s been very, very difficult for us to continue when the media won’t let this go,” Rochelle Robson said. “It all comes back again. I’ve suffered a lot, and we’ve lived through hell. Our children don’t deserve this.”
THE DOUBLE STANDARD
Unfortunately, a double standard also comes into play when a male student is having a sexual relationship with a woman teacher, Braveman said.
“It’s more common to say, 'Hey, that boy was lucky,’ and the woman would get a slap on the wrist in the legal system,” Braveman said. “It’s sometimes a teenage fantasy for a boy to have sex with his teacher, but actually going ahead and doing it — there’s something not quite right about it.”
Educator sexual misconduct has become more of a hot-button issue because of sensational cases involving students having sexual relationships with their teachers.
“The Mary Kay Letourneau case has seemed to open things,” Nettles said.
In a case that garnered national attention, Letourneau, then 36, and a married woman with four children, began having a sexual relationship with one of her sixth-grade students — a 13-year-old boy at a school in Normandy Park, Wash. — in the late 1990s.
She gave birth to two of the boy’s children and ultimately married him after serving a 7½-year prison sentence for two counts of child rape.
Letourneau had met her first husband while attending Arizona State University.
What Nettles said offended her most during the Letourneau case in 1998 was the media calling it a “love affair.”
“(Letourneau) said she fell in love,” Nettles said. “You don’t fall in love with a child and have sex with them. If you do, you are a criminal. It’s against the law.”