The Price of Sentiment

There was a teacher. He was one of the “good guys.” Widely beloved. Even now, decades later. He died tragically, and that always makes hearts swell too, but they were already swollen with affection for him. Even if you took French instead of Spanish, you absorbed the bond his students had with him through the walls, singing along with the songs they sung, Hola Paco, Que tal, Muy bien…,” feeling their laughter in your belly, their love in your heart; though I do recall being told that this beloved teacher twisted his oversized class ring toward his palm as he walked up and down the aisles checking homework, and I, for one, preferred Mademoiselle’s constancy and cookies over the excitement and skull whacks next door.

This beloved teacher helped a student once in an especially extraordinary way. She was a year my junior and she recalls this act as one of kindness. He was a kind man. He paid for her first abortion. My view from the other side of the wall is less rosy, especially after a lifetime as an educator and advocate. What I see in his kindness is also negligence–of a child who was raped by his colleague, the charismatic English teacher.

Statutory rape victims, even those like my junior classmate who went on to marry her offender, “share characteristics common among victims of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence,” as reported by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law Advocating for the Fair Treatment of Crime Victims.

“Some… recount teacher-student relationships that end in marriage at 18… (describing) behaviors that appeared normal, even exciting at the time, but now seem alarming, wrong, and possibly pathological.”

(When Cool Turns Creepy–In stories of classroom sexual harassment, popular teachers are often the perpetrators. Slate Magazine.)

The kind Spanish teacher’s charismatic English colleague apparently came to him for the money for the abortion, fearful that his wife would notice such a large withdraw on their joint account. Perhaps the English teacher chose the Spanish teacher because he was not only kind, but single. Teachers at Catholic schools make much less than their public school colleaugues, and the English teacher already had two children and had just arrived from another town, and perhaps another school with perhaps a significant gap in his pay given his proclivities for raping girls, but this latter thought is probably irrelevant to this story unless you’re his victim before, during or after his time at Wildwood Catholic High.

What matters most is that this abortion, while the right thing to do for such a young girl impregnated not once, but twice, by her teacher, both times leading to abortion, was also an abetting of a crime. Everyone heard the rumors that the teacher was having sex with the student. At least one student reports telling her parents and knows that her mother called the school, which I supposed forced the administration of Wildwood Catholic High to take action.

And they did. They called her parents.

The English teacher–who had his own fan club, made up of his wrestlers, whom he also groomed in a love/hate, cat & mouse kind of way, including inviting them over to his apartment after practice  to drink and snort cocaine and watch as he made out with their classmate on the couch–after he’d left his wife and children–continued sexually harassing and assaulting and raping girls at Wildwood Catholic, girls as young as freshman, until he was quietly asked to leave, after which he went on to earn his Masters, and was hired at yet another school, this time as a counselor–the head of guidance team in fact–and not only that, as a coach, but this time of the track team–the girls’ track team–at a public school in Bridgeton, NJ. Lots of one on one access to girls, especially girls of color whose abuse might be dismissed even more easily than that at our school.

He was apparently driven  out of that school by a lawsuit filed in 2008 by a subordinate claiming racial and sexual harassment as well as harassment for sexual orientation. He should have stuck with students. They’re easier to groom. Less reliable as witnesses. More fearful and confused by desire and shame. More certain that they don’t need help. That they are already adults. Less trusted at witnesses. More disposable overall. Girls.

Had the teacher/counselor/coach studied his art more carefully, as psychologists and criminologists have, he would realize that 14 and 15-year-olds are the sweet spot for predators of statutory rape, 99% of those predators are men and 94% of their victims are girls.

(US Department of Justice.)

Had the English teacher preferred men, and groomed boys for sex instead, would the kind Spanish teacher have taken such a boy, who presented say, with a rash, to the clinic, offshore, for a VD test? Would he have kept quiet so that his colleague could continue raping young men? Or would sex with boys be abnormal enough to be worthy of reporting as opposed to say violating girls which was/is, if nothing else, so common as to be expected now and then, particularly at the shore where one retired lifeguard recently reminisced about his years in Wildwood, as a “the height of decadence and an all ya could eat buffet for a young man,” which the Beach Patrol saw fit to post on their website, not then, but now. STILL.

That the charismatic teacher continues to serve in a leadership position with Beach Patrol in the same county is unthinkable, unless you, as the prevailing culture, see girls as objects of consumption.

My mind turns to something my niece told me about the man who raped his daughter and was later  defended, after he served time, by the pastors of her Mega Church who apparently counseled the wife to take her husband back as head of the household, and send their daughter to live with relatives, while assuring the judge and the congregation that this man was welcomed back at their church because he was not a pedophile, “He was attracted to the woman his daughter was becoming.

At what age is a girl too young for such attraction and assault?

At what age would the kind teacher have turned his colleague in?

What if she had been 14?

13?

12?

I was 13 when I started high school and so was the most recent victim who came forward just last night. “There are others,” she tells me.

When is it a crime to remain silent?

When is it a crime to pass a predator on to another town?

What about inviting him into elementary schools to teach safety on behalf of the Beach Patrol of Cape May? What about allowing him to serve as president of the elementary school board in West Cape May? What about placing him at the head of the Board of Trustees for the Cape Island Baptist Church? This is where he is now. Right now. In 2020.

If not forty years ago, when does the pregnant girl matter? What of the other victims? What of the witnesses? What of the many, like me, who carried the weight of the rumors and the complicit silence of the adults into our twenties and thirties and forties and fifties?

What about ten years ago in Bridgeton?

When do students matter more than the charismatic teacher or the winning season? When do they matter more than the kind teacher or the beloved Alma Mater?

What is an Alma Mater if it protects itself more than the children it is there to serve?

What is a good guy if his reputation is protected more than the children in his care?

This isn’t a story about one bad guy or one good guy or one school. This isn’t a story about one county or state recycling the same predator.

This is a story about what happens everywhere to children and girls, in every city and state across this nation and around the globe, not only because there are bad guys but because there are good people who say nothing and who silence the ones who speak out.

Don’t be the bad guy or the good guy or the loyal alum or the silent community member.

BE THE CHANGE.

Say something.

Do something.

Listen.

Ask.

Believe.

And if you were at Wildwood Catholic High in the 80s and turned away, turn toward now. Make amends. Protect the next group of kids by acknowledging and apologizing to these victims. Do it privately or better yet do it publicly. Remove the veil of secrecy that these victims carry alone their whole lives. It’s not about them. It’s about him, and more importantly, it’s about us. Find the sentiment there.

One comment

  1. I feel this piece so deeply as I awaken to the truth of the “good” teacher, the Spanish teacher, who I Ioved, who was my homeroom teacher, and his abetting this crime. And then I think of the institutions where these types of crimes occur which seems to be so so many of them. I find myself remembering a line from the movie “Spotlight” The movie about the Catholic church scandal in Boston (which now we know is not just Boston, but everywhere, in so many religious and education institutions) The one where children were abosed and adults ignored and abetted the behavior And I remember the line when Stanley Tucci’s character, the lawyer for the victims, says, “Believe me Mr. Renendez (a reporter), if it takes village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one”

    Like

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