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 he had with his students through the walls, learning 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 about the way 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 whacks next door.

He helped a student once in an especially extraordinary way. He apparently paid for her first abortion. She was a year my junior and she recalls this act as one of kindness. He was a kind man.

My view from the other side of the wall is less rosy, especially now with adult eyes with a lifelong career as an educator and advocate.

What I see is negligence–of a child who was raped by her English teacher.

Statutory rape victims, even those like her who go on to marry their offender, “share characteristics common among victims of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence.”

(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 teacher’s cool colleague apparently came to the Spanish teacher for the money, fearful that his wife would notice such a large withdraw on their 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 peers, and the cool teacher had two children of his own already and had just arrived from another town (and perhaps another school with perhaps a significant gap in his pay) but this 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 an adult, 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 told her parents and her mother called the school, which I supposed forced the administration of Wildwood Catholic High to take action.

In turn, they called the girl’s parents.

They should have called the police.

Instead, the cool 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 (after he’d left his wife) to drink and snort cocaine and watch as he made out with their classmate on the couch–continued sexually harassing and assaulting and raping girls at Wildwood Catholic before leaving for another school (having gone on to earn his Masters), where he served 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. He was moving up.

Alas, it appears he was driven out of that school following 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.

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 whom are men, with 94% of their victims are girls.

(US Department of Justice.)

Had the cool teacher preferred men, and groomed boys for sex instead, would the kind 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 a all ya could eat buffet for a young man,” which the Beach Patrol saw fit to post on their website, not then, but now.  

That the cool teacher continues to serve in a leadership position with Beach Patrol in the same county is unthinkable, unless you, like 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 later was 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 to send her daughter to live with relatives, while they testified on his behalf saying, that    he was welcome at their church because they knew that he was not a pedophile, “He
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 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 in Cape May? What about making him president of an elementary school board in West Cape May?

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 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 cool teacher or winning seasons? 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 all those 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 in now. Make amends. Protect the next group of kids by acknowledging and apologizing to these victims. Do it privately or better yet do it publically. Remove the veil of secrecy that these victims have carried 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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