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Reporting on Teachers Who Sexually Abuse Students

Media Bias?
Or Just Reflecting Society?
You decide.

1997 by Bert H. Hoff.
Discussing a column by Terry McDermott, columnist for The Seattle Times
(Male, female schoolteachers have affairs.
4 years' prison, 80 days jail)

The Seattle Times has published WebMaster Bert H. Hoff's Letter to the Editor, "Mary LeTourneau: Compassion for ex-teacher; where is compassion for boy, other male victims of abuse?" Click here to see it.

(McDermott column copyright © 1997 by The Seattle Times Company

Columnist Terry McDermott had an interesting column in The Seattle Times. (You can find the full column at The Seattle Times. The column is not flattering to The Seattle Times and they have denied permission to reproduce it, but you can find it in their archives.)
Sunday, Nov. 16, 1997
 
Terry McDermott: LeTourneau and Blilie -- similar cases but different outcomes

A teacher in Federal Way, just south of Seattle, has been in the news lately, in a case that has caught national and even international attention. She had an affair with a 13-year-old former student, and had a child by him. Press coverage has been sympathetic of her plight, which raises issues with male survivors of childhood sexual abuse and with men concerned about "double-standards" in gender justice. Seattle Times columnist Terry McDermott wrote a column about this, with the headline shown above. MenWeb requested permission to reprint that column so that this important, pointed and noteworthy column not be buried and lost forever in the Seattle Times archives, but the column is not flattering to The Seattle Times and The Seattle Times has denied permission. Because it does raise important issues of media coverage of these events, even if The Seattle Times itself is at the wrong end of this critique, we have summarized Mr. McDermott's column and quoted portions under the "fair use" exception to copyright laws. We do so in interest of freedom of the press, so that columns and statements that are not "politically correct," or where a reporter is courageous enough to challenge his own paper's coverage of sensitive issues, are not, thereby, suppressed. Quotes are shown in blue type, and commentary in black. The sidebars contain quotes from other Seattle Times stories on both the cases Mr. McDermott discusses, as examples of the points Mr. McDermott makes.

I can offer no better opening than McDermott's.


Related Seattle Times stories:



(Sorry, can't provide a link. Search their archives)
Former Teacher Won't Go to Prison
and
Treatment, not time (2 local legal experts)
Mark Blilie:
Sex charges against teachers still shock, but not so unusual
(only Mark Blilie article in Seattle Times Web archive)

   From that story:

Each fall, when a new crop of seventh-graders arrived at Kirkland Junior High School, they'd always hear about Mark Blilie, an eighth-grade social-studies teacher. Blilie, the older students said, was simply the best teacher at the school.

So when he was arrested in March and charged with third-degree rape of a child for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old former student, the reaction was one of disbelief.

Rumors circulated among students that Blilie, 42, a married father of two junior-high students, had been "set up." Some colleagues cried in class.
   . . . 
"She doesn't think she's being exploited," [King County Deputy Prosecutor Mike] Hogan said of the typical victim. "She's in love. She thinks when she's 18, she'll marry the guy."
   . . . 
The Lake Washington School District took the same stance [conduct was not appropriate] in 1991, after prosecutors dropped charges against Dan Strom, a 29-year-old teacher at Rose Hill Junior High in Redmond. Prosecutors dismissed the case after the girl admitted she'd made up parts of her story, such as that Strom had taken her for a ride in a red Corvette.

The district declined to rehire Strom until a labor arbitrator ordered him rehired.

The vulnerable ones

But just as 15-year-olds aren't allowed to drive, buy liquor or vote, by state law they're deemed to lack the capacity to consent to sex with adults.

"We don't feel it is consensual, even though on the face of it it is," said Wilson, with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. "It's using a position of power to take advantage. If the teacher was driving a delivery truck, they probably wouldn't be as attractive to the student."
   . . . 
"In theory, you could have an unusually mature teen. These guys are not going to target that person," said Roger Wolfe, a Seattle sex-offender-treatment provider who has treated an estimated 40 teachers - all of them male - over the past 25 years. "They're going to target a needy person who needs attention."

A sense of betrayal

Any adult-teen sexual relationship is likely to be exploitative, said Lucy Berliner, head of Harborview Medical Center's Sexual Assault Center, because of the inherent inequality. When the adult is a teacher, she says, the entire community, which trusts in the teacher to not endanger students, is betrayed.

"It's such a disappointment when someone you know knows better, who's cognizant of the consequences, chooses to disregard them," she said. "They come to believe their situation is somehow different and the rules don't apply."
   . . . 
While some teachers say sex with students is so taboo that the very idea is repulsive, many experts agree that it's natural for teachers and students to be mutually attracted. Developing crushes on teachers is part of many teens' emotional development, and adults respond to the vigor of youth.

The problem occurs when a teacher acts on the attraction.

"If temptation is overwhelming . . . then you ought not to be in that job," Wolfe said.

Mary LeTourneau, 35, a schoolteacher, has an affair with a 13-year-old boy, a former student of hers.

The affair produces a guilty plea to charges of second-degree child rape. It also produces a baby and, last week, a suspended sentence.

Mark Blilie, 42, a schoolteacher, has an affair with a 15-year-old girl, a former student of his.

The affair produces a conviction for third-degree child rape and child molestation and four years in the joint for Blilie.

What's wrong with this?

I mean, other than the fact that both these people did horrible things, that they abused children and the hopes and trust of entire communities.

What's wrong, of course, is the similarity of the situations and the vastly different outcomes.

How did this happen?

The answers are as simple as human history, and as complicated as the human heart.

Mr. McDermott offers a clue, in the different ways in which the newspapers covered the two incident.

He quotes one passage from a recent newspaper account of LeTourneau's sentencing hearing:

"During the sentencing, the mother of the boy forgave LeTourneau, who appeared in an aquamarine sweater, black pleated skirt and her hair pinned up with soft tendrils." Other newspaper accounts frequently describe the perpetrator as blond and attractive.

By contrast, there was no physical description of him whatsoever in any of the stories written about Mark Blilie. Judging from a photograph taken on the day of his sentencing, however, he is a tall, handsome, dark-haired man.

The pictures of the two abusers are accompanied by different captions. The Seattle Times photograph of Blilie had a caption identifying him as "convicted child rapist Mark Blilie." By contrast, the caption accompanying the photograph of Mary LeTourneau taken at her sentencing identified her as a "former teacher."

McDermott is clear that he is not suggesting that Blilie should have evaded prison or that LeTourneau should be sent there. But he observes that the circumstances of the two cases are so strikingly similar that one would think they'd receive similar sentences.

McDermott points out that neither Blilie nor LeTourneau had previous criminal histories.

The chief difference is Blilie is a man, LeTourneau a woman.

There are a few things Mr. McDermott, a columnist for The Seattle Times, was not free to say about The Seattle Times' coverage. Note that in the case of the man who had the affair with the 15-year-old girl, they had comments from a deputy prosecutor that "she doesn't think she's in love ... she doesn't think she's exploited." Lucy Berliner, head of the county hospital's sexual assault center, is quoted as saying any adult-teenager sexual relationship is likely to be exploitative. It seems The Seattle Times forgot to ask her opinion when it was a 13-year-old boy and not a 15-year-old girl. Similarly, The Seattle Times forgot about Roger Wolfe, a local sex-offender treatment provider. Last year, when it was a man that was the perp, they quoted him extensively, as the sidebars show. Maybe Roger Wolfe, like so many men and women who fail to recognize that males are also sexually abused, just thought the victim "got lucky." Or maybe The Seattle Times thought that since the perp was an attractive female, it was a lot more important to show compassion to her than it was to offer any sympathy or support for the abused kid whose live was forever changed dramatically by this sick woman. As the deputy prosecutor The Seattle Times quoted a year ago said, "She doesn't think she's being exploited. She's in love. She thinks when she's 18, she'll marry the guy."

Of course, just a year ago, The Seattle Times said: "But just as 15-year-olds aren't allowed to drive, buy liquor or vote, by state law they're deemed to lack the capacity to consent to sex with adults." (see sidebar) But that's only if there's a 15-year-old girl involved. If it's a 13-year-old boy, it's much more important to show compassion for the poor perpetrator.

McDermott then turns to the fast-developing area of evolutionary biology which, he says, "is spooling out ingenious Darwinian explanations of human sexual behavior: Men seek multiple sexual partners to increase their chances of reproducing; women seek them to set up a competition among sperm - may the best man win."

According to these theories, sexual desire is physical, and in some sense we can't control the desires we have. We're "hard-wired" for reproduction. What we live to for is simply to pass our genes on to the next generation. That's what our desires encourage us to do.

McDermott would guess that virtually everybody would explain Mark Blilie's actions "as a result of nothing more than sexual desire, inadequately constrained."

LeTourneau has contended in a recent Town Meeting TV show and elsewhere throughout her ordeal that her only defense is from the heart, that it's a case of love. She says she fell in love with him, and although she acknowledges what she did was wrong, she says she still continues to love him.

McDermott says that "the boy was old and wise beyond his years and points out that his own mother calls him an "old soul." LeTourneau says this does not excuse her actions, but might help explain them. McDermott counters, "Actually, no, it doesn't help explain them. In fact, in some ways it makes them even more confusing and disconcerting." He continues:

Love, unlike desire, is a human invention. It is almost entirely a creation of culture and is in large part a product of intention.

In some sense, it would be easier to accept LeTourneau saying she got carried away by rash and unfortunate desire. To say she loved the boy is to say she wanted to happen what did. It further mystifies everyone but her.

We can accept the fact that some people are just plain bad. When they commit crimes, we understand that bad people do bad things.

But when good people do bad things and do them on purpose, we are left without our normal, comforting rationalizations. It's very scary because in the end we are left to wonder: What about us?

Terry McDermott's column usually appears Tuesday and Thursday. His phone message number is 515-5055. His e-mail address is: tmcd-new@seatimes.com

It is completely understandable why The Seattle Times had denied permission to print the column, and prefers that it remain buried in their archives. To find it, go to The Seattle Times home page, then to their search page. Select "articles since June 1996" and enter "LeTourneau". Wend your way through the listings until you find Terry McDermott's column. You could search under "Terry McDermott" but he writes at least 2-3 columns a week, and this particular column is well-buried.

The Seattle Times also reported:

"The [LeTourneau] case is not the only one to beset the Highline School District. Authorities there are looking into a more recent incident involving a teacher who may also have had improper contact with a student.

A 44-year-old male teacher at Highline High School was found last month with a 15-year-old student in the back seat of his van in a parking lot at 1:40 a.m. Both were fully clothed.

The teacher, who has not been arrested or charged, has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation."

It will be very interesting to see how, or if, The Seattle Times continues coverage of this incident. For example, there are not many 44-year-old male high school teachers at Highline High School. If there appears to be nothing to the incident, want to take any bets on whether The Seattle Times does anything to counter the wide coverage they gave the above incident? And if the teacher is suspended, do you care to take any bets on whether The Seattle Times will show as much compassion in their coverage as they did for Mary LeTourneau?

Related stories:

 

 Surviving and Living: Male Childhood Sexual Abuse survivors. Articles, personal stories and valuable information; book reviews and an on-line bookstore; and "Witnessing the process ...", an invitation for men to read men's stories and share theirs, as part of the healing process. Scott Abraham, the Assistant WebMaster for this section of MenWeb, is himself a survivor who has helped many men.

 

In Britain, a segment of the BBC1 show Panorama focused on woman who sexually abuse children. Here are a summary and full transcript from that broadcast.

Feminism: Has it gone too far? Interview with Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers, articles on "feminist jurisprudence" and shadow feminism, book reviews, an on-line bookstore for those hard-to-find gender-justice titles, and more.

"I am ashamed for what I did." ... but very little attention is being paid to domestic violence by women. Here, too, is info on men and anger and "battered husbands."

 Domestic Violence, Articles and information on this important topic.


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