Friday, November 14, 2014

Sexual Assault Cuts Both Ways

In Blount Country, Alabama, a young female teacher has been accused of performing sex acts and exchanging sexually graphic texts and pictures with three of her male students. What transpired over the past three months has been far from the only instance observed across the United States and in the state.

Ashley Parkins Pruitt, 28, turned herself into authorities just before 3 p.m. She is charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors. She is being held in the Blount County Jail with bond set at $215,000, according to jail records.
In Pruitt's cases, the alleged incidents happened in August, September and October, according to court records. The allegations against the teacher range from having oral sex in a car to sending sexually-explicit photos of her breasts and vagina to the victims.
It may be easy to draw ideological lines and distinction here, but here they are no help. For those who know little about Blount Country, it is a solidly working class part in the north of the state, one of its most conservative and Republican regions. Before conservative commentators draw facile and incorrect conclusions, the facts must be presented first. Many instances of teacher/pupil sexual relationship occur in locations with demographics just like these. This seeming paradox makes it difficult to understand motive and rationale.

As I just mentioned, social conservatives draw and have drawn some instant conclusions for situations like these. For them, the fact that women teachers are molesting their students is purely as a result of lax morals and the drawbacks of women's rights. If women had been put in their rightful place as restrained and demure, as their thinking goes, such indiscretions would never have transpired in the first place. This line of thinking simplifies considerably a complicated issue and does nothing to correct it.

I spent one miserable year as a teaching assistant in a high school. The principal, my immediate boss, was a nice guy, but he had no backbone. He'd stepped away from his responsibilities coaching football to move to administration, which was a massive mistake on behalf of the school system. K-12 systems can be very incestuous, preferring to hire from within. Strong leaders challenge poor hiring practices and keep a toxic workplace climate from developing in the first place. Based on the way the news story is presented, it is much more likely that the parents of one or more of these children blew the whistle, not the school system.

For feminists, this challenges primary focus and preferred narrative. With so many instances of violent assault and rape by men against women left without being brought to justice, little oxygen is left to entertain the reverse. In this situation, the young woman in question is physically attractive and sexually available.

I happen to know a story about a young woman, a teacher, who was several pounds overweight. She engaged in a clandestine relationship with a male student because it made her feel attractive for the first time in her life. In that situation, he made the first move. In the other situation I've described, it seems as though the older woman initiated the proceedings. In time, both women were caught, arrested, and charged.

The high school where I attended had an alternative school for disruptive students who had been expelled from the main campus. One of the teachers was a lesbian and began a relationship with a lesbian student. As school systems often do, the matter was quietly brushed under the rug. If educators had their  way of going about it, embarrassing events like these would never be reported in newspapers or other publications. If they can be hushed up, they are. In this case, even threatened litigation has a way of tarnishing the good name of school systems, sometimes culminating in lawsuits, which drag on for months, and potentially are very costly.

Colleges and universities have been roundly criticized for their own way of dodging accountability and prosecution by men who rape and sexually abuse women. Neither K-12, nor higher education wants a protracted scandal on their hands. Many K-12 systems would sooner settle out of court than go to litigation, and to a degree the same is true with higher ed.

This leads to massive problems where spurious legal charges are brought which would not stand up in court, but even so systems often pay out a cash settlement. I recognize that there are legitimate claims of sexual assault and rape that should be brought before a judge, but the first impulse of many educators and administrators is to first cover their ass. Jobs are at stake. Administration is a dog-eat-dog, hyper-political machine that would not seem out of place in an episode of House of Cards.

School administrators have to be de facto politicians as well as educators, and few can manage both. This does not excuse the conduct of men, particularly male athletes, who receive a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card because they produce millions of dollars in revenue for the university or college. Nothing about that is excusable, but one may have noticed that I have provided few concrete motives for why young women, usually in their twenties and thirties, feel a compulsion to engage sexually with their students. The easiest conclusion is that a belief that sexual desire and conduct is vastly different for men rather than women, though this could not be more incorrect.

Jailbait is a slang term used to denote pornographic content by women are just under the legal age of consent. Most jailbait porn showcases high school girls in various states of undress. It is usually frowned upon by many. But could we say in this circumstance that the female teacher had her own secret attraction, her own taboo attraction? And if that is the case, we may have to concede, once more, that men and women aren't as dissimilar as they have been thought to be.

When women are accused and convicted of crimes like these, the nature of their crimes are softened and sometimes otherwise excused. They are seen as victims. Some argue that they were sexually abused in childhood. Others had low self-esteem and felt they needed someone to make them feel worthwhile. Should a man be on trial for a similar charge, it appears that many want to throw the book at him. Men are the aggressors and the pursuers. Women have merely been led astray.

Until more details of these accusations become known, I'm left with guesses and conjecture. It's worth continuing to pursue young men who take advantage of young women, as these probably constitute the majority of offenses. But until patterns of behavior are fully understood, we should also be cognizant of young women who take advantage of young men. The two are linked, but precisely how remains to be seen.

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