Friday, March 20, 2015

The Evolving Face of Teacher/Student Sex

In a disturbing and relatively recent turn of events, several female high school and sometimes even female middle school teachers have been arrested and charged with inappropriate sexual behavior. They have been accused of pursuing sexual relationships with their students or other students known to them on campus, each of whom is a legal minor and under the law cannot voluntarily consent to sex. The latest, Jennifer Marie Perry, aged 27 years, is charged with having sexual relations with a seventeen-year-old male student inside a car in a parking lot nearby the school.

The vast number of these offenses are shocking, to say the least. They challenge the cultural assumption that, in matters of sex and attraction, women are always to be pursued and men are always the pursuers. That said, I don't know much personally and in greater detail about such situations like these, save one. It involved a woman, a young high school teacher, who had serious issues with body acceptance. Long thought of as overweight and undesirable by herself and others, the sexual attention she received from a male student led her to believe that even an unlawful relationship would validate her sense of self as attractive and as a worthwhile person. It is a far too common phenomenon, understandable in many circumstances and contexts, but highly unfortunate and risky when it happens in a classroom setting.

If I were to place a bet on the veracity of this case among all the others, this instance would seem the most plausible. In almost every other instance, much does not add up. The female teachers were almost uniformly physically attractive and most were less than ten years younger than their victim. No one is sure about the larger trends that behavior like this portends. Public school systems are notoriously tight-lipped over sensitive issues like these. Only the minimum information has been shared with the media, which is par for the course. Barring a trial or a lawsuit for unlawful termination, more details are unlikely to be forthcoming.

Investigators launched their probe Feb. 24 after being contacted by school administrators. Chief Deputy Randy Christian said Perry went to school officials and reported that students told her there was a rumor going around at school that she had engaged in a sex act with student.
"Our investigation indicates that this was a one time occurrence," he said. "The student was not in any of the classes taught by the suspect."
Perry, who is married and from Odenville, graduated from Jacksonville State University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in secondary education with a concentration in English Language Arts. She taught freshman English at Pinson Valley High School, and was the cheerleading sponsor.
 "You know it is not an easy process to become a school teacher. Obtaining a degree and successfully going through a competitive hiring process in a school system is a challenge and those that secure a job I know count themselves fortunate," Christian told "For the life of me, I can't understand why after successfully navigating such a process that a teacher would risk a career by carrying on such a relationship with a young person entrusted to their care. It's also kind of amazing they believe it's possible a teen will keep their little secret."

This may well be the only definitive information the public receives. As I've said, school systems are content to brush things under the rug, whenever possible and while wielding great restraint. Yet, in this circumstance, are we obscuring the truth if the full truth is not known? A story exists. This instance, like so many before, was technically consensual, but the motive is unknown. Does it matter who made the first move, how this situation proceeded, and would that give us additional information to which we are deserving?  

In my years as a card-carrying feminist, I've come to understand that our society often removes the right of women to take charge of themselves as fully sexual beings. Speaking in a heterosexual context, men make the first move and women respond to it, but women are routinely hesitant to come on too strongly or too forcefully. In that regard, they do not possess a shred of agency. As a teenage boy, this caused me consternation and frustration, to always have to work up the courage to make my inquiries and to try again, though in fairness not every woman I encountered made her desires so opaque.

Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the country, and if such events were to occur in California, no one would be shocked. The larger trends are entirely unknown, though I doubt they are only found in one small Southern state. It makes me wonder whether these sorts of crimes are commonplace everywhere, especially when school systems pretend they never existed.

A pattern does show itself with repeated confrontation of the facts. Nearly all of the young women accused and then convicted were married and violating their marriage vows. Is this at least partially symptomatic of unhappy nuptials, or is that too simplistic an explanation as well? Having now entered the land of hypotheticals, I'll stop my inquiries. Our sample set is not large enough. That said, I don't see this trend ending and neither do I see a set of plausible reasons why unless this problem gets farther and farther out of hand.

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