I once walked in on a teacher and a student in a situation. The door was closed. The female student was leaned over the male teacher from behind, hugging him. It was an act of intimacy. One you might see exchanged between a husband and a wife. Or a boyfriend and girlfriend.
The student did not remove herself from the teacher when I came into the room. The male teacher had to extricate himself from her. He was a married teacher, a coach, very well liked. An outspoken Christian. I liked him a lot myself, but I was faced with a decision.
I had written a book about child abuse. I knew the mandatory reporter law. I knew that what was going on needed to be reported because, at best, it was an emotionally inappropriate form of grooming, at worse, well, I didn’t want to think about that. As a teacher, I was required by law to report it.
But since I knew the coach, I had to consider: Should I just go talk to him and warn him not to do that? Or should I report it to the administration? The law was clear that I should do the latter, so I did. He was placed on administrative leave for a few days while the administration did an “investigation.”
Before he returned to work, I was “outed” by the administration as the person who ratted on the coach. This was done by abruptly removing me from the middle of a class, and having me do a sit-down interview with law enforcement in the school library where several classes were gathered. So the kids knew immediately I was the reason why their beloved teacher wasn’t in school that week.
Following that not at all secret interview, the administration found a way to reassign me so that I was no longer in the same school building. By the end of the school year, the principal who retaliated against me was dismissed, and the coach found a new teaching job in another district. The Superintendent later apologized to me for not doing a better job of protecting me – the Whistleblower.
I do not regret the choice I made to report what I knew to be the law and a very unhealthy and potentially dangerous situation for both the coach and the student. But I do still resent the principal for not doing her job of protecting both her staff and her students. School Districts are notorious for covering for popular teachers/coaches.
I was a student myself at Arnold Junior High in my Georgia hometown when I witnessed a married coach grooming a classmate and dear friend of mine. She thought she was in love with the coach. He was married and had children. She was 14 years old. I witnessed him making out with her in his office. She met with him at his home. I was too ignorant as a teen to speak up about what was going on. It was scandalous but who was I going to tell? At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening to my friend was sexual grooming and abuse. I was unaware that she was also suffering such abuse in her own home from her stepdad. I wouldn’t find that out until years later.
When I hear Rand Paul or others Republicans or just ignorant people in general calling for the release of the Whistleblower’s name, I think of these situations and the danger they pose for others. Fortunately for me, as a teacher, I had a union to fight for my rights when the principal decided that she wanted to “out” the Whistleblower. She never once put the best interest of that student, or even that coach before her own self-interest. She simply didn’t want a scandal in her building for fear it would reflect badly on her.
This is exactly what is happening with the Republican-dominated Senate right now, and within the White House. They are not concerned at all with what’s in the best interest of the people of this country, or who they put at risk for harm. They simply are worried that such a scandal makes them look like the weak and pathetic people they are.
When I hear voters say they want to know the name of the Whistleblower, I can’t help but think of my junior high girlfriend and how no one had her welfare at heart. All the men in her life were exploiting her for sexual pleasures. They abused her and not one person stood up for her. Not even me. I was complicit in my silence and in my ignorance.
I don’t want to live in the country where people are afraid to speak out on behalf of those who are suffering abuse. But right now, that is exactly the climate of fear that this Republican Senate and the White House are creating.
Fear and outrage are always the tools that abusers employ to gain the silence and compliance of those they are abusing.
Whistleblowers should be praised and protected, not hunted down and put in harm’s way.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Karly Sheehan: The True Crime Story Behind Karly’s Law.