The local headlines around here are filled with the news of a high school coach under investigation for having sex with a student.
Sigh. Sadly, that’s not really news anymore is it?
Dr. Troy Hutchings, one of the country’s leading researchers on the abuse of students by teachers, says that the problem is even more prevalent because of the digital age. (We didn’t really need a researcher to tell us that, did we?)
The Washington Post reports that in 2014 alone, there were 781 reported cases of teachers and other school employees accused or convicted of sexual relationships with students.
To put that in perspective, imagine if every student at your own local city high school had been victimized by a school district employee.
That’s how many students we are talking about. And that’s just the known victims. No telling how many went unreported.
And while we are on the subject, let’s clear up one matter, okay? Statuatory Rape is too often disguised at “Teacher Misconduct”. Misconduct is when a teacher steal pencils from the school supply room to use in their home office. Not when a teacher has sex with a 17-year old student.
In the case of the local coach, the hometown newspaper has taken the position of blaming the alleged victim in its reporting. The newspaper reports that the alleged victim says she initiated the sexual contact, that she was in love with the teacher throughout her senior year. The newspaper apparently gleaned its information second-hand from a Sheriff Dept. report. This amounts to a lack of reporting and nothing more than repeating heresay.
Investigative reporting requires more than just talking to one party and citing a Sheriff’s report. Be suspicious of any newspaper article that doesn’t give direct quotes, cite factual evidence, or relies solely on a police report. (Imagine where Ferguson folks would be if the media had relied soley on a the police report of the violence.)
At any rate, all of this is very disturbing.
There are families involved, real people facing real hard problems.
A newspaper report that assigns blame publically to the alleged victim, and/or assumes the Coach/Teacher guilty simply because they are under investigation only contributes to the mess.
Teachers/Coaches are in position of authority over students. It is an abuse of power to engage in a sexual relationship with students, even if they are 18, even if that sexual contact reportedly happens the morning of graduation.
A student does not entice a teacher into sex, as the newspaper article states. Anyone who has studied the issue of sex abuse, or in my case, the abuse of children, knows that “they enticed me” it is a common refrain among abusers. And it does not matter if the victim is a male student or a female student, it is all abuse and it is always wrong.
The Sheriff’s Department did not file any charges against the coach/teacher because they stated that they found No Evidence of Criminal Misconduct.
Whether that is because they found no evidence the coach was ever engaged in sexual relations with the student, or because the student was 18 when any sexual contact occured has not been made clear.
This is the critical issue the newspaper needs to be investigating before reporting.
If the teacher is being falsely accused, a good journalist doing their job well and investigating the matter objectively and thoroughly could help clear that teacher/coach’s reputation and prevent a lot of heartache to for the loved ones caught up in all this.
That kind of in-depth reporting could also help determine if the teacher/coach did indeed violate the student. And if that’s the case, the newspaper should not be publishing reports that suggest the wrongdoing was the student’s fault. They need to be a watchdog for the abused.
Writing a report that amounts to an “she said, he said” does not benefit anyone. It only leads to more heartache for all involved.
What is clear is that the Coach/Teacher is currently under investigation by the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission and has been placed on paid administrative leave by the district he currently works for while the matter is investigated: “We are told the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission … has found sufficient evidence of potential wrongdoing..” says his current employer, explaining why the coach has been placed on administrative leave.
Sufficient evidence of potential wrongdoing doesn’t mean he’s guilty.
And it doesn’t mean he’s innocent.
It only means the matter needs to be investigated further.
Until that investgation is completed, newspapers and community members alike should refrain from assigning blame.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).