When Mary Kay Letourneau was caught having sex with her sixth-grade student in 1996, America was shocked. Now, reports of female teachers sexually abusing the young boys in their charge seem almost routine.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal, at least five female educators in the Greater Akron area have faced charges of sexual misconduct with students in the past two year alone. Reporter Amanda Garrett decided to look into what’s going on.
She found that Akron is part of a national trend, which experts said is taking a growing toll on young boys.
A 2017 study published by the U.S. Justice Department revealed that most sexual abuse of students by employees of K-12 schools is committed by men. However, the percentage of female educators charged with such crimes is rising, the researchers found.
Psychologist Anna Salter, an expert on sexual predators, said these women are typically married moms in their mid-30s.
“They think they love the children,” she told the Journal.
Charol Shakeshaft, an education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said there is a name for these women: “opportunistic abusers.”
They are often the popular teachers, Shakeshaft explained in a 2013 study. They “tend to spend a lot of time around groups of students, talking with them, going to the same places they go, and trying to blend in. They are the teachers who want to be seen as hip or cool and who want the students to think they are part of the student peer group,” she said.
Garrett noted that Ohio teacher Tiffany Eichler seemed to fit the profile.
Eichler, 36-year-old married mother of four, was sentenced to 30 days in jail last June after admitting to having sexual relationships with three teenage male students. According to court documents, she flirted with the boys on social media before making her move.
The evidence against Eichler included an audio recording one of the students made of them gushing about the sex that had just had in the back of her SUV.
A double-standard for teacher sex?
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology tested the theory that “male teachers are judged more harshly than female teachers for engaging in heterosexual intercourse with a student. According to the researchers, “a reverse sexual double standard was revealed, in which participants judged situations involving male teachers more harshly than they judged situations involving female teachers, but only when the sexual contact was teacher-initiated.”
Writing for Salon in June 2008 about the phenomenon of female teachers having sex with their students, journalist Carol Lloyd suggested that “the power imbalance between men and women may influence the way society regards statutory rapists.”
But contrary to the stereotypes of women as harmless nurturers – and teen boys as sexually insatiable – experts have said that female teachers do just as much harm to the boys they prey on as their male counterparts do to girls.
Such misconceptions can leave boys and men vulnerable, Sandy Parker, director of the Rape Crisis Center of Summit and Medina Counties, told Garrett. Male victims may be less likely to report sex crimes, Parker said, and even when they do, the justice system doesn’t take them seriously.
- Former New Smyrna Beach Middle School teacher Stephanie Peterson: Screen grab