Haeli Wey Noelle

Aside from parents, few people spend as much time and have as much influence on children as teachers. Teachers are the most seen and heard authority figures during the most important years of a child’s development, and aside from parents, I might argue that they’re the most prominent adults.

That’s why it’s always with disbelief, alarm, and a gutful of rage, that I digest any news about teachers who have gone off the rails and engaged in an inappropriate relationship with one of their students. There have been many widely-reported, some even infamous cases of this situation over the years, but the sensationalism surrounding each case is not enough to distract from the gravity of this type of offense, at least for most people.

It would appear that the seriousness doesn’t really hit home for one girl, a late 20s teacher from Texas, who is charged with having an inappropriate relationship with her 17-year-old student. She quickly went viral when she was pictured in her mug shot with a huge, unashamed Cheshire-cat grin. Google it; she’s beaming like she just won the 6/49.

I know, I know – many of you will say that 17 is old enough, that 17 understands responsibilities and consequences and probably consented. There are guys who will snicker, only half jokingly, about them not being so lucky when they were in high school. I get where that sentiment is coming from. I know 17 is almost an adult and able to make some decisions on their own.

I also know that 17-year-olds think investing in blow-up furniture and hitchhiking to Halifax are good ideas, so let’s not overestimate how much credit to give them when it comes to seeing the forest for the trees. These are undeveloped, vulnerable minds, however willing to think with their hormones instead of using their heads.

So we need to stop with those excuses, okay?

The gall of this woman to smile proudly at the camera shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. It made me feel disgusted with her for doing it and disgusted with a justice system that treats pretty, young women differently than creepy, equally young guys, even when they’ve committed the exact same crime under the same circumstances. Her lawyer claimed she was smiling because she was innocent, if you can believe that.

And while male teachers charged with sex abuse of students is more common, doesn’t it feel to you like there is an epidemic of female pedophiles taking advantage of their positions? Or does the media just do more reporting on them, making it seem that way?

A quick Internet search brings up hundreds (literally, hundreds) of results detailing female teachers all over the U.S. and Canada who have faced sex abuse charges of their students. In some cases, the victims are high school seniors, while others are elementary and middle-schoolers. There are offenses ranging from suggestive text messages and pictures, to full body contact and rape. This happens in cars, in matrimonial homes, even on school grounds. One case I read about described a teacher being arrested and then threatening to fail the student if he didn’t continue the affair. And these are not all cases seen on network news beyond our borders, this has happened in Nova Scotia in recent years.

I’m sure that being a mother of two boys impacts my opinion, and maybe I wouldn’t be as affected by it if I had girls. I’d like to think that I would, though, because I understand how wrong it is, that it’s a matter of adults vs. children and not women vs. boys, and that dismissing news of these incidents or joking about them minimizes the seriousness of the offenses.

Grown women chasing after teen boys is a difficult and disturbing scene to imagine, but just as troubling are the comments from the people who think that teachers preying on young boys is something to be joked about or envied.

It’s not. It is victimization. It is abuse. It is rape. And it is particularly unnerving when the abuse is committed by the very people trusted by parents to be so close to their children.