Dear media: Women can be sexual predators too

A deluge of recent stories about teacher "affairs" shows the media is still absurdly clueless

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 5, 2014 7:30PM (EDT)

Pamela Smart, on the witness stand in Rockingham County Superior Court in Exeter, N.H., 1991    (AP/Jim Cole)
Pamela Smart, on the witness stand in Rockingham County Superior Court in Exeter, N.H., 1991 (AP/Jim Cole)

When a male teacher has a sexual relationship with an underage student, it's called sexual abuse, and it's a crime. You know what it is when a female teacher does it? It's sexual abuse, and it's a crime.

Earlier this month, 28-year-old Jennifer Caswell (formerly Sexton) was charged in Oklahoma with three counts of felony rape, two counts of enticing a child and one count of forcible sodomy stemming from a reported "several incidents" involving a 15-year-old male student. The recently divorced teacher was already under investigation when she stepped down from her job at the Hollis Middle School in April. But in June, she and the boy were discovered in a Best Western in Mississippi after, as Tulsa World reports, "he hopped the fence of a church parking lot, where Sexton waited in her sport utility vehicle." Yet some media outlets are still willing to call what happened between Caswell and the boy an "affair" -- which is a pretty disingenuous way of describing transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.

Caswell's story is far from unusual. Also in August, 32-year-old Arkansas sixth grade teacher Mary Faith McCormick was held overnight in Benton County Jail as part of an investigation into a sexual relationship with a teenage student. She returns to court in September. The police affidavit notes that the boy claimed they had "consensual" intercourse, though he's under the legal age of consent for his state. It also says she sent him explicit messages and images via Snapchat, that at another time she "began flirting with him to the point it made him uncomfortable and he wanted to go home" and that in another incident, McCormick stated he was angry with her. The Daily Caller chalked up the story with the headline "Summer of Love Ends for 13-Year-Old Boy and the Teacher Arrested for Banging Him."

And there's more. There's the case of 41-year-old Massachusetts teacher Alexandra Romanos, who was charged in July with two counts of aggravated rape of a child and indecent assault and three counts of battery on a child under the age of 14. She pleaded not guilty in August to sexual contact with the 13-year-old. There's Alabama teacher Jennifer McNeill, who in May pleaded to three counts of second-degree rape and one count of second-degree sodomy on a 14-year-old boy, and earlier this month was sentenced to five years in prison. The boy was the son of a friend. There's Davis County, Utah's Brianne Altice, who is currently facing four felony rape counts and two forcible sodomy counts regarding two teenage students, including her teaching assistant. There's Queens high school teacher Joy Morsi, who was charged in June with 20 counts each of third-degree rape and criminal sexual acts for what the New York Post described as a "fling" with a student. Prosecutors said at the time, "This defendant violated the teacher-student trust." And earlier this year, a young woman known as "Jamie" went viral after confronting her female former middle school teacher for what she described as years of sexual abuse. "Do you realize that you brainwashed me, and you manipulated me," she asked, "and that what you did was wrong?"

Any student-teacher relationship is one in which the balance of power is far from equal. Any dynamic between an adult and a teen or preteen is far from equal. And it shouldn't matter if the adult in question is a woman or the student is a male. So please stop perpetuating the idea that "a summer of love" or a "fling" have anything to do with it. It's about violating the trust that parents and children share that a kid will be safe at school from sexually predatory adults, regardless of the gender of the kids and regardless of the gender of the adults. Period.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Male Rape Victims Sex Abuse Teachers Women