There are no tattoos to warn others, nor is there a view screen on their forehead to allow others to see what might be on their mind. They have a label because it is necessary. Our most important asset, the women and children of society, are those most endangered by sex offenders. I want to share with you, primarily from a teacher’s perspective, the modus operands that are employed to affect these offenses. It is vital to us that we accomplish this sharing, for it is these offenses that create victims, and also causes the pain and losses that families, friends, the school, and the community experience as a result. It is critically important that this information be analyzed carefully, especially in that it deals with a sensitive subject - long overdue for attention - but especially because it can be easily misused.
Your first job, first.For teachers, and all others, it is important to stay in your job, stay close to your expertise. This is the area for which you are trained, this is the information/activity for which that the youngster is seeking communications with you. Avoid counseling. To go into areas such as counseling, even on a superficial level, is to invite danger. For one, teachers have a lack of training in the counseling domain. “Kiddy Psyche,” "Sociology 101," and "Classroom Management" fall well short of providing ethical guidelines. Those of us trained for the classroom are left to our own moralistic and ethical mores. Society had prepared us through the growing-up years and through example how to live as mature, contributing adults. The emotional traps in counseling that exist for the untrained is an issue that begs attention. The emotional make-up of mankind, especially the males, is strongly sexual. Coupled with an emotional attachment, deviant or otherwise, the combination gives challenge to an already ill-defined “red line” that exists between adults and potential victims of sexual abuse.
By avoiding personal/intimate topics the danger of straying into an emotional attachment is considerably lessened. It is all too easy for teachers, clergy, and scout leaders, to be the supporting listener for any troubled youth. And once the listening begins, it is an issue of the heart. The self-discipline to terminate and to leave the troubled youth without the obvious support is difficult. Yet, if some break is not made, subsequent sessions easily follow.
Adults must be quick to recognize the role of others: counselors/ teachers/family. The excuse that today’s families are not as in the “olden” days should not be used to avoid contact. At least try. Even if the family is dysfunctional, be sure that notice is given that help has been sought and that your position precludes further help. Adults in this position should share with them- counselors/teachers/family- all questionable concerns. That would certainly include topics outside of curriculum and topics that cause you discomfort. Indeed, topics that cause discomfort should raise all kinds of red flags, and topics outside your curriculum and outside of educational (or religious, scouting concerns, etc.) boundaries should be examined closely. Obviously it is acceptable to help a young person balance their checkbook (etc.) but once the subject strays to boy-girl/friends, tread carefully!
Items/topics that are kept from family/others should be questioned. Students may look to someone outside of the family to share things with. That has red flags all over it. It is your responsibility to send students to the counselor and to talk to the counselor in confidence of the concerns that this issue raised. The question of why issues are not shared with family/counselors is another example of red flags flying. Young people who will not share with those that are supposed to be their best advocates are walking much too close to the edge and that needs to be recognized. This is an important concern, much too important to be that left in the hands of the untrained teacher. Consider the vulnerability. This is an issue that feeds well into the MO of a manipulative sex offender.
Adults should by nature be uncomfortable with secretive dialogue which again is unethical at best, especially when shared with an adolescent. Educator sex offenders will use this personal dialogue, the sharing of a student’s inner-most secrets, to further strengthen the “bond” between them. As part of the grooming and manipulative process, a great deal of dependence can be built by being part of the personal and intimate aspects of the student’s life. The student will place a great deal of confidence and trust in teachers and will be willing to share more and more of their life, and more and more of the issues that should be directed to qualified personnel. The fact that teachers should share nothing exclusively with adolescents is not an issue with which offenders will deal. Teacher offenders will place themselves in the role of a teacher/coach confidante and use that role in the grooming process. This fits the MO of the sexual offender.
How are teachers able to carry out these assaults with the visibility that teachers have? Again, the dynamics of behavior for teachers who are sex offenders are extremely subtle. They are well known in the school system, often for long periods of time. They are well known as teachers, coaches, band directors, chaperons and advisors, of both boys and girls, and may be leaders in special fields. They may be or have been recognized as a Teacher of the Year. On the surface they may be “the last person who would ever offend...” in such a manner. This “most understanding friend” cover makes a convenient mask for their deviant activities. It creates the “blind spot” as alluded to by Dr. Wiley, a researcher of ethical practices for the educational community.
This blind spot may be no less than an excuse, a cover for a lack of diligence, but it bears merit and needs to be addressed—with a word of caution which begs for repetition. Offenders use this blind spot on the part of their colleagues to hide the offending activities amongst the normal, everyday routine of teaching. They will even “accent their normal activities," such as placing a chair next to or in the open doorway of the room when the victim is in the room alone with them. Whenever the victim is in the room alone, offenders will maintain a high level of visibility and have the victim visit them in the room when other students are present. Teachers passing through the room on daily errands come to view the victim’s presence as normal. However, the blind spot fails at monitoring daily contact because it becomes the norm for the victim to be visiting on a daily basis.
The blind spot creates a false sense of security, circumventing the issues of visits; how often is appropriate and how much is appropriate? In the distorted thinking of the offender, they want the victim to visit often so they can continue to build upon his/her dependence on them and to perpetuate the deviant activities with him/her.
The word of caution is that being “nosy” (concerned) about colleagues is an important issue. Without becoming a witch hunt, colleagues need to watch each other’s backs and weigh carefully the activities that are observed. For all intents and purposes, offender’s observed activities are certainly within acceptable administration enables them to continue the sexual abuse of their victims by being too busy or relying on the teacher cadre to be diligent. Colleagues and supervisors and even casual friends, need to step-in/interject when questions arise about too much time being spent with one student or when there is unaccounted time - missing meetings, events, etc. Here the offender can take advantage of the blind spot by carrying out all of his duties and doing many extra things in and around the school community. They remain highly visible and available. They are at practice with their team on time, but may have left school prior to practice to call or receive a call from their victim. They may have made arrangements to meet him/her or pick him/her up after school and spend that time with them before practice. Sex offenders live two interwoven lives. But that always leaves room for compromise; it is difficult to lead two lives without making errors. When questions arise, when there appears to be personal turmoil, others need to be appropriately nosy and carefully assess what they see. It would be very advisable to share the concern with others such as the dept. Chairperson or a counselor. The more input and the more persons involved the better. And of course the school busy-body...you may be starting to appreciate the difference.
All of these factors contributed to the offense; they are all part of the MO for offenders, some more accomplished than others. And there are many other factors that even I am not aware of. It is critically important that adults maintain boundaries/relative “positions” with the youth with whom they are working. If there are rules and regulations specific to a job or position, they are there for reasons that need not be questioned. Unfortunately, the sex offender amends rules and regulations as s/he sees fit and is in such a state of distorted thinking that the behaviors are viewed as normal. “He who needs help the most, sees it the least.” For this reason, behaviors must be questioned or in the least, noted (documented).
Two powerful influences that can be avoided, especially for young teens, are empowering and codependency. Teens are especially vulnerable to feeling the power of control over situations, certainly where the power is exerted over adults; the “puppy eyes” syndrome and the quick tears, innocent enough - maybe? The sex offender will “give ground” and listen to input from the victim, acting on suggestions and decisions much as if the input came from another adult. They will empower their victims as they act upon their suggestions and gave them credence as a peer. This bolsters the victim’s feeling of power over the offender and strengthens the endearment which is the end of means. With this sort of compromise, there is an apparent codependency between the victim and offender. This in turn strengthens the hold on h/her as s/he becomes more and more comfortable with the support generated by the codependency.
The offender may also contact the victim’s family, most always the mother, to gain greater and greater latitude in the topics that were “OK” to share with the victim. In gaining a parent’s permission – a “blanket” permission for discussions – the offender enables himself to continue the abuse of their victim. This blanket permission gives “permission” to continue the activities. This obviously is an aspect of distorted thinking that the offender somehow has obtained an “OK” from mom to continue the activities - of which she knows nothing.
This is a very common “trap” for lack of a better descriptor. More than one educator has confirmed that there are no guidelines, except one’s own comfort level, for the topics that are appropriate or “safe” for teachers and other adults dealing with young people. It is human nature to be compassionate and the stories are many where teachers have taken it upon themselves to be helpful and supportive. The fact that there are few reported cases of abuse underscores the validity of the teacher acting in this capacity. But even one sexually assaulted student is one too many, and the potential is always there. To avoid this trap in the main, topics must be censored/restricted to an adult’s area/subject and when it is realized and/or determined that boundaries are being nudged, other professions need to be referred. It is much too easy to listen “just once more” or to “just one more issue” with which the adult may feel s/he can help. This is the bait for the trap. At the same time, teachers, scout leaders, coaches, etc., have to be available with a shoulder for our young people. It is not an easy line to navigate. I’m sure you know. Maybe most of you have been there, but you didn't’t offend....