FROM THE AUTHORS: Key Teaching Points Based on Reader Comments
Reader comment: "One can clearly see in the vignette how she groomed him. She knew he was a loner and used that to her advantage, she was very predatory in her actions."
Teaching Tip 1: This is an excellent point. In my experience consulting with school administrators and attorneys in the wake of these incidents, the grooming pattern was invariably present and almost painfully obvious. How is it that parents miss the signs? Very often, they have been groomed as well. The offender purposely gains their trust, puts them at ease, and "assures" them that they have nothing but the child's best interests at heart. To busy parents with a struggling child, this can seem like a Godsend. However, it is this phenomenon that can cause parents to overlook the inappropriate boundary crossings that become more frequent and progressive.
For example, in the case of Joe, the tutorial sessions after school would not raise any suspicions. But once the sessions moved to the teacher's home, and then progressed to an overnight trip, parental concern should pique.
Reader comment: “Keeping in mind that sexually acting out is a sign of bipolar, if I were her psychiatrist, I would be sure to screen her for bipolar disorder and treat her accordingly.”
Teaching Tip 2: It is astute to consider the possibility of mania where uncharacteristic sexual behavior is concerned. In fact, in one notable case, teacher Debra Lafave claimed that she suffered from bipolar disorder at the time she engaged in sexual misconduct with a 14 year old student.1 However, she was unable to raise any type of mental health defense, and pleaded guilty in 2005 to Lewd or Lascivious Battery. Of course, the majority of teacher sexual abusers will demonstrate little in the way of serious mental illness.2
Reader comment: "The important aspect to note in this case is whether it is a case of sexual abuse or some sort of 'counter-transference'? Had it been a case of sexual abuse, it would have happened with more than one student by the offending teacher. Transference is fairly common in students towards their teachers belonging to opposite sex."
Teaching Tip 3: Indeed, transference and counter-transference, as described in the psychoanalytic and psychotherapy literature, are constantly occurring regardless of the nature of the relationship. As opposed to a pathological process, these phenomena are meant to generally describe how we relate to one another via evoked past experiences and relationships, and we psychiatrists try to stay attuned to this so as to make use of it in psychotherapy in a way that is helpful to the patient. The teacher-student relationship does share some similarities with the therapist-patient relationship in that both involve a power imbalance, the need for trust, and the over-arching goal of the former placing the latter's best interests first. Research has shown that teachers, by and large, are acutely aware of this special relationship and the heavy ethical burden it comes with. In a study of teachers’ opinions on ethical standards, teachers rated boundary violations as the single most serious ethical violation.3 –Dr Knoll
1. See: http://edition.cnn.com/2005/LAW/11/22/teacher.sex/index.html.
2. Moulden H, Firestone P, Kingston D, Wexler A. A description of sexual offending committed by Canadian teachers. J Child Sex Abuse. 2010;19:403-418.
3. Barrett DE, Headly KN, Stovall B, Witte JC. Teachers’ perceptions of the frequency and seriousness of violations of ethical standards. J Psychol. 2006;140:421-433.