Harvey Weinstein. Bill Cosby. Bill O’Reilly. Roger Ailes. Countless others, allegedly abusing and harassing many women over decades. These powerful men, in a position of authority, abuse their power to control, intimidate and silence women.
Teachers, coaches, bosses, employers, managers, supervisors, and others in postions of authority abuse their power over unsuspecting and naïve children, teens and young adults. And yes, sometimes the guilty party is female, as evidenced by the increasing number of cases reported in the media of female teachers preying on minors in the classroom.
The question is always the same- why don’t the victims speak up? Why don’t they report it to the police, the school, their parents, their friends, the company, HR, the media? Well, sometimes it’s due to shame, embarrassment, fear, or their own denial about what really happened. Sometimes, they think it was actually their fault.
Has anything really changed over time? I hope so!
Almost 25 years ago, my daughter was a 14 year old freshman in high school, and experienced a situation with a teacher who was being inappropriate with comments about her appearance, gifts, offering rides, and lots of attention. I sensed that something was “off” and warned her that his comments and attention were not appropriate! As a former teacher myself and a newly licensed therapist at the time, I knew what boundaries were appropriate and where to draw the line between teachers and students. Like a typical teenager, she thought I was being ridiculous and overreacting to the situation.
At the time, I had never heard of the term “grooming.” There was no internet then, no Facebook or social media platforms. Grooming is a process where the predator identifies their intended victim, often a child, teen or a young adult that they perceive to be vulnerable. The predator then continues to slowly build trust and gain more access to the victim. They make the victim feel special, and invite them to activities where they can be alone together. But I knew nothing about this so called grooming process back then.
Fortunately, things did not escalate, as she set boundaries on her own and let him know she was not interested. At the end of the year, she told me that the teacher had moved on to another student, with whom he had a long term relationship for many years.
The next September I was approached by another parent to go to the principal and later the school district to report his behavior. Ultimately, I left the decision to my daughter, who was just starting her sophomore year in the school. The teacher was still there and still coaching the sport she was playing.
We discussed the possible repercussions, and ultimately she told me to proceed forward. Her exact words were “I don’t want some innocent 14 year old who is not as assertive as me to ever have to deal with this!”
I had a meeting with the principal, who adamantly defended the teacher and said that no one had ever complained that this teacher had been inapppropriate. I showed him the gifts and the notes, but it was dismissed and not taken seriously.
Later I learned from other parents that there had been several previous complaints regarding this teacher which were reported to the principal.
The meeting with the school board was equally as frustrating and fruitless. The teacher continued to teach and coach for many years at the school. My daughter’s experience of high school was tainted by speaking up. I was called to a meeting with the principal, vice principal and the teacher and informed that if my daughter continued to make negative and disparaging comments, he would sue me for defamation. I was also informed that my daughter should switch schools!
I did not agree to having her switch schools, but I did have to tell her that I could not afford to hire a lawyer to defend against defamation. And therefore, she would have to stop talking!
Not my proudest moment, and it caused a great deal of conflict between us, as you can imagine. Now I had a defiant, resentful and rightfully angry teenager who was denied a position on her team and had to see this teacher every day at the school. It’s fair to say that high school was a pretty miserable experience for her.
So, has anything really changed in the last 25 years? Yes, finally, I believe it has. Thank you Gretchen Carlson, and the other brave women who have stepped up to stop this predatory behavior. It’s not just the behavior itself that is so aggregious, but the cover up that also hurts the victims and their families.
The other major game changer is the internet, and with the the popularity of cell phone cameras, Twitter, Facebook and social media, more of these predators will be caught and exposed.
I asked my daughter for permission to share this. She was hesitant, but ultimately agreed. She wasn’t sure it would do any good.
After I went to the school board, she regretted ever coming forward, and maintained this position for many years. After all, the repercussions were hers alone, while the teacher continued to teach and coach at the school for years after she graduated. Every time another teacher or coach is arrested and charged, it makes you wonder what the teachers, school boards and principals are thinking about the ones that got away with this type of behavior.
Today I asked her if she still regretted speaking up, and she said she’s not sure, and doesn’t know what she would do if she had to make the decision again. I wish this had a fairy tale ending, but it doesn’t!
How sad that even almost 25 years later, she’s not sure she did the right thing. Without the support of others speaking out, she felt very alone! I would like to think if it happened today, she would be recognized for the brave young lady she really is, the one who tried to protect others from going through this experience.
I do know one thing for sure. Women coming forward to speak out about Bill Cosby, and now Harvery Weinstein, will make it harder for predators to prey upon young women, and will empower the women to speak up and seek justice.
I know I was not assertive at her age. I also know she will educate her own young daughter to be aware, be brave, trust her instincts and speak up.
So, to speak up or stay silent is really up to each of us. But, when we stay silent, we become part of the cover up. For me, writing this has been a sort of déjà vu, as some have warned about naming names in the very first sentence, warning of potential legal repercussions. Let’s see if I can be as brave as my daughter! Thank you for being a good role model!
To my daughter- I love you!
Shellee Moore, LMFT