Talk about choices and consequences – not far from where I used to live (Greenville, SC) in Laurens, South Carolina a teacher was sentenced to 6 years in prison for having sex with under aged teens. As a teen ethics speaker (www.chuckgallagher.com) I often make presentations to parents about the new jungle for sexual predators – the internet. Whether it’s MySpace or Facebook, many parents aren’t familiar with the territory for predators these days. What most would never suspect is that someone – a teacher – would inflict harm on those close to him or (in this case) her by betraying their trust.
Allenna Ward, age 24, did that – she was convicted of having sex with 14 and 15 year old boys at the school where she taught. According to a report from CNN, “Police began investigating last year after school officials found a note believed to have been written by Ward to one of the boys. Some of the victims were students at Bell Street Middle School in Clinton, where Ward taught. She was fired about a year ago.”
Every choice has a consequence. So many times people assume that they can avoid the consequences if nothing happens immediately following their choice. Again, according to CNN forensic psychiatrist Donna Schwartz-Watts said Ward is not a pedophile, but rather a childlike victim suffering from personality disorders and a repressed childhood. Schwartz-Watts said the minister’s daughter lived a sheltered life but really was a “free spirit” who never got a chance to break away from her family.
I can’t begin to explain why Ward made the choices she did, but reality is – for the rest of her life she will be marked – not only from her experience in prison, but marked as a sexual predator – which in many ways is far worse than the mark of convicted felon.
According to an AP article, there is a steady drumbeat of sexual misconduct cases involving teachers, at least 15 states are now considering stronger oversight and tougher punishment for educators who take advantage of their students.
A nationwide Associated Press investigation published in October found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct. Experts who track sexual abuse say those cases are representative of a much deeper problem because of underreporting.
The states referenced in the article that are considering significant changes are: California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.
No doubt the issue raising national attention today will fuel the fire in South Carolina. In fact, South Carolina has created a new committee of parents, teachers, social workers and prosecutors to study the problem and come back with new ideas.
Though small statistically, the number of abusive teachers is too high, South Carolina Education Superintendent Jim Rex wrote after reading the AP report.
“I am nonetheless outraged by any incident in which an adult entrusted with the care of one of South Carolina’s students violates that student. The ramifications for that student, his or her family, and the community as a whole are painful and long lasting,” he wrote.
As parents, adults and voters we have an obligation to help protect our children from those who would harm them. I educate adults about the new playground where predators abound – the internet – social networking – MySpace and Facebook, but other places for abuse exist. Children have been abused in their church and their school. Neither should happen, but they do. The question is what will we do to protect them.
As always your comments are welcome.
If you live in the Laurens, South Carolina area especially and would like to comment – please do so.