Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Coach

A local high school coach and science teacher is currently facing charges related to an alleged inappropriate relationship with an underage student, but relatively few people around here seem shocked or surprised by this. Most folks in our area are aware that this man is rumored to have been having inappropriate relationships with multiple young female students for years. In fact, I remember hearing rumors about this man getting a high school girl pregnant 9 or 10 years ago--and the young woman in question does have a child that age--but, like most things scandalous around here, it was hushed up.

This time, the girl's mother insisted on pressing charges against the coach. Rather than supporting the victim and her mother, however, the community has responded with a no-holds-barred smear campaign against them. My youngest child was shocked earlier this year when another teacher at the high school (one my child particularly respected and admired) stood up in front of their class during class time and gave the students a lecture on how the whole affair was the 16-year-old female student's fault because she had deliberately led the coach on. This teacher also told students it was essential that they not discuss the matter with anyone outside of school "because they might be reporters". Within the school, my youngest heard numerous students and faculty members blaming the girl and making rude/crude remarks about her morals and character. My kids and I had some frank discussions together about what it means to be a 16-year-old student compared to an adult teacher with teenaged children of his own and why there are laws against such relationships.

Recently I discovered the smear campaign against the student and her mother also extends to the Internet and is very aggressive. Someone is getting numerous locals to write ugly and disturbing comments, particularly about the girl, all over various social networking and discussion sites--see Topix, for example.

As I and a few others have tried to point out on these sites, it doesn't even matter what the student is or isn't and did or did not do. Age-wise, she was still a minor at the time, and the teacher was both older and in a position of trust with regard to her. (As my kids and I discussed and agreed, there are good reasons why these relationships are against the law!) To slander, libel, and defame this student in order to try and cover up the wrongful actions and immoral conduct of a supposedly respected adult member of the community is utterly despicable.

This type of "cover up at all costs" mentality is nothing new here, though; indeed, it appears to be ingrained to the point of being an automatic defense mechanism among locals. Even before I moved here in 1986, I remember hearing people talk with shocking nonchalance about a very prominent local man whose job gave him unlimited access to children of all ages in a position of particular trust who was said to be abusing boys in the community and had apparently been doing so for years despite numerous complaints. This man was eventually arrested in another town for propositioning an undercover officer in a park restroom, but he received only a fine. He was forced to retire, but despite knowing his history, this community continues to this day to allow the man essentially unlimited contact with children, even to the point of allowing him to accompany students on overnight school trips. This man has probably been knowingly allowed easy access to children within the community for over 50 years!--locals seem to think that it's better to victimize innocent children than have the scandal of having to deal with him properly.

I suspect at this point, you're probably noticing similarities to what is currently going on within the Catholic church and of course you're right to a point, but there are also important differences to consider. Both entities have had a "cover up at all costs" mentality regarding sexual abuse and inappropriate sexual relationships and contact between minors and adults in positions of trust, but within the Catholic church, I believe in most cases only individuals close to each incident of abuse plus a few higher-ups knew what was going on. Here entire generations of young people are growing up knowing that their communities put a higher value on silence and hiding the truth than they do on protecting innocent children. Anyone exhibiting empathy for victims or outrage at the enabling of continued victimization is looked upon as weak, accused of not acting for the common good, and ostracized and ridiculed rather than being commended--a dysfunctional "peer pressure system" for grown-ups and kids alike. It's little wonder, then, that other types of victims (domestic abuse, violence, crime, and more) are also openly treated badly by these communities and that such behaviour is actually regarded by most as normal and acceptable.

Recently I came across two prime examples of community attitudes toward young people here that were both published in the same newspaper, both written by adults in positions of trust with regard to students, and both written as letters expressly addressed to students within our community. The author of one of these letters is a local teacher. The other author is the wife of a prominent community member and co-chaired our most recent "Project Graduation". Both letters are long, rambling, and repetitious statements of how wonderful our children are and how much our community loves its young people no matter what they do. Putting these messages into the overall context here, our kids are being told they are loved unconditionally yet are not worthy of protection from predators and that they will actually end up being persecuted if (heaven forbid!) they are victimized.

Before I end this post, there are a couple of additional pieces of information my non-local followers should have regarding the coach who initiated the post. The wife of the coach facing charges happens to be a high-level administrator at a different school within the same district. Their own teenaged daughter died in a car crash after the charges were filed against her father.

Update, 10/10: The San Antonio Express-News reports that new sexual assault charges have just been filed against this same coach in Gillespie County. The article does not contain any information on the nature of these charges or give any victim information, which is strange.


A further update:

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