Category Archives: Adolescent sexual offenders

Where was the teacher? – Why did they do it: addendum

Since writing the earlier post I have also noticed comments such as “where was the teacher”, blaming the teacher for allowing the actions of the kids.  In my work with juvenile offenders I have worked closely with their parents as well, and though they are not the primary victim of this crime, they are victims as well.  They often blame themselves and flog themselves with the belief of “I should have known, how didn’t I see it?”  I can imagine the teacher is in a similar place, and a great deal of work I do with the parents is about being able to allow themselves to understand that their kid intentionally worked to hide his / her behavior from their parents. That without eyes in the back of their heads and pre-cognition, there was no way to know  what their kid was going to do. 

So how were they able to do what they did in a public setting?

Two reasons: 

1. We as humans have a difficult time seeing things that we don’t expect to see.  In a few cases we have trouble seeing what we don’t WANT to see, but more often it is the former. We expect our children to be healthy and relatively well behaved.  We just don’t expect kids to want to hurt other kids in that way. 

2. Teens, people in general really, are very good at hiding things.  As women we hide the new pair of shoes or the new dress from the husband.  The over-eater hides their eating, the alcoholic their drinking, the sex offender their offenses.  Unfortunately they are often very good at covering up their offenses even from themselves. (If they knew full well that they were hurting someone without any way of justifying their behavior with comments such as “they’re just kids, it won’t effect them”; “She really wanted it, look at how she dresses” etc, would they continue to knowingly hurt others?  The vast majority of sexual offenders are not psychopaths with no empathy, they have distorted their concept of empathy so that it doesn’t include the victims of their actions.)  Teens in general are good at hiding things from people, especially adults.  They frequently get caught, but I remember back to my adolescence, and though I was a fairly good kid, I know what I was able to sneak past my parents.  It sounds like these kids were sophisticated enough to be able to place themselves in a position that was unable to be seen easily by the teacher. 

And honestly, why should the teacher have an eagle eye on every child in the classroom?   The school is not a school for deviants, mentally ill teens, or offenders.  They happen to be offenders in a school of healthy normal (remember, normal and healthy are relative) teenagers.  Though school classrooms are becoming less and less like the classroom of my day; a student in every seat listening to the teacher and paying attention, running each classroom as though every teen is a delinquent is overall unhealthy.

Classrooms, for the most part, are places of learning. Students who are not interested in learning are more likely to be visiting Facebook on their i-phone, listening to their MP3 player, or writing a note to someone than to turn and sexually offend on their classmate.  The teacher, based on reports, responded immediately as soon as he saw there was a student in distress, and I see no reason to censure or flog publicly the man who works to keep our kids futures bright. The ones to be held responsible for this behavior is the teens themselves.   There also is no reason to implement martial law in classrooms “just in case” this happens again.   Teach children to be comfortable saying no.  Work to educate children and teens on the rights of their bodies and how to protect themselves, and work to teach boys to respect girls, but allow classrooms to continue to be classrooms. 

Why did they do it?

I received a phone call from KVUE news asking me to give feedback on an event that occured recently.  According to KVUE news, on Nov 19th two 13 year old boys sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl in a full classroom supervised by a teacher, darkened for a movie.  I was unable to return the phone call in time to give feedback for the story, but after leaving a message indicating my willingness to discuss the situation, I created a few bullet points regarding the question: “What were they thinking?”

We know that adolescents have educational, physical, and emotional development.  We send them to school, have them see doctors, and nurture them emotionally.  We know that puberty is part of moving toward our body’s sexual maturity, but sexual development is often misunderstood. 

  • Sexual development starts in infancy.  Young infants touch their genitals, boys and girls play doctor, teens start experimenting.  Any of the above developmental areas are able to get knocked off kilter.  Physical and sexual abuse affect both emotional and sexual development, just as skipping school or lack of parental investment affects educational development.  It does not take the extreme of sexual abuse to knock our sexual development off kilter.  Dad watching pornography in front of children, mom and dad fighting and using sex to make up, violent sex between adults (see a pattern of sexual violence here?) are all examples of events that impact a child’s sexual development.
  • Adolescents are not little adults.  A 16 year old may lookphysically mature, but the human brain does not complete developinguntil around the age of 24, when the personality is cemented.  Duringadolescence, the brain’s emotional centers are in overdrive, and theimpulse control centers are still cooking (so to speak).  We see theeffects of this when we pay auto insurance rates for our teenagers. This is why the rates for men stay astronomical until they turn 25. When we ask a teen who just did something stupid, “Didn’t you think?”,the answer is no.  Teens, for the most part, are eternally in the now. They think of what will happen in the next hour, not the next 10years.  Expounding on the long term consequences often fall on deadears.
  • Attitudes toward sex today are very casual both in TV and technology. 
    • Enter”sexting” into an internet search engine, and you’ll see pages of information and news reports of the dangers.  You’ll see discussion about the need to re-vamp laws regarding sexual offenders.  For those not in the know, “sexting” is sending sexually explicit texts, either in text or through pictures.  Sending pictures of a child or adolescenti n sexually compromising pictures is child pornography and a federaloffense.  It doesn’t matter that these pictures are sent by the”victim”.  Forwarding these pictures creates multiple felonies, one for each person forwarded the message.  When a 14 year old girl sends a picture of her breasts to her boyfriend, and he forwards it to his friends, he is now officially a felony sex offender.
    • I heard the other day that the first TV show about a threesome will air on the WB.  One of the TV shows I love is “So You Think You Can Dance,”though I am not the target demographic.  The target demographic is adolescent girls.  The dances on this show are at times sexually charged, and at times blatant sexual behaviors are depicted.  There aremany many examples I can use of sex, sexual violence and sexuality in the media.  Music is littered with references demeaning women, often times sung y women themselves.  We are overwhelmed on TV and the radio with sounds and images telling us that women are toys and objects to be used and disrespected, not treated as equals.
    • Video games have sexually explicit acts, minimally clothed women, and at times sexual violence (in Grand Theft Auto you are able to sleep with a hooker, pay her, leave, return andsteal your money back while beating or killing her).  There are no studies I know of that demonstrate a link betwe
      en these games tosexualized behavior, though I cannot imagine that this does not play arole in desensitizing still developing teens.
  • Sex feels good.  I am sure that you know this.  This is why we masturbate, why children play with their genitals, and why we have sex for pleasure (one of only three animals to do so).  Kids know when they feel bad they want to feel better, and the quickly  find skills they know will work to make them feel better.  Have you ever had a really bad day and initiated sex with your partner to feel better?  Adolescents are still learning what works for them to feel better when they don’t feel good. They experiment with all different techniques, including sometimes negative skills such as drug use, self harming, aggression, over eating and…sexualized behavior. 
  • Internet pornography is more widespread and available than parents ever realize.  I worked with a client in the past who required sex offender treatment after he became addicted to pornography.  The instigating search that introduced him to pornography?  “How to make friends”.  An innocent search by a lonely teen.  Many adults allow their teenage children free access to the internet without communicating or teaching.  Some exploration and experimentation is normal, and should be discussed, and redirected as necessary. 
  • Family education also affects our sexual development. The roles of parents in the home affect us even in our adult relationships.  If Dad see’s Mom effectively as an employee or servant–someone to cook, clean, take care of the kids, and most importantly service him sexually without the concept of partnership–those attitudes are passed to their children.  If older siblings demean their girlfriends, if sex and violence are linked in the home, if women are viewed as objects, this all affects the sexual development of teenagers.  Children and teens are sponges.  They learn from what happens at home.

All of the above factors contribute to teens sexual attitudes and behaviors.  What was going through their mind?  They were not thinking of the consequences of their actions, they were not thinking of how it would affect the girl they were assaulting, and they were not thinking of how it would affect their parents.  Did they think of how their friends would view them when they boasted about it?  Were they thinking about the sext they had received earlier?  Did they think of the slight she theoretically gave, and want to get her back?  Did they think of something that happened earlier in the day that hurt them, and wanted to find a way to feel better?  Did they want to avoid looking like a “punk” in front of their peers, and did something they believed would make them look cool?  I will probably never know this information. 

These boys will face consequences for their actions.  With hope they will be sentenced to treatment, either in a detention facility or in the community, luckily the judge assigned to their case is known for her cool thinking and her knowledge of the efficacy of treatment.  Boys who attend treatment only have a 5 – 15% chance of re-offending.  That means that 85 – 95% of teens who undergo treatment after sexual offending DO NOT sexually re-offend, and are safe members of the community through adulthood.  We need to teach our children responsible sexuality.  They will learn it, either through us or through their friends and the media.  Talking about sex and masturbation is difficult.  It is not an easy conversation to have, as it embarrasses both you and your child.  But where would you rather they got their impressions and attitudes about sex and sexuality?