Amy Hestir Davis was just 12 when a teacher at her junior high school began to groom her for a sexual relationship with him. That was over two decades ago but, for Amy, the wounds are still fresh. Her name is now swirling at the center of a controversy in the State of Missouri as the government grapples with Senate Bill 59, also known as the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which was scheduled to become a law yesterday. At issue is a clause within the law that restricts contact between teachers and students on social networking sites.
The Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA), initially supportive of the law which requires background checks and inter-district communication about abuse of students by teachers, has become increasingly concerned about the implications of the social networking restrictions. Last week the MSTA filed a lawsuit to block the law from going into effect. Today, they won their first battle in court with a 180-day injunction that will prevent the law from going into effect until February, 2012.
What about Amy Hestir Davis? Now 43 years old, she recalled her abuse in testimony before the Missouri House Education Committeein 2008. Her story mirrors that of so many children (a 2004 study commissioned by the US Department of Education indicates that 4.5 million children experience sexual misconduct by a teacher at some time during K-12th grade). Here are some telling excerpts from Amy’s testimony:
- “Good evening, I’m Amy and I’m 40 years old now. My story takes us back to when I was 12 years old and I entered the 7th grade and it ends when I left the 8th grade the summer after. I was a shy kid. I came from kind of a troubled home and I appreciated the extra attention that I got from a teacher at my Jr. High School that was nicknamed the ‘Art Coach’.”
- “I thought that I was the only person that was ever sexually abused by a teacher.”
- “I never told any adult about what happened to me at the time”…. “The reason I never told anybody was because of the guilt and the shame and the fear that the teacher instilled in me. He had me convinced that I would ruin my life, I would ruin my family’s life, whom I certainly loved dearly, and I would ruin his life; he would never teach again in Missouri, I would shame his family, and for some reason, at the age of 13 and 14, that was enough for me to be quiet. The idea of hurting my family was enough to make me think that I should just bear the horrible truth alone.”
- “And so, out of all of this fear, I consented to an ongoing sexual relationship with this teacher that lasted well over a year.”
- “There was a few friends I … will tell you that I did speak with that I am glad to this day um that I did share with somebody. I just wish that I told somebody that could have really helped me.”
- “I would meet my teacher during his planning hour… I also became a babysitter to him and his wife for their young daughter. Whenever I’d baby sit for him he would take long drives from his house back to dropping me off at my own. Sometimes I would ride my bike to school in the spring and then I would ride to his house after school and I would stay there until right before his wife would get off work at 5:00, and go home.”
- “My teacher said he cared a lot about me; that he loved me; that I was wise beyond my years. He said that no one else could possibly understand the love that we shared, and that if anyone else found out about it, it would destroy it.”
Amy Hestir Davis’s testimony could come from any child who has been groomed for sexual abuse by an adult he or she knows and trusts. Predators are crafty, they’ll seek out victims who are missing something in their lives, victims who will be easy to manipulate, victims who will keep their mouths shut. Amy is now able to look back on that situation and realize exactly how this predator manipulated her. She now has her eyes wide open.
Parents, you should keep your eyes wide open as well. The vast majority of teachers are above reproach; but there are a small number who will use their position of authority over children to satisfy their deviant sexual needs. Watch for characteristics in your children that might make them a target to a predator. Is your child shy? Withdrawn? Not part of a group of friends? Is your child naïve, too trusting, or gullible? Does your child seek attention from adults? These are the children who are easy targets for predators.
It’s also important to recognize the behavior of the predator. If you find that an adult in your child’s life, teacher, coach, scout leader, neighbor, etc. seems to be giving your child undue attention, treat it as a red flag and explore the situation further. Open a dialogue with your children about the possibility that this could happen to them or to a friend of theirs. Give them tools to react appropriately and shut the situation down quickly, including using a strong voice and body language that says “no.”
Tell them that you’re here to support them and love them no matter what happens. Tell them that they can come to you with anything; and that if they have a friend who is experiencing abuse, they should tell you or another trusted adult, even if the friend swears them to secrecy. Amy Hestir Davis probably wishes that her friends had broken her confidence and protected her.
Subscribe to Twitter @revvedupkidsfor a daily safety tweet.