For some reason, Mary Kay Letourneau (the teacher who seduced a 13-yr-old student) is back in the news, perhaps because she believes the moral climate has changed enough to allow her back into the classroom. I need to outline a few details, not for the sake of salacious gossip, but because the reaction to this gambit will give a good indication of how much we've changed in the last 15 years.
When Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau was forced to go public in 1997 with an affair she was having with her former sixth grade student, Vili Fualaau, after she became pregnant with his child, it was the teacher-student sex scandal heard around the world.
At the time, Mary was a 34-year-old, married teacher in Seattle, who already had four children of her own. Vili was just 13 years old. Mary was arrested and served seven and a half years in prison.
Today, Mary is 53 and Vili is 31. The couple is still together and are about to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. The two daughters they have together are now teenagers -- older than Vili was when the affair started.
How did her victim process his injury? What sort of help did he receive at the time? Appallingly little, of substance.
“It was a huge change in my life, for sure,” he said. “I don’t feel like I had the right support, the right help behind me ... from my family, from anyone, in general. I mean, my friends couldn't help me because they had no idea what it was like to be a parent, I mean, because we were all 14, 15.”
Vili said he had counseling sessions, but even then he struggled because he said counselors wanted him to take antidepressant medication to "even him out."
“I don’t even think the counselors knew how to deal with it. It was just weird,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why do I need to be on an antidepressant pill?’ And they said it was to level you out so they can have a conversation with you. ... It just kind of just really annoyed me through the years.” Vili was forbidden from visiting Mary in prison, but he said it would have helped him if he had been able to talk to her during that time.
Her husband divorced her, she was released in 2004, and she and Vili were married within a year. They seem to have put together some sort of stable life, and even gather all the children for holidays and special events, although interestingly, it's Vili who finds it the most awkward.
More importantly, though, Mary has asked a question that needs an answer:
"The incident was a late night that it didn't stop with a kiss," Mary said. "And I thought that it would and it didn't." When asked if she felt guilty or disgusted with herself for having the affair, Mary said, "I loved him very much, and I kind of thought, 'why can't it ever just be a kiss?'"
Let's consider why it can't:
- She was old enough to be his mother;
- She was married and the mother of four children;
- She was in a position of authority over the boy;
- He was from a dysfunctional, fatherless home;
- He was hormonal and immature;
- He had no support system.
So those are some reasons why there should have been no kiss, much less no ensuing intimacy. She broke her marriage vows, she betrayed her children, she took advantage of a student, and she violated the terms of her parole to endanger him further. I am happy that she has taken responsibility for the two daughters from this relationship by creating a stable home, but of course it's founded in the ruins of another home, another family, another vow that meant nothing.
These are my grave concerns at present:
- There is no self-awareness of how she was wrong to pursue a relationship with Vili;
- There is no remorse for the damage to her husband and children;
- There is no cognizance of ongoing scandal by throwing these six children together;
- There is no sense of proper boundaries between students and teachers;
- There is no sense of shame about bad choices or neglect of duty;
- There is no recognition of the harms to Vili, who seems like a likeable fellow;
- Reading between the lines, one senses that Mary is tremendously manipulative.
The clincher is the closing comments about dating--comments which prove supremely ironic. But for Vili, his words speak volumes about what he recognises as the legitimate harms he has steadfastly endured over the years:
Their parents are very protective, and Vili said he has warned his daughters against having boyfriends. “The reason for me telling them that was just from, out of experience,” he said. “A relationship could lead to something that you think you wanted back then. You don't really want it, maybe, years later.”
If either of their girls did what they did, if they came home one day and said they were sleeping with their teacher, both Mary and Vili said they would be shocked and upset.
“I don't support younger kids being married or having a relationship with someone older,” Vili said. “I don't support it.”
Amen. But an "I'm sorry, I was wrong" would have been a better response from Mary. That aside, if there is a rehabilitation of her school career at this point, we will know that we have turned a dangerous corner. Please, God, no -- our children cannot be exposed to any more, the culture is quite bad enough!