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Keeping Our Daughters Safe Through Self-Empowerment

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s time for the kids to go back to school, which means we moms will spend sleepless nights worrying if our kids are getting bullied on the bus, if they like their teachers and if they are making friends. But when I read the recent BuzzFeed expose, a follow-up to an XO Jane piece written by former Marlborough High student Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie, who was pursued sexually by her male teacher, I added worrying about how to keep my daughter safe from creepy teachers to my worry-list.

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The BuzzFeed article documents how the teacher abused his power to lure his female students in, make them feel valued and smart and then took advantage of the closeness with his students to make inappropriate advances. He would send constant emails, arrange private meetings and touch them. He even told the author of the XO Jane piece that he couldn’t control himself around her. And recently one former student came forward to say she’d had a sexual relationship with the same married teacher 10 years ago, while she was his student.

These stories are nothing new, but this one struck a chord. The school at the center of the scandal is down the street from my house. It’s where everyone in the neighborhood hopes to send our daughters for high school. Plus these stories seem to be more and more prevalent with both male and female teachers seeming to cross the line all too often.

I hope to raise both my kids, my daughter in particular, with an innate sense of power and respect for herself.

The article makes me wonder how to protect my own kids from being taken advantage of by an amoral teacher. We try to have age-appropriate conversations in our family about body parts and privacy. Likewise, we never keep secrets nor do we use that word. We want the kids to know that if they are ever in a situation that’s inappropriate and they are told to keep it a secret, they shouldn’t. We try to stay involved in our kids' schooling and work to pay attention to changes in our kids' self esteem. But still I wonder if I’m doing enough to protect my kids from a teacher using his power to lure his trusting students in.

And then I think about the one thing all of this teacher’s victims seemed to have in common. They all confess to being conflicted about how to receive their teacher’s advances. They each talk about knowing his behavior was wrong, but liking the feeling of power that came with his advances. Who can blame them?

When I think back to my own days in high school or college I was fortunate to never face a teacher who was inappropriate, but there were plenty of other close calls along the way. I, too, remember feeling a certain sense of power from the advances of an older man who claimed to be unable to function without me. But there’s nothing powerful about inappropriate advances, and a person who makes them isn’t caring or kind, no matter what lies he or she tells the victim.

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So I hope to raise both my kids, my daughter in particular, with an innate sense of power and respect for herself. I hope she’ll know that she shouldn’t feel complimented by a teacher’s disrespect for her nor should be ashamed. What she should feel is indignant. And she should feel like she can tell her parents and administrators and that we will move to protect her. I can’t control what a creepy teacher may do in the future, but I can help empower each of my kids to react with respect for his or herself.

Now that’s what I call powerful.

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