A Texas judge said he was “sending a message” by convicting former middle school teacher Alexandria Vera to 10 years in prison this week for sexually assaulting one of her 13-year-old students.
But who was he sending that message to?
The 25-year-old Vera, who had gotten pregnant as a result of her assault of the teen but reportedly had an abortion, was facing a possible life sentence behind bars. Meanwhile prosecutors in the case said the boy’s parents were supportive of their child having a “relationship” with his teacher and “excited” about her pregnancy. The middle schooler’s dad even moved into the teacher’s home at one point—along with his son—pretending to date Vera while the Aldine Independent School District teacher continued to assault his child.
Is the message this judge refers to for other teachers who might be tempted to assault their students? It happens more often than parents would like to think.
[Social media] platforms blur the lines of authority and also make it easier to hide inappropriate behavior.
Case in point: one-time Washington teacher Mary Kay Letourneau. She's the teacher who became a household name in 1997 when she was arrested and charged with assaulting then 12-year-old Vili Fualaau. Letourneau served two terms in prison over the case, but she has since married her one-time victim and is mother to several of his children. Her family's origin story earned her own Barbara Walters sit-down a few years back.
A number of similar crimes have since made headlines across the country, as evidenced by one website’s discomforting list of “50 teachers caught doing extracurricular activities with their student.” In 2014 alone, there were 781 cases reported in which school employees were either accused of or convicted of engaging in sexual “relationships” with students. Vera’s home state of Texas has seen the largest number of cases, with a 27 percent jump in reports in just a 3-year span (from 2011 to 2014).
Law enforcement experts point the finger at social media for what seems to be an increase in these types of incidents—a fact that holds true in the case of Vera and her victim, who apparently communicated via Instagram. The platforms blur the lines of authority and also make it easier to hide inappropriate behavior.
Vera’s sentence ranks among the longest earned by female teachers who’ve abused their male students.
Equally discomforting? A significant number of the teachers to make that list walked off with little more than a slap on the wrist—if even that.
Florida teacher Debra Lafave, for example, was sentenced to house arrest and probation but no jail time, despite pleading guilty to the assault of a 14-year-old student back in 2013. Louisiana teacher Shelley Dufresne managed to avoid jail entirely in the spring of 2015, despite video recordings of her encounter with a 16-year-old student and a fellow teacher.
In that sense, Vera’s sentence ranks among the longest earned by female teachers who’ve abused their male students. According to reports, she will have to serve at least 5 of the 10 years before she is eligible for parole. She’s also been banned from having contact with her victim.