My name is Rebecca Ivory and I am a survivor of abuse at the hands of a teacher that lasted for four years, until I finally had the courage to make it stop.
When I was in the 7th grade, our choir teacher took notice of me, as I had a very natural talent for singing. She quickly took me under her wing and I became “teacher’s pet” and received a lot of favorable attention from this woman. This made me feel very special, as she was everyone’s favorite teacher and my home life had left me vulnerable to such displays of attention.
Over time, she and her roommate, who also taught at this same Jr. High, started inviting my best friend and me to their home 40 minutes away, to see a show at BYU and spend the night at their house. As these women were active in our church and had excellent reputations, our mothers were grateful for what appeared to be positive mentoring relationships.
It took two years before this teacher ever actually did anything “illegal”, crossing the line into sexual molestation. As most abusers do, she increased her attention very incrementally, testing the limits to see if I would tolerate one more step towards a sexual relationship without telling an adult. I was young and naïve and figured that her physical affection was similar to that of a mother and shrugged off her strange behavior as something that was unusual but not to be worried about. Over time, her behavior pushed out my best friend and her roommate and it became just she and I that would spend most of our time together.
One day, in my 9th grade year, she crossed the line. By now, we were spending nights at each other’s house, in the same bed, much like a sleepover with a good friend. She had become a part of our family and my mother trusted her explicitly. She always tried to claim that our relationship was “consensual”, but I will never forget laying in her bed and feeling frozen with fear as I realized what was happening, but feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. My tears fell freely, but that didn’t stop her. But she did make sure to tell me that the way “we” felt wasn’t wrong and that she was sorry. I tried to believe it was just some stupid mistake she had made, that it would never happen again, and that I could just forget about it and never tell a soul.
But I was wrong. It had not been a mistake. And it did not stop. This repeated itself hundreds of times over the next four years, often at the school. And because my body responded to the abuse, I blamed myself and focused my energies on trying to forget it was happening whenever I wasn’t with her…to pretend that I might still have a chance for a normal life. To marry my boyfriend. To have a good, righteous family. But deep inside I knew that no one could ever love me if they knew this dark secret. So I told no one and ate away the darkness and depression, developing an eating disorder and severe obsessive compulsive behaviors.
The older I got, the more brave I became and began reminding her that I did not want to have that kind of a relationship with her, but that I wanted to marry my boyfriend one day…in the temple. Each time this subject came up, she would get angry and depressed and cry and talk incessantly until I dropped the subject. But with each attempt I was able to stand my ground even more. I was naïve enough to think that we could just be friends, which is all I had ever wanted in the first place.
Finally, during my first year of college, I knew that I could not live one more day with the shame and that I had to put a stop to this behavior, no matter what it took. I went to speak to my bishop, told him what had been happening and vowed it would never happen again. I was still trying to protect her, so I refused to tell him who it was, because I knew he would have to turn her into police.
When I got home, I called her and let her know that I had done it. She also made an appointment to talk to her bishop, which she said she did that week. I do not know if she actually did or not. But I do know that if she did, she did not tell him how old I was. She said that my age didn’t matter. That was always a key indicator for me that she never understood the difference between having a sexual relationship with an adult versus a child.
Over the next several months, she continued to try to coerce me into having a sexual relationship with her. I refused each time and she got more and more angry and agitated with me, but I stood my ground. She was a master manipulator, but I had outgrown the need for her approval and was determined to never live in that hell again. It took many months before she stopped trying to force me to have sex with her. Now, looking back, I can see that’s when she began grooming her next victim. At the time, I was still believed that she was still just a great person who made a mistake. Now, as I have spoken to that victim, and learned of more, I know that I was wrong.
The abuse lasted four years. It took me four years to gain the courage to make it stop. It took me four more years to realize that it had not been my fault. It took an additional eleven years to get the courage to go talk to the Granite School District. It took them only two days to verify my story, gain her confession, and have her fired. No police report was filed because the statute of limitations was past. However, I thought we were finally safe from having her work with students ever again.
Unfortunately, it took the State Licensing Board only two years to hand her back her license. They never talked to me, or even notified me. They never heard any side of the situation but hers. And just this past month, I learned that there were at least 4 other victims of this teacher’s abuse. I am still dumbfounded that someone decided that an admitted child molester was safe to let back into our school system, simply because they took a class and said “I’m sorry” to a board.
I am here to tell you that abuse such as happened to me could have easily been prevented if a few simple common-sense rules had been put in place in our schools and strictly enforced.
These steps don’t guarantee an end to all sexual abuse in schools, but it will go a long way toward stopping predators from being able to groom their victims in our schools. These rules also help protect teachers from being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with a student. Putting these steps in place helps parents restore their trust in the school system and clear the way for the best in education to come forward.
1. Ideally, teachers/administrators and students should not be alone together, and there is never an appropriate reason for educators and students to be alone behind locked doors.
- As a licensed public school teacher myself, I understand that avoiding being alone with a student is easier said than done. On a daily basis, there are students who need to make up missed work, request help with a subject, or just want to come in to say, "Hi!" Of course, we want our teachers to give our students the one-on-one attention that they need in order to succeed and there are simple steps we can take to create an atmosphere of transparency in those situations.
- When students must be in a room alone with an adult, the door should always remain unlocked and ideally, could remain propped open. Also, it’s a good idea to have students bring a friend into the classroom to wait for them while seeking help.
- Ideally, classroom doors should have windows in them. Teachers must not cover these windows with paper, as often happens now. If students in the hallway cause distractions in the classroom, the administration must enforce swift and consistent consequences to curb this behavior.
- Teachers/Administrators should not be giving students rides to and from school or school events. In the situation involving school field trips, if a teacher is driving students, they should make sure they are never left alone with a student in the vehicle. It may be necessary to have another adult in the vehicle until all of the students are gone.
2. Teachers/Administrators and students should not have private, personal contact outside of school.
- Texts, emails or other messages that are sent to students outside of school should be limited to necessary school information, and should be sent to parents/guardians as well.
- There is no reason for teachers and students to be "friends" on social media sites or to be hanging out in private situations.
Those two simple guidelines would stop sexual predators from being able to "groom" students into being easy victims and it would protect teachers from false accusations of inappropriate behavior.
Though many school districts have policies such as these, many do not. And if they do, there is no consistency in follow-through. There is no consistency in our system and national studies show that reporting practices are almost laughable. Everyday, I hear stories of parents who have been told by a vice principal, “Don’t make waves”, or the school policeman tells a young girl, “unless he touched you I can’t do anything about it”.
We must have consistent rules and regulations regarding reporting, investigating and disciplinary actions in our schools. And until these rules and regulations are mandatory, meaning that their jobs are in jeopardy if these guidelines are not followed, people will continue to protect the accused that are their peers, rather than the students that are their responsibility.