"Difficult Times" Open The Doors For Child Predators

The mother of a student at Pine Tree Academy, a Seventh-Day Adventist school in Freeport, Maine, has filed a lawsuit alleging sexual assault, negligence, and negligent supervision after a male teacher had a sexual relationship with her daughter.

The girl was enrolled at the private school during the 2017-2018 school year. The teacher engaged in sexual acts with the 15-year-old student on numerous occasions over nine months starting in May 2018, according to the allegations in the lawsuit.

The former teacher told police that he had sexual intercourse with the girl twice. He said their relationship began when they started communicating over social media after the girl sustained a sports injury and became depressed.

In the criminal case against the teacher, the mother stated that she came home to find her daughter naked and engaged in a sex act with the teacher. The 37-year-old former teacher was sentenced in January 2019 to serve eight years of a 13-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to 10 felony sex charges.

The civil lawsuit names the school and Northern New England Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists Inc., a nonprofit corporation in Maine that owns and operates the school, as defendants.

The alleged sexual misconduct occurred at the school as well as at a summer camp run by the nonprofit where the teacher served as a camp counselor.

The school and nonprofit deny that the teacher was a camp counselor. They also allege that the abuse did not occur within the scope of the teacher's employment because it primarily took place over summer vacation when he was not a school employee. According to the attorney for the school and nonprofit, the man's previous record gave no indication that he would be a sexual predator.

The suit contains allegations that the school and the nonprofit conditioned the student to trust the teacher and comply with his grooming behavior. The complaint alleges that the teacher gained the girl's trust "as a moral guide and mentor" and used his position of authority to get time alone with her.

The lawsuit seeks damages in an unspecified amount for "severe and debilitating emotional injury, pain and suffering, physical and emotional trauma and permanent psychological damage." Christopher Williams "Mother of Freeport private school student sues over teacher sexual abuse" sunjournal.com (Oct. 01, 2020).


Commentary and Checklist

Child predators often target students who are going through a difficult time. If there is a child predator in your school, he or she may use knowledge that a student is experiencing a period of trauma to begin the grooming process.

For example, predators may try to fill the “trusted advisor” role after a child experiences the death of a parent or a parent leaving following a divorce. The predator will take advantage of the child’s loneliness to create a “special bond” with the child that the predator can then turn into a sexual relationship.

School administrators can protect students from this type of grooming by helping them access support services during difficult times. The more students are able to learn healthy ways to cope with trauma and mental health disorders, the less susceptible they will be to grooming behaviors.

Schools should consider providing counseling and resources to students who are experiencing the following:

  • Parental divorce
  • A death in the family
  • Illness or injury
  • Substance use
  • Criminal behavior
  • Failing grades
  • Bullying
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Other mental health disorders or
  • Other high-risk behaviors.
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