When will teachers be held responsible for sexual harassment in the classroom?
They say if you follow your passion, you can’t go wrong. As those who have read my articles know, my passion is around social justice. Unfortunately, part of this battle is screaming and fighting as you continue to watch injustices unfold. It is defeating, and sometimes reality hits me so hard that I realize I am but one small voice in a cacophonic ocean.
That is what happened over the weekend, as I read the headline “District finds teacher regularly harassed 14-year-old girl. He’s still teaching high schoolers” with a photo of my old high school.
Immediately I thought, this must be Mr. Mason.
I opened the article and began to read. Sure enough, it was the same teacher who was inappropriate with me. I recalled him massaging my shoulders in class, or asking me to come to the front of the room where he proceeded to wrap his arms around me. I saw this article and thought, I should have said something.
My anger only rose when I saw that it wouldn’t have made a difference. “Mason has an extensive history of inappropriate behavior with staff and students, as well as a history of disciplinary actions as a result…” Lambert says. I paused. I thought of all the girls I went to school with, arming themselves with information as they took the brave walk to the principal’s office. I imagine them taking a seat and confiding in the figure whose job it was to protect them and to help them succeed.
How many girls sat in that chair, telling the same story? He touched me. He keeps touching me. He doesn’t stop. People are starting to comment on it. He’s making me uncomfortable.
I’m sure each girl was told that action would be taken. Year after year he continued his behavior, with more girls asking for the school to help, with no change in results.
Finally, this year, one girl brought it to the district. “The district agreed after the second investigation that Mason had sexually harassed the girl, but it still retained him as a teacher…”
Prior to this, I was ignorant enough to believe that as a society, the one thing we were aligned on was the assault of children. Even in prisons, this system holds strong, as those who harm children are targeted.
I was aware of how cases were handled once victims hit eighteen years old. Colleges are a hunting ground, the epitome of rape culture. The court system harasses and blames women who come forward, deterring others from speaking. This encourages attackers to continue, relying on that asset. That is what encouraged the novel I am writing, this culture and how it affects victims.
But I always thought that if children, multiple children, came forward to report a teacher for sexual misconduct, that teacher would be fired or arrested. I truly believed that up until this weekend.
Now, I can’t help but think of that girl. The girl who was told that she was right, he has been sexually harassing her, but he is going to continue to teach.
I imagine being that age again, still navigating the world and its shadows. Still discovering myself. And to be told what my body and what my value is by my school district, that it is not worth firing someone over, that he will continue to have free reign to do it to others.
I imagine how that would affect me moving forward. What would I do if I learned that lesson and was then sexually assaulted in college? I would have learned the lesson early on that no harm would come to the attacker from it. Maybe he would be suspended, just to come right on back.
I would learn that my body is not my own property. That it is allowed to be touched and handled by others, and my feelings are to be separated from that.
I would learn that those who are supposed to look out for me, don’t. I would quickly have trust issues because now I know the face behind the mask.
There are records of this happening to child after child, and the district is allowing it to continue. They teach young girls how they should adapt to being treated. They remind them of what their worth truly is and that it lies in their body, not their voice.
I am not willing to accept that.
To those who want to write letters or call and stand behind this girl, here is some information below: