Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

The time I did something, and I didn't do enough

Penn State Abuse Scandal: A Guide And Timeline.

Once upon a time, I was a high school teacher.

This was a pretty long time ago. I hated it and I quit after just a couple of years, but anyway, yeah, I taught high school. I was teaching in a community with a very high immigrant population, many of them poor and undocumented.

One day, Mary (not her real name, obviously) approached me between classes. Mary was a nice enough girl, but she was newly arrived in the U.S. and her English was extremely limited. Also, we were pretty sure Mary had some undiagnosed mental problems. She may or may not have been developmentally disabled, but she was certainly not "all there." She'd mostly communicate like a normal teenager (given her limited English skills) but sometimes she'd go off on strange tangents or start babbling in a way that suggested she probably wouldn't be making much sense even if her English was better. It wasn't drugs (we were pretty sure), so we did our best with her. She was a terrible student and didn't learn very well (I vaguely recall that she was in some additional special education classes as well as ESL, but it's been a long time), but she wasn't disruptive, so she fell into the "unfortunate but harmless" category that, sadly, too many students were relegated to. There are only so many teachers and so very many students and thus, only so much you can do, so the ones who clearly aren't getting much out of class but aren't discipline problems you just follow routine procedure with (send notes home, make follow-up calls to parents about failure to do homework or pass tests, etc.) and if their parents seem to be pretty much out of the picture, as Mary's were, eventually they exit the school system without a diploma and not a lot of prospects.

Anyway, one day Mary just wandered into my classroom during lunch. She started talking to me about how she'd spent her winter break, and I was nodding and making "Mmm hmm" noises while I'm doing paperwork, and then she exclaimed, with a wide-eyed expression, "... and suddenly, all my clothes were off! I woke up naked!" (I am paraphrasing; her grammar was not this good.)

After a double-take and a mental rewind, I tried to ascertain what exactly she was telling me, and determined that apparently she was (or had been) living with a much older man, who was not a member of her family, who was having sex with her.

I do not know whether or not she considered this a consensual relationship, but regardless, it was, at the very least, statutory rape. (Mary was 14 or 15.)

All teachers are instructed on how they are obligated to report any evidence of abuse. So, I went to my department head, who told me that her understanding was that yes, Mary was living with an older man who "took care of her," and that her alternative to this was to be on the streets. I asked if we shouldn't do something about this. My department head told me I could call the school district's abuse investigator if I wanted to. She neither discouraged me nor encouraged me, but definitely gave the impression she didn't think it would do much good.

(I do not want to villainize my department head here; she was actually quite conscientious for the most part, but she'd been around the block a few times with situations like this.)

Well, I wasn't exactly the most diligent teacher in the world, and I wasn't heroically trying to save every student who fell through the cracks, but I wasn't going to just shrug and turn my back, so I called the school district number you're supposed to call to report suspected abuse. A very bored man answered the phone, and I identified myself and my school and explained the situation.

It's been too long for me to remember all the details of the conversation, but what I remember very clearly was that practically the first thing out of his mouth was something along the lines of "You have to be very skeptical about these claims," and when I told him that I was pretty sure Mary wasn't making this up, he proceeded to tell me that a lot of times you find out it's something like "they aren't happy because they didn't get the Christmas present they wanted, so they claim they're being abused."

Like I said, I don't remember the exact details, but I am absolutely certain he gave me that "unhappy about Christmas presents" line.

I don't recall my exact response, but I know I was pretty shocked and appalled at this point, so I just reiterated that I thought this was real and that Mary wasn't just unhappy about not getting a Christmas present. I think I gave him her name and other details, and he said he'd look into it. Or maybe he didn't. Anyway, I reported what I could, hung up, and went to tell my department head, who as I've said, had been around the block a few times and did not seem surprised or appalled.

I don't know if anyone ever investigated Mary's situation. I don't know if her life ever changed.

I was, quite frankly, really hating my job and distracted by a bunch of other things at this time, and I left that school district soon thereafter.

Legally, I fulfilled my obligation. I'd reported it to my supervisor and the school district, and it was out of my hands. But did I follow up with Mary personally? I think I might have asked her a few times where she was living and tried to suggest she call someone if she needed help, but I wouldn't swear to it, and in any case, there is no one she could have called. The police? Not a chance -- Mary was probably here illegally in the first place, and she was from a country where the police weren't known for coming to the rescue of exploited young girls. Rather the opposite. Assuming she'd even have the self-motivation to try to seek help. Assuming she even thought she needed help -- from her perspective, she probably figured she had about the best deal available to her.

To this day, I am honestly not sure what more I could have done. I suppose I could have taken on Mary as my personal project, but I think the very best I might have managed to do for her, if I had kept pestering school officials and maybe even called the police myself, was get her moved to a foster home or something, and the likelihood of that is pretty remote. And knowing what those places are like (especially for a girl with mental problems and limited English), I'm honestly not sure that wouldn't have been worse than where she was.

I don't know what the moral of this story is. Do something if you're in a position to do something, I guess. I did my best, or what I thought was my best at the time, but I don't think it was enough.

Also, fuck Penn State, and every other organization that lets shit like this happen.
Tags: cool story bro, soapbox

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