Both/And

Published on April 26, 2017 by   ·   8 Comments

Both 09I’ve already written about this sort of thing in my previous post, Good People.  I hadn’t really planned to write about this again, but lately on social media I’m seeing a lot of posts and diatribes and wistful blog posts and personal attacks that frankly make me ashamed of my city, and sometimes I just can’t sit back and keep quiet.  It’s in my nature; I’m always pushing towards more complexity rather than less.

Both 08If you live in Grand Forks, you probably know that a local former teacher was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a student.  If you’ve lived here for a long time, you probably know him.  You probably have thoughts about him, or about the student who was involved.  I don’t care about any of that.  I don’t want to hear your long wistful memories about what a great teacher and mentor he was.  I also don’t want any scathing clapbacks about how he’s the devil incarnate and should be drawn and quartered in the town square.  I’m not interested in the extremes of emotion that this situation is producing in people.  It’s not the point.  I don’t mean to be indelicate, but put down your pointing fingers, put on your listening hat, and drink a nice steaming cup of shut the fuck up for a hot second.

I’ve read some of the wonderful reminiscences that people have posted about this former teacher.  He might have been their friend, their teacher and mentor, or a member of their neighborhood and community and they remember him fondly.  By many accounts, he was a beloved teacher at the school and a favorite among students.  I’ve no doubt that all of these things are true.  I’m sure there are many, many students who would step forward and say wonderful things about him.  He changed  your life?  I’m very glad you had that experience.  He helped you get into college?  That’s awesome.  We all need mentors in our lives who encourage and push us onward and upward.  He faced down a bully who was tormenting you in the halls?  We need more people with the bravery to do that.  I don’t doubt for even a moment that these things are all true.

It’s also true that he was a 40-year-old man in a position of authority and influence who had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student.

One doesn’t cancel out the other; it’s not either/or.  The fact that he made that decision to have an inappropriate relationship with a student doesn’t make any of those other great things any less true.  They happened, and for the people they happened to they are intensely meaningful.  I get it.  This is a both/and situation – this man both made a lot of really great choices throughout his career and positively impacted scores of students, and he committed a very serious crime with a young woman below the age of consent.

What disgusted me to my core and inspired to write this piece were these little gems of rape culture wisdom from the teacher’s defense attorney, Robert Hoy (as quoted from GFHerald.com):

The statutes are intended to protect minors from being preyed upon by adults, but there are no protections for the adult pursued by a precocious and sexually experienced 17 year old. (From Court Documents)

I agree…that he is the adult and she is incapable of consent by statute, and he is at fault for that.  The law does not say that she is incapable of facilitating it or encouraging it or asking for it. (From Court Arguments)

Both 01Let’s set aside the victim-blaming and slut-shaming for just a moment (though that’s just as disgusting and abhorrent as any of it and Hoy should feel deep shame that he ever let those words cross his lips) and let’s consider this suggestion that the victim in this case, one of the students under this teacher’s charge, really might have been precocious and flirtatious.  Let’s assume that she was “facilitating” some sort of relationship, that she was aggressive in her pursuits.  We know that teenagers today live in the most overtly sexualized culture we’ve ever seen.  And even as popular culture gets more and more “porn lite” explicit, short-sighted conservatives are chipping away as hard and as fast as possible at any sort of effective and comprehensive sexual education so that teens have nothing to model their developing sexual identities on besides purity rings and Redtube clips.  And let’s think about the fact that we’ve established this arbitrary age, 18 years old, as a sort of magical tipping point; yesterday, we assumed you couldn’t hear the word “condom” without irreversible brain damage but now somehow we’re going to allow you to vote, buy cigarettes, and enlist to go and die in whatever bloody conflict we get ourselves mixed up in next!  And all of that while ignoring the facts that science has proven that sexual development usually begins much earlier than 18 years, and the highest levels of brain function and decision making develop long after.

Both 05So with all of that in mind, it becomes much easier to imagine a scenario in which this student did pursue this teacher, did entreat and coax and encourage a sexual relationship.  I’m not saying whether it’s true or not, but it’s plausible.  But true or not, plausible or not, it doesn’t fucking matter.  The point is that there is no way this teacher could argue that he didn’t know or didn’t understand what the law was and what the potential consequences were for breaking it.  I’ve heard this teacher described in many ways, but never once have I heard him described as stupid.

He both knew what the law was, what the consequences could be, and that he was blatantly abusing his position of authority, and he decided to do it anyway.

Both.  And.

He is both an inspiring mentor and highly competent educator, and he is a teacher who raped one of his underage students.

Both.  And.

Rape culture thrives on the either/or.  Bill Cosby’s daughter recently released a long statement about her father in preparation for his June 5th rape trial that included the following quote:

I am his fourth daughter. He raised me to go to college, start my own business, and be my own woman. He is helping me raise my children and teach them family values. I know that my father loves me, loves my sisters and my mother. He loves and respects women. He is not abusive, violent or a rapist.

Did you catch it, that insidious either/or framework?  How could be be a rapist?  He loves me!  She goes on and on about how wonderful her childhood was, how much love and support and guidance her father provided her, and now to her own children.  And I have no doubt that all of that is true.  I bet he was a fantastic father.  I have no trouble believing that he loves and respects his daughter, and that she experienced that.  That doesn’t change the allegations against him, and it doesn’t negate the evidence surrounding those allegations.

Both.  And.

Both 07In my earlier post, Good People, I talked about how we try to reduce complex, messy humans down to some sort of essential quality.  Good person, bad person.  We try to take both/and situations and cram them into an either/or framework.  Square peg, tiny round hole.  And rape culture loves it.

It’s why someone like Robert Hoy can say the disgusting and repugnant things that he says, and walk out of a courtroom feeling like he’s had a good day at work.  It’s why this teacher is only going to spend 2 years in prison for his crimes.  Gee, it’s too bad he didn’t rape this student behind a dumpster and have wealthy parents, a “promising athletic career,” and an Instagram account; maybe then he could have gotten that sentence down to 3 months.

And because everyone who loves and respects this teacher is all caught up in this either/or framework on which rape culture thrives, they feel confused and angry about this new version of their friend and mentor.  “I know all of these great, positive things to be true, so how can this also be true?  It can’t be, right?”  But because it is true, and because either/or doesn’t allow that to sit comfortably in anyone’s conscious mind, that frustration and anger that should be focused at someone who made a very bad choice and inexcusably violated the trust and safety of someone under his authority is instead focused on the victim.

Both 11I’ve seen some absolutely stomach-turning things written about this young woman, and that’s without going and searching it out.  It has just found its way into my social media landscape; imagine how much more disgusting it would be if I started turning over stones?  This isn’t new, and it isn’t entirely surprising.  Brock Turner’s victim’s impact statement to the court ignited furor around how many male perpetrators of sexual violence against women (especially if they are white and wealthy) serve little to no prison time, and yet those same articles interrogating rape culture and privilege have multitudes of comments about the victim, blaming her for her assault and perpetuating all manner of hate and misogyny.  These moments reveal the darkest, vilest aspects of human nature, waiting inside our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Let me be crystal fucking clear about this:  I wouldn’t care if this student stripped naked and presented herself beaver-first on a platter of mixed greens and KY packets.  Whatever the choices and actions by either party, this man knew what the law was surrounding sex with minors.  He knew that he was in a position of power over someone who could not legally consent to a sexual relationship.  These are the facts that matter.  It’s sad that we still have to fight back against the idea that rape victims “asked for it,” but fuckwits like Robert Hoy are doing their best to keep that rusty little bit of hatespeech alive and well.  Let’s look at his words one more time:

The statutes are intended to protect minors from being preyed upon by adults, but there are no protections for the adult pursued by a precocious and sexually experienced 17 year old. (From Court Documents)

I agree…that he is the adult and she is incapable of consent by statute, and he is at fault for that.  The law does not say that she is incapable of facilitating it or encouraging it or asking for it. (From Court Arguments)

Both MainWhen I see these statements, I practically shake with rage.  “There are no protections for the adult pursued by a precocious and sexually experienced 17 year old.”  At what point did our culture lose any sense of morality or decency that would allow anyone to actually believe that adults need to be protected from the sexual advances of teenagers?  On what planet do those words fit together and make any sort of goddamn sense?

Once again, let me be crystal fucking clear: if you are a teacher, your job is not only to educate your students but also to protect them, and to understand that your place of authority in their life comes with grave and serious responsibilities.  If you decide to abuse that authority, regardless of the circumstances, you deserve to be gravely punished.  No one should have to entertain this idiotic idea that you need to be protected from “predatory teenagers.”  The idea is laughable, and anyone who puts this idea forward as a legitimate concern frankly deserves whatever public mockery they receive.  You do not look for ways to “protect” lions from house cats, and you do not protect teachers who are unable to prevent themselves from violating their students.

Sometimes I think Grand Forks is a pretty swell place to live, and I’m proud to be part of this community.  And sometimes I’m so sickened by what I see lurking below the surface of the smiling, polite faces that I think maybe humanity really doesn’t have any redeeming virtues left.

Both.

And.

Both 06

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Readers Comments (8)
  1. Mama Champagne says:

    Bravo! I read about this and I was appalled by those comments!! I don’t want to hear that the defense attorney was just doing his job. His comments were so offensive I just can’t even!!!!!

  2. Lisa Shanklin says:

    Hear Hear!! I could not agree more. Every. Single. Word.
    Rape is NEVER the fault of the victim. Nothing else matters.
    Well written.

  3. Janine Aufforth says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s hard to believe this mentality is still floating around. To say she enticed him is really aggravating. Wish you could put this in the opinion column of the Herald.

  4. Michelle Spencer Davidson says:

    Perfect, JanessaJaye. Nothing in life is black and white. Sometimes good people do bad things. That’s because as you say, we aren’t just one thing. I’m good and bad and smart and dumb and wise and naive. He knew the law. He is the adult. He raped her and deserves to go to jail for much longer than he is. Rape culture is alive and well in 2017 USA.

  5. Nikki Q says:

    This is goddam brilliant. Love you.

  6. Shar J says:

    Right on! I hope this piece makes a difference for th better; even a small one. Please keep speaking for those who don’t have a voice!

  7. Melissa Pahl says:

    Absolutely brilliant! This piece will change minds and opinions. I applaud your opinion and writing about an issue that too often is taboo. Thank you for this, for all the victims.

  8. Natisha Corum says:

    The most spot on and perfectly insightful thing Ive read in ages. You are literally my hero for this piece. Bravo!





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