This year's International Women's Day theme is Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures. I was thinking about what this meant when I saw the news story about James Hooker, a 41-year-old high school business teacher who quit his job and left his wife and three children to move into an apartment with 18-year-old Jordan Powers. What type of future lies ahead for this teenage drop-out? Probably not a particularly "inspired" one. Besides the obvious cost of lower expected lifetime earnings, dropouts may be less effective at parenting, have less health care, and face a host of other difficulties later in life. What happens if she gets pregnant and Hooker is still supporting his three children, or when the relationship inevitably breaks up?
Jordan's mother is on the case. James and Jordon claim that although they met when she was a freshman in his class, their relationship didn't turn romantic until she turned 18 this fall. But Jordan's mother, Tammie Powers, has found 8,000 text messages between the two as well as records of late-night phone calls he made to Jordan when her daughter was still a minor. She contacted the Modesto Police, and they're currently investigating exactly when this relationship became physical. Legally, California's age of consent is 18 (although in many states it's 16, and even 14 in Hawaii).
I don't care how adoringly James and Jordon look at each other in the news clips. To me, this kind of relationship is just another form of sexual abuse. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then experience shows that it's probably a duck -- and a manipulative mallard at that. Sexual abuse is not so much about sex as it is about power. And clearly a man who is more than 20 years older holds all the power and status in the relationship. It appears that James is the older, savvy man in control, and Jordan is the vulnerable young girl who looks up to him.
It's exciting to be that young and have an older guy looking at you. It makes you feel all grown up and special. You get seduced by the seduction itself, and you've got precious little emotional maturity to deal with it. Naturally, you get swept away. I know what it's like for her. I was 17 when my 31-year-old judo instructor started coming on to me. He had two little girls of his own, but he felt disempowered because he had no education. And what could be more empowering than a young girl adoring you? Thanks to the smart, swift action of my parents, I didn't drop out of school to go be with him. They threatened him with legal action and ran the guy out of town, which allowed me to go on to college and mature and eventually select an appropriate partner.
Of course, in the long history of patriarchal cultures around the globe, there have always been child brides, as well as young girls in the sex trade and porn industry. Youth is the sexual standard for advertisers and much of the media. Those who have cried out against the sexualization of clothing and behavior of young teen girls are raising a valid point. But fictional Lolitas aside, it simply isn't true that young females are responsible for seducing much older men. Hugo Schwyzer of The Good Men Project says, "No adult is so weak that he (or she) is powerless to refuse sexual temptation, much less from a child... Testosterone may drive desire, but unless a man has sustained significant trauma to the moral center of his brain, hormones can't override the power to choose."
Common sense tells us something is wrong in these situations. Inevitably, the teen girl is looking for some sort of father figure, and the older male is using the situation to empower himself by preying on someone who is easily disempowered. There is no question but that an older male will be perceived as more powerful than a younger woman. Period. And there's a strong chance that the evidence will show that Hooker was indeed brainwashing and manipulating Jordon before she turned 18 -- if not having sexual contact with her.
Girls like Jordon need the full protection of the law if they have been subjected to persuasion, manipulation, and criminal touching before the age of consent. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the Modesto Police Department's investigation. I'm also stressing the role parents must play in the protection of their school-aged children so that they can, indeed, have an inspiring future.