It is the Thomas Beltran case all over again, two years later and in Redondo Beach. Many of you may remember what happened in the case of Thomas Beltran - the 30-year veteran teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica who sexually assaulted several of his female junior high students.
The Beltran case presented one of the saddest examples of parental reaction gone bad. Let me take you back to the case to refresh your memory.
It was a Friday afternoon when a 12-year-old-girl disclosed to her mom that her teacher, Mr. Beltran, had molested her over the course of 18 months. It was an unplanned disclosure (one that only came about because she began crying hysterically and shaking uncontrollably after accidentally landing on a porn site). Intuitively, her mom knew something was up and listened to her daughter calmly, to encourage her to speak out. After she'd asked her a few general questions, she listened, stunned, as her daughter began to reveal the details of 18 months of abuse.
The mom's reaction was shock and horror. However, even more shocking was the reaction that followed the following Monday at school, when the news of Mr. Beltran's arrest broke. The students' parents actually supported the molesting teacher!
The arrest of Mr. Beltran occurred on a Friday. All that weekend, top-notch Santa Monica Police Department detectives and I worked together to interview the teenagers who came forward. We contained the classroom, secured the defendant's whereabouts, and obtained his confession to every act with all victims.
As disturbing as the case was, the silver lining was that Thomas Beltran did take responsibility early on. But then, I witnessed parents standing up for Beltran, despite his own admission both in interviews and via a lie detector. Even in the face of the growing evidence and the disclosures of many other victims, at the Monday town hall meeting at Lincoln Middle School, parents stood up for Beltran. And by standing up, I mean declaring outright loud support.
I heard murmurs of "He's not guilty" and cries that the victims were not telling the truth. I'm a mom as well as an attorney, and frankly, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I thought, "There are only two possibilities: either these parents are the cruelest I have ever seen, or they're the most naïve."
I preferred option two. But even then, if the parents' immediate response was to doubt the victims' testimonies, what would happen if their own kids came to them with similar revelations?
Last week a teacher, Jay Haddad at Redondo Beach Union High School, was arrested for allegedly arranging a meeting with a female student and then performing a lewd sexual act in front of her. Haddad was later arrested after the 16-year-old girl reported what happened to school officials. Haddad was booked on suspicion of arranging a meeting with a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd behavior.
In the two years since the Beltran case broke, there have been hundreds of new cases, awareness campaigns, and media stories about sexual assault in schools - but apparently, even the most open-minded, loving people in the great county of Los Angeles still don't get it.
When the case of Haddad's abuse erupted in the Redondo community, I hoped that, unlike the Beltran case, these parents would show an appropriate response. The facts of the case are not much different than those of Beltran. And tragically, I see now that the parents' response is pretty much the same!
It's not that they are supporting the teacher - it's that the default reaction to hearing about abuse is disbelief, denial, and further victimization of the victim. This is not only sad, it's a pathetic statement of how far we have not come.
Now, there's a pro-Hadded Facebook page up with 180 members and hundreds of postings both from parents and students. I found within it widespread ignorance about the facts of the case and a lot of pro-teacher sympathies. Here are a few excerpts from the site:
If anyone has heard the actual story from this girl, please enlighten us as to what exactly Mr. Haddad is being accused of.
I've heard a lot of things about the girl who accused Mr. Haddad. The two most common things I've heard is that her father is a police officer and that her mother is part of the judiciary system. If this is actually true, Mr. Haddad is probably fucked. I've also heard that this girl has tried to get a teacher fired once...
i say she tickled his balls a little. definitely. why would anyone whip it out if they didn't think the feeling was mutual?
He was one of the nicest teachers I have ever had, I looked forward to going to his class everyday. He is one of the reasons that I am attending film school... I don't think that he would be cable of such a thing. He loves his family and he let us know that everyday.
There have also been very negative things said about the victim on the site - not worth reprinting, but you can use your imagination.
I am trying to understand why these parents and kids are making up stories without logic or reason. What motivates them to jump to the teacher's defense? Why do people in these cases automatically disbelieve the victim and support the teacher? Is it possibly because the parents cannot stomach the image of a teacher being a sexual predator? Is it all about denial?
Again, I am faced with a quandary. Are these people naïve or are they cruel? Eternal optimist that I am, I'm betting on naïve. So as we sit here and pat ourselves on the back about how far we have come when it comes to sexual assault, I say it's time to accept the facts:
• When society accepts the myths surrounding sexual abuse, it assists sex offenders by silencing victims and encouraging public denial about the true nature of these assaults against children.
• Even "really great" and "really nice" teachers can be sexually inappropriate. As a matter of fact, the "nicer" the person is can be a sign that the teacher is using charm and kindness as a week to groom and seek victims.
• Statistics show that the number of false allegations of sexual assault are far less than the number of truthful allegations of sexual assault. The default mode is to disbelieve, rather than to believe, the victim.
• 1 in 4 women will be assaulted in the course of her lifetime. It is because of the blame, denial, and fear that many do not report the crime.
• Not everyone who comes in contact with a child molester will be abused. In truth, sex offenders tend to carefully pick and set up their victims Thus, while sex offenders may feel driven to molest children, they rarely do so indiscriminately or without a plan.
• Sexual assault survivors are never responsible for the attack, no matter what, no matter how much alcohol was consumed. Responsibility lies with the perpetrator; the survivor is never responsible for the assailant's behavior. Link To Support
I hope in the coming weeks that the parents (and students) of Redondo Beach Union High will come to understand the importance of being sensitive and supportive towards the victim of sexual assault, and to stop sympathizing with the perpetrator! The support for the perpetrator opens up many uncomfortable questions; most especially, is this how we'd treat someone who abused our own children? Food for thought, indeed.