Debra LaFave and Mary Kay LeTourneau

In the '90s, Mary Kay LeTourneau (left), a 34-year-old mother of four and teacher, became a household name after she was arrested for having sex with her 13-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. LeTourneau was convicted of child rape. While in prison, she gave birth to two children...both fathered by Vili.

Since LeTourneau's story broke, the number of female teachers reported preying on young boys has become a disturbing trend, Oprah says. While very controversial, some argue that sexual relationships between women and underage boys are consensual.

Lawmakers also seem to draw a distinction between male and female sex offenders. Sometimes women who are convicted of child molestation receive lighter sentences than their male counterparts.

One recent case received a flurry of media attention. In March 2006 prosecutors dropped charges against Debra LaFave (right), a middle school teacher who admitted that she had sex with a 14-year-old student. LaFave avoided prison time altogether by accepting a plea agreement. She was sentenced to three years house arrest and seven years of probation.
Lisa Zuniga Duran

In 2002, Lisa Zuniga Duran was a 26-year-old teacher's aide at a private Christian school. Andrew, the 13-year-old son of family friends, was one of her students. In time, they began secretly having sex.

Duran says she thought she was "in love" with her teenage student.

Their sexual encounters remained secret for almost seven months. Then, Duran learned she was pregnant. When the doctor told Duran she was going to have Andrew's baby, she says her heart sank. "I realized how far it had gone," Duran says. "It was like a huge alarm."

In November 2002, Duran was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child. She pled guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 10 years probation. Duran is also required to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life.
Andrew, Duran's victim

Andrew, Duran's teenage victim, remembers his first sexual encounter with Duran vividly. He says Duran told him he was "a really cute guy," and then he asked her if she'd like to "mess around a little bit."

The teacher drove her 13-year-old student to a dark parking lot where they kissed, Andrew remembers. "After that night, every time we would get a chance to be alone, we would do new things," he says. Eventually, Andrew says he lost his virginity to Duran in the backseat of a car.

Their relationship escalated after that night. "There was one day she came over and my grandparents weren't around," Andrew says. "That day we had sex a least five times."

After months of sneaking around, Andrew says he confronted Duran. "I said, 'What we're doing is not right,'" he says. "[She said], 'Well, Andrew, I need you to keep [it] a secret.'"

They had sex almost 30 some times, Andrew says, before Duran found out she was pregnant and told Andrew's grandmother.
Lisa Duran and Oprah

After three years of therapy, Duran says she now understands why she became sexually involved with a teenager. "I was in a place in my life where I was really starved emotionally," she says. "I was desperate and he did give me attention. ... I just wanted to be loved and I saw him on my own level."

For the rest of her life, Duran will be a registered sex offender, but she doesn't see herself as a pedophile. "I don't think I'm a pedophile," she says.

Duran says she accepts responsibility for not setting boundaries with Andrew and makes no excuses for her criminal behavior. "I can talk about this now because I understand my thinking now at that time," she says. "There's no excuse for that. But I also want to say I'm not in that mindset anymore."
Paul and Tammy

Years later, Paul and Tammy, Andrew's parents, say that Duran's crimes continue to affect their son.

"It's hard for him to develop a relationship with other girls because in the back of his head he's like, 'Do I tell them what happened to me? Do I tell them that as a result I have a child? What will their parents think of me?'" Tammy says.

Paul doesn't think women like Duran accept full responsibility for their crimes. "They want to molest our children, and they don't want to be accountable for it," he says. "[Duran] says she's paying for [her crime]. But do you know in 10 years her record will be expunged? The scars our child has, he has to live with the rest of his life."

Andrew's parents are currently seeking custody of the 3-year-old daughter Duran had with their son.
Dawn, speaking from prison

Dawn Reiser was living the life of her dreams. She had a loving husband, a home and the job that she'd always wanted. She was teaching seventh grade at a private Catholic school in Texas when a boy walked into her homeroom and changed her life forever.

It all began, Reiser says, when this teenage student began complimenting her during class. "He had this crush on me, and it was pretty well known," she says. "I would be teaching in the middle of a lesson and he would say, 'Mrs. Reiser, you smell beautiful.'"

Like Duran, Reiser says she developed feelings for her student. "I've struggled up and down with self-esteem, and it's very, very flattering to be told you're beautiful," she says. "You want to believe it because it sounds good. ... It's a fantasy—that kind of attention. Somewhere the line between fantasy and reality blurs."

The relationship soon turned sexual. "He asked me to be his first," Reiser says. "I was very honest. I said, 'I'm flattered. I would love to. You're not ready.'"
Dawn, speaking from prison

Days before Reiser's 13-year-old student left for summer camp, police reports say that Reiser drove the boy to her home, took him to her bedroom and repeatedly had sex with him.

Reiser wrote love letters to her seventh grade student while he was at camp, and he showed the letters to camp counselors, who turned them over to police. Prosecutor Mitch Po says he doesn't think Reiser feels responsible for her crime. "She's attempting to shift blame to the victim," he says. "She definitely was the pursuer of this young boy. ... The fact that Dawn Reiser is even saying, 'I would love to [be your first] and you're not ready' shows where her mental picture is."

Currently, Reiser is serving up to eight years in prison for two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a minor. "I've lost everything," she says. "I've lost my husband. I've lost my career. In many ways, though, coming [to jail] was a relief because I wanted to accept responsibility for what really happened."

Prison has helped Reiser reflect on her regrets. "I'm just very, very sorry for him, for the people I let down, the students and the parents who believed in me for eight years of teaching," she says. "I wish I could take it all away."
Sarah Bench-Salorio molested three young boys.

Sarah Bench-Salorio was a popular and well-respected 27-year-old English teacher at Santa Ana, California, middle school. In January 2005, the community was stunned when a 13-year-old boy came forward and admitted to having a sexual relationship with Bench-Salorio.

Authorities later discovered that Bench-Salorio had secretly groomed and molested three young boys over a period of two years. Her first victim was only 11 years old. Prosecutors say Bench-Salorio lured the young boys with dinners and gifts, phone calls and flattering love letters before seducing them.
Eric on his relationship with Sarah Bench-Salorio

Eric met Bench-Salorio when he was in the seventh grade. She was his English teacher, and Eric says the two became friends. When Eric was in the eighth grade, he says their relationship changed as Bench-Salorio started giving him special attention. Eric says Bench-Salorio began flirting with him and even asked if he had a girlfriend. "I said, 'No, why? You want to go out?'—like a joke," Eric says. "She said, 'Yeah,' and then it progressed from there."

Eric and Bench-Salorio started spending more and more time together. One night, they went to a football game together, but 13-year-old Eric says he didn't anticipate where the relationship was headed. "On the way home—she was dropping me off and she parked in the parking lot and we started kissing and stuff and then we got in the back seat and just went from there," Eric says.

The day after Eric and Bench-Salorio had sex for the first time, he says she told him she was falling in love with him. Eric says he believed Bench-Salorio at the time and also felt that he was in love. For a period of about three months, Eric says he and Bench-Salorio engaged in sexual activity once or twice a week.
Eric's father and stepmother, Mike and Allison

Eric says he hid his relationship with Bench-Salorio from his father, Mike, and his stepmother, Allison.

Mike and Allison say they never spoke with Bench-Salorio personally except for a back-to-school night when Eric was in the seventh grade. That same year, Eric's parents say, they mistook Bench-Salorio for one of his friends when she stopped by their house without introducing herself. Instead, Bench-Salorio proceeded to play outside on a trampoline with a group of children Eric's age. "We had thought that the teacher was a little off ... not really suspecting but thinking she was a little unusual with the things that she did," Allison says.

Allison and Mike soon found explicit love notes to Eric and a condom in his backpack. When first confronted, Eric wouldn't speak. Determined to find the author of the love notes—which seemed to have been written by an adult—Mike says he discovered that the handwriting matched up with a message from Bench-Salorio to Eric in his yearbook. Shortly after Mike confronted his son for a second time, Eric broke down, went to his mother's house and told the truth.
Attorney Susan Schroeder

With the help of Eric and his family, the police arrested Bench-Salorio. Susan Schroeder is a deputy district attorney in Orange County whose office prosecuted the case against Bench-Salorio. She says Bench-Salorio's six-year sentence is "terribly inadequate." "What we should be looking at is whether it's a teacher—not whether it was a male or a female—but whether that person had a position of power," says Susan. "Also, as women we expect to get paid the same if we do the same work as everybody else. If we do a crime, we should pay in the same way."

Susan points out that Bench-Salorio victimized two other young boys and says Eric and his family should be commended for coming forward to police. "This woman would have never stopped but for the fact that she got caught. She is a serial molester," Susan says.
Eric and Oprah

After Bench-Salorio was arrested, Eric says he felt horrible. "Last year was really hard for me," he says. "When I found that out, I was really depressed."

Mike says Eric has had a very difficult time coming to terms with the sexual molestation and subsequent events. "He had gotten in a lot of trouble and we couldn't figure out what was going on. ... He was on a self-destructive course, rebelling against our authority as parents and all authority," Mike says.

At times, Eric even became physically aggressive. "It's aggravating to hear on TV that people say that [abuse] doesn't affect young boys," Mike says.

Eric says he feels angry and confused. "It's like a big lie—[Bench-Salorio] tries to tell me that she loves me and all this stuff and what I perceive of sex is messed up now," Eric says. "Here I thought she loved me, and I thought that that was love, and then I find out it's molestation."
Oprah on betrayal

Oprah says it is critical that society acknowledges the affects of sexual abuse by child molesters—regardless of gender. "Molestation is not only just about the sex—it's not a rite of passage for young females or young males—it is about betrayal and shame and mistrust," she says.
FROM: Female Teachers, Young Boys, Secret Sex at School
Published on April 27, 2006


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