Arizona Republic

Parker teachers accused in sex cases

Female teachers accused of having sex with students

By Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 12, 1999

PARKER -- It had been the worst-kept secret in Parker High School.

How Jennifer Aspa, the new 26-year-old soccer coach who had married into a prominent local family, had more than goals on her mind when it came to the team's star 17-year-old player.

He was at her house, at times for extended periods. They cuddled together on the team bus. His teammates even jokingly filled a condom with air and tossed it in their direction on one bus trip home.

When Aspa was indicted on three counts of sexual conduct with a minor two weeks ago, that was all shocking enough to the 4,000 residents of this western Arizona town on the bank of the Colorado River.

But an even bigger bomb was on the horizon involving another female teacher in the Parker Unified School District. Tracey Newton, 23, a librarian at Le Pera School south of town, was indicted last week on two counts of sexual abuse for reportedly molesting a 13-year-old girl who worked in the library at the school.

Both women were booked and released on their own recognizance, which got tongues wagging again saying that male teachers wouldn't have been treated in such a lenient manner.

It's a cutting-edge issue that has been on the front burners of court cases around the nation which challenge stereotypes of women as victims not perpetrators.

Residents of Parker and La Paz County have certainly had a double standard in the past.

In the late 1980s, a Parker middle-school teacher, 40-year-old Suzanne Yeager, had a sexual affair with a 14-year-old boy. She was sentenced to three years' probation.

The judge in the case, Stephen Conn of Mohave County Superior Court, said that "a crime perpetrated by a woman on a male child is not the same as a crime perpetrated by a male on a female child."

In 1997, Catherine Moutos-Maass, a 35-year-old former language-arts teacher at Deer Valley High School, got six months for sex with a minor, a former student, at a party in the desert.

This week, Marian Lamb, 39, former director of a Cave Creek charter school, was given a year in jail and lifetime probation for two counts of attempted sexual contact with two 14-year-old boys. According to court records, Lamb regularly lured students onto the grounds of Ventana Academic School, where she plied them with alcohol, marijuana, pornography and expensive gifts.

Judge Michael Wilkinson of Maricopa County Superior Court said that female teachers are treated better than men in sexual molestation cases involving minors.

"I've always been puzzled about why that is," Wilkinson said. "But the male is considered to be more powerful and dangerous, more able to assert his will, more aggressive and more able to force more contact."

Wilkinson said that sentences are becoming more equal, simply because far more cases of women teachers sexually abusing students are coming to light.

No advantages

But Kathleen Ferraro, a women's studies professor at Arizona State University, said she doesn't see any tilt in the judicial system. Any advantages women might have had, ended, Ferraro said, in the aftermath of the case of Mary Kay LeTourneau, the 35-year-old Washington schoolteacher who was convicted of raping a sixth-grade boy in 1997. She has since given birth to two of his children.

"My feeling is that sexually aggressive women are perceived as more monstrous than men," Ferraro said. "Any perception of sentences being lighter for women teachers is only because it's culturally more acceptable for boys to have sexual relationships with their teachers. A long time ago, any sexual experience for a male was considered a positive one. I don't know if anyone thinks that anymore."

But many people in Parker think that both cases are a big deal, even if the Aspa case involved a teenager who was nearing the age of 18.

"It's been pretty exciting around here," said Hank Hoevenaar, a Parker real estate agent. "Most people think it's a pretty unbelievable situation for a town this small."

Emotions have run high in some quarters.

Practically an adult

Jerry Hale, who publishes one of the town's two newspapers, received a threat of bodily harm by someone accusing him of portraying all local teachers as perverts. Hale passed the threat on to police.

Mike Thomas, who owns a Parker barber shop, said he doesn't pay too much mind to Aspa and the soccer student since, "if that boy was 17 and committed murder, they would consider him an adult. He might as well be considered an adult in this, too. Not that teacher-student sex is a good thing, mind you.

"But they should throw the book at that other woman (Newton) because that involved a 13-year-old girl."

One family member of the 13-year-old girl, who asked to remain unidentified, said the teen had gone through a series of traumatic events, including being molested as a 2-year-old at a Colorado River Indian Tribe day-care center and the divorce of her parents.

Newton empathized with the girl. That led to increasingly affectionate letters, extended telephone calls and at least one sexual encounter between the two at Newton's home.

The family member said that Newton, who has a small child and is married to a Parker schoolteacher, and the girl were called in by school officials last spring and both denied a relationship. After more complaints of a relationship by the two last fall, Newton was suspended from teaching for a week, school officials confirmed.

Aspa did little to hide her relationship with the soccer star.

Which came as no surprise to the boy's mother. She said that it's just part of the soap opera that she has been living during the past year.

"This time a year ago, she was sitting in my house having me help her plan her wedding," said the woman, who asked to remain unidentified. "She got married, all right. But it didn't take her long to move on to other things, right?"

***

Mark Shaffer can be reached at 444-8057 or at mark.shaffer@pni.com via e-mail.

Copyright 1999, Arizona Central