May 29, 2000
Cases put spotlight on teacher-student sexBy Dene Moore
VANCOUVER - Sex education wasn't one of the classes Heather Ingram was supposed to be teaching at the Sunshine Coast school where she was employed.
But she'll be sentenced today after pleading guilty last month to sexual exploitation for having sex with a 17-year-old student.
Ingram's case is just one of several recent police investigations into inappropriate relationships between female teachers and male students that have focused attention on a little-known and complex problem.
A 17-year-old can join the army and be tried in an adult court, but according to Canadian law they cannot consent to sex with a person in a position of trust or authority.
``Everyone's agreed that a child of 8 is in no position whatsoever to make any decisions about sexual activity, but 17?'' said Simon Verdun Jones, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University.
``You're basically telling someone who is 17, `Your preference is irrelevant because we have to do this for your protection.' ''
Ingram, 30, was suspended from her teaching job in Sechelt, B.C., and later resigned.
She currently lives with the former student, who is now 18.
The teen, who cannot be identified, has said he fell in love with Ingram and pursued the relationship.
``The idea that she sexually exploited me is crazy,'' he said in a statement to the court. ``I consider Heather my girlfriend.
``We have been together quite a while and we love each other very much. We have a totally caring relationship, which I want to continue.''
Even the boy's mother approved of the relationship and wrote to the sentencing judge praising Ingram.
However, other experts say teachers having sex with their students is abuse, pure and simple.
A teacher in Barrie, Ont., was suspended in February for exchanging intimate letters with a 13-year-old student.
That teacher must undergo 20 hours of counselling and appear before an Ontario College of Teachers board before she can return to work.
In Courtenay, B.C., the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating the conduct of a 27-year-old teacher following allegations she was sexually involved with a student.
RCMP in Prince George, B.C., investigated allegations a female teacher had sex with up to 15 members of a boy's volleyball team during the 1997-98 school year.
Police said last week there was no evidence to support the allegations.
The woman, who police say is now living in Alberta with a former student, had denied the allegations.
Prosecutors have discretion to pursue charges, but it may be difficult to prove a case without the co-operation of the victim, said Verdun Jones.
``It's a matter of how far we want to force our view of what's in the best interest of a young person,'' Verdun Jones said.
It is illegal for anyone, in a position of power or not, to have sex with a person under age 14.
``I think the murky age is 16 and 17,'' Verdun Jones said.
Perhaps the most infamous case between a teacher and student involved Seattle teacher Mary Kay Letourneau, who was convicted of child rape involving the boy who fathered two of her children.
Letourneau began the sexual affair when her former student was 12 and she was a married mother of four.
Letourneau, now 38, received a seven-year conditional sentence but ended up in jail and pregnant after defying a court order barring her from contact with Vili Fualaau.
Fualaau and his family first maintained the two were in love, but recently launched lawsuits against the school district and the Seattle suburb of Des Moines for psychological damage, pain and suffering, and the cost of raising the two children, who are in the custody of Fualaau's mother.
Beverley Cathcart-Ross of the Toronto-based Parent Education Network said it is clear abuse.
``These are still young people forming their ideas of life and as adults we need to be respectful of that and respectful of the authority and the power that we may have.''
Teens are very vulnerable, she said, and these teachers put their needs first.
Cathcart-Ross said the recent cases may be seen differently because boys are involved.
``I think it would be completely different if it were . . . young females, 16-year-old girls, and male teachers pursuing them,'' she said. ``I think this would get a lot more public outcry.''
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