Teacher-Student Sex: What Were They Thinking?

March 10, 2007 — -- Reports of two New York women charged with having sex with their students may be the latest in a wave of cases in which female teachers are accused of sexually molesting young boys.

Marcia Amsterdam, 30, a speech teacher at a Brooklyn junior high school is accused of having sex with a 13-year-old boy.

Emily Streb, 23, is a music teacher at a Bronx special education school charged with rape for allegedly having sex with a 16-year-old boy who suffered from psychiatric problems.

Last week, Allena Ward, a 23-year-old teacher in South Carolina, was charged with having sex with five teenage boys on school property, in a park and at a motel.

"Female teachers are in a position of trust. When they have that emotional baggage, they act out just as male teachers have," said clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere. "Male victims are now reporting these cases more [than] they have in the past."

Like many of the teachers involved in these kinds of cases, Pamela Rogers Turner, a former beauty pageant contestant, was married when she was accused of having sex with a 13-year-old boy.

Turner was released after nine months in jail. Two months later, she violated her parole by sending nude photos of herself to the boy on a cell phone.

"I think that the best diagnosis for her … is sexual addiction," clinical psychologist Joan Schleicher said about Turner in court.

Turner was sent back to jail to complete a 10-year sentence.

"I've embarrassed my family," she said. "I have humiliated myself."

Although teachers may be the subject of student fantasies, sexual relationships between the two is clearly inappropriate, according to psychologist Cheryl Shakeshaft.

"It's normal for kids to like a teacher. It might even be normal for kids to fantasize about teachers," Shakeshaft said. "What isn't normal is for adults to take advantage or to exploit that."

But it does happen. According to the Project on Sexual Harassment in Schools at the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, it's estimated that hundreds of sex-related complaints are brought against teachers each year -- both female and male.

Experts say that teachers who commit this type of crime often experience a a confluence of psychopathology -- a position of power in their guiding and nurturing and access.

"Many of these predators are intellectualizing," Gardere said. "They'll say, 'I was helping that child. That child needed love. … I was providing love.' … All of those things are an absolute abomination, a denial."

Most states mandate that teachers undergo criminal background checks before they're hired, but none of the previously mentioned cases involve a teacher with a criminal background that would have raised a red flag.

Some states, however, are now moving to expand their vetting process.

New Jersey is planning to require school volunteers to also undergo background checks. Virginia wants outside workers on school property to pass security clearance. Utah plans to subject teachers at charter schools to the same screening procedures.

Psychologists also advise that schools and parents play a greater role in monitoring sudden changes in children's behavior that may suggest they have been victimized.