Social media cited as biggest factor in how offenders connect with students
Multiple teacher-student sex cases at Destrehan High School could be a “culture problem,” but these cases are more likely part of a national epidemic, according to a national expert.
“We view this as an epidemic nationwide and we need to treat it with that seriousness nationwide, starting with changes in the policies,” said Terry Abbott, former chief of staff with the U.S. Department of Education whose public relations firm tracks cases of educators accused or convicted of sexual contact with students.
The Jan. 14 arrest of DHS teacher Kimberly Naquin for having a sexual relationship made it the third teacher-student sex scandal at the school since 2008.
In an affidavit with Kenner Police, Naquin admitted to the relationship with her then 16-year-old female student from October 2014 to June 2015.
With two teacher-student sex scandals at DHS in less than two years, it wasn’t surprising when Naquin told Kenner Police that she thought they were coming to arrest her in 2014 when the media reported police were investigating a DHS teacher accused of having sex with a student. A fearful Naquin apparently broke off the relationship with her student, but resumed it when she heard it was fellow teachers Shelley Dufresne and Rachel Respess who were arrested amid accusations that made national headlines that they had a threesome with a male student, who also was 16 years old at the time.
In 2008, DHS band director Byron Toups was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old female student and attempting to kiss a 17-year-old female student.
“Bewildering” was the response St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne gave to the media at the Jan. 15 press conference on Naquin’s arrest when asked about DHS’ multiple cases.
Whether this is a “DHS problem” is still in debate, but Abbott said his 2014 report findings show the number of teacher-student sex cases increasing is a national problem.Based on cases in media reports alone, Abbott tracked 782 cases reported in the U.S.
In cases per capita, Louisiana ranks in the top three states nationally, according to his report.
In actual number of cases, Texas tops the list with 116 cases, putting it substantially above the second highest state of Pennsylvania with 45 cases reported in 2014. Louisiana came in at 11th place with 23 cases.
While three of the four teachers involved in these cases are women in St. Charles Parish, Abbot said two-thirds of the cases he tracked involved men nationally.
Although it was generally considered a problem among younger teachers, Abbott said his study found the larger number of these cases involved older teachers with the average age being 37 (38 for men and 34 for women).
While local age of victims was 16 in all three cases, the national average is 15.
Abbott also pointed to offenders’ increasing use of social media such as Instagram and Twitter in these cases, calling it “the biggest factor” in how they are connecting with students.
“Now there’s a dangerous combination here we have with every kid with a cell phone and teachers giving them their private phone numbers, as well as school systems with weak policies guiding this communication,” he said. “It’s how they communicate. There’s every possibility this problem will get worse unless we get aggressive about it.”
Nearly 40 percent of the cases tracked in Abbott’s 2014 report involved texting and/or social media. Of Louisiana’s 23 cases in 2014, 39 percent of them involved social media.While the investigation is still underway in Kenner, Police Lt. Brian McGregor said Naquin and her student communicated by Instagram or Twitter.
“That’s the big change,” he said. “I can’t imagine a teacher walking up to a student in the hallway and asking if they want nude photos. But they do it on social media and texting. We’re urging school districts to pass policies prohibiting this between teachers and students. Too many districts have policies that merely say communications must be professional, but that is virtually worthless.”
The St. Charles Parish School system policy does call for professional communications between employees and students.
Multiple teacher-student sex cases at one school or district generally points to a “culture problem” where the relationships are considered “no big deal,” according to Abbott.
“If the culture is anything other than arresting or putting offenders in jail then the message is it’s okay,” he said. “The No. 1 job is the safety of the children and the leader of that district needs to state this behavior is abhorrent and that aggressive efforts will be made to put offenders in jail. That is the leadership this district needs to provide.”
At the time of the arrest, St. Charles Parish school officials announced they were cooperating with the Sheriff’s Office and suspended Naquin without pay pending the outcome of the investigation according to district policy.
By Jan. 21, Judge Lauren Lemmon issued a gag order so parish and state school officials cannot comment on the case.But Barry Landry, director of public affairs with the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said,
“We take these accusations very seriously and will consider similar sanctions at the appropriate time under Louisiana law” on the Naquin case. He added of the Dufresne case, the BESE board “revoked the licenses of two previous St. Charles parish teachers, assuring these teachers will never again hold a valid teaching license in Louisiana.”
According to Abbott, “Stories are coming out regularly and it isn’t uncommon to read the problem went on a while before being reported or the system didn’t cooperate with the investigation. When a teacher is arrested for this, the first problem is not informing parents that a teacher was being prosecuted for this. No parent wants to read in the paper that a teacher teaching their child was arrested for being sexually assaulted by that teacher. It needs to be understood this behavior will not be tolerated.”