Oh, dear. Today I caught a story about a kindergarten teacher at a Maryland private school accused of having a sexual affair with a sixteen-year-old male student. Sound familiar? But nope, it's not "The Kingdom of Childhood" this time... it's Miss Ashley Campbell at Montrose Christian School in Rockville.
Ashley Campbell arrested for sexual abuse of student
I feel bad for all parties involved here. After spending over two years writing from the point of view of someone who committed this crime-- and researching exhaustively-- I know these things don't happen in a vacuum. And what a huge mucking mess it makes when it all comes out, as it inevitably must, because now the poor kid will have legal issues to contend with-- the statements, the reports, the possibility of serving as a witness in court-- in addition to the emotional aspects of guilt and a sense of betrayal and embarrassment and remorse. I can't speak for him, of course, but I know what others in his position have gone through. As for Ms. Campbell, if she is guilty of this crime-- which she may or may not be, that's to be determined by the court-- I have sympathy for her as well. She wouldn't be the first one to fall down the rabbit hole of blurred boundaries, and the shame she will feel will be familiar to all of us who have made serious mistakes. That doesn't excuse a darned thing; offering sympathy is not the same as offering clemency. It's only a way to acknowledge that the accused is human, because if we imagine only monsters can do these things, we will miss the signs that are right before our eyes, again and again and again.
I'll tell ya, I get tired of seeing in reader reviews that in my book I'm attempting to make some kind of "excuse" for Judy's behavior via her failing marriage, or childhood traumas, or what have you. I don't usually criticize reviews, but when I see that particular comment, I know the reader completely missed the point. The point, in "The Kingdom of Childhood," is that for all of the reasons that inform Judy's decision to seduce Zach, not one of them is an excuse. The key is this: people do things for reasons that make sense to them, even if they don't make sense to anybody else. If we can ask why sexual predators do the things they do, and be willing to hear the honest answers, we might actually be able to stop those things from happening so much. But if we keep making assumptions and applying stereotypes, we will continue to get the same results. And the thing about female sexual predators is that they defy our stereotypes and circumvent our assumptions. There are lots and lots of teachers out there who have failing marriages, or surly teenagers, or childhood traumas, who don't act out by sleeping with teenagers. What is exceptional about Judy is not her circumstances, but her psychology.
I'm very sorry to see this in the news once again. The school appears to have handled it well. The trouble is that the details are all so familiar-- as a friend said, "I feel like I've seen this story all the way to the point of her turning herself in." If we want to see less of this story, maybe we should pay closer attention when we have the opportunity-- and see it not as a salacious tale, but a human one.