A few weeks ago, I had a serious talk about a particular case that occurred in the school district that I attended 7th through 12th grade. To remind you: A high school softball coach and social studies teacher has committed suicide after accusations of sexual misconduct with a student. You can read an article about it here.
I couldn't stop thinking about this case. The people directly effected and the community too. I threw out the idea to a friend of mine that still lives in the area (she works for the paper) that I might write a letter to the editor. After all, I've got a personal point-of-view that not many have. This letter was crafted several times. Personally, I was swirling with emotion...the letter reflected that. Several drafts were scattered and all over the place. I kept thinking "what is the one thing, the most important element that I want to focus on?" That helped.
Also, I asked a couple of close confidants that happen to be strong women who I respect that knew me at the time (and know me now). I even pulled out the "big guns" and asked my 11th grade beloved English teacher to take a look and freely edit.
Once I was satisfied with my letter and the message I wanted to share, I emailed it to the editor. I thought I had been "ghosted". I didn't hear a peep. But, I felt my message was important and timely considering the allegation and subsequent suicide that happened in the area. I emailed again. I got a response, and he asked me to call him to discuss a couple of concerns/questions that he had.
Now, I must give this editor props. He was fair, ethical, and thoughtful. He wanted to make sure that I was prepared to share my name and identifying facts about myself. I respected that. We discussed a few questions he had about what I was sharing, and he reinforced my belief that yes, this was an important message to share with the community.
So...the letter printed. Here it is... Letter to the editor: Both sides of a sad case deserve our compassion
To the editor:
I am a 1991 graduate of Oak Ridge High School currently living in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. I have a daily routine: I read Houston-area news, USA news, Australian news and World news.
I was that 17-year-old student. I did know better. I was an intelligent, honors student who was involved in many school activities.
I was manipulated by a teacher 10 years older than I. He was a Social Studies teacher and football coach who was respected, attractive, articulate and had a master’s degree. He groomed me when I was 16 but didn’t act on it until I was 17. He convinced me that my parents were neglecting me (They weren’t). He made lofty promises of love, security and devotion. He tried to convince me that my choice of worship was not good enough; that his choice of faith was better for me. He encouraged me to separate myself from most of my friends, yet keep others who could cover for us.
Yes, I knew better than to get involved with him, but I was still young enough and impressionable enough that his ploys messed with my head, my heart, my emotions and my decision-making skills. He definitely used his age, experience and status to manipulate the situation for his favor. An inappropriate relationship occurred throughout my entire senior year of high school.
Eventually, I married this man when I was 19; and I was divorced by 21. During that time, I moved to another part of the country to be with him. His control and manipulation of me continued.
It took many years of hiding from the aftermath of this relationship, of trying to numb my pain, or avoid my feelings, or fake being strong. I’d often hide behind laughter, tell self-deprecating stories, or allowed myself to be at the butt end of jokes. Or, I was encouraged to not disclose it at all. Hide it. Sweep it under the rug.
All these years, I’ve carried some pretty deep, dark scars from this relationship. I felt tainted and unworthy of love and respect. I experienced a difficult time recognizing the manipulation in that relationship and how it affected my self-worth. It took years to recognize the “grooming” that occurred for him to win my trust and convince me of the role in my life he was determined to play.
I am not sharing my story for you to feel sorry for me or to judge me. By sharing these personal details, I hope to bring awareness and offer a perspective from an adult who experienced this type of relationship as a teenager.
Which brings me to the news story that has inspired me to write to the Montgomery County area ... the tragic and disturbing events surrounding the allegations and death of The Woodlands High School’s Richard Harvey Jorgensen: A high school softball coach and Social Studies teacher has committed suicide after accusations of sexual misconduct with a student.
The current story is filled with controversial material. The coach and teacher was married with children. He was only accused, so in light of America being a country where one is innocent until proven guilty, I don’t want to make judgment of guilt or innocence. Some may say he killed himself because of the guilt he felt, or the fear he felt for getting caught, or the stress he felt for being accused of something he didn’t do. We don’t know his story.
If the accusations of misconduct are true, can you imagine what that 16-year-old girl is feeling now? Accompanied with the trauma, shame, embarrassment and confusion she was most likely already experiencing, now she is unjustly carrying feelings of guilt as well. If the accusations are true, he added another heap of negativity to that 16-year-old plus the additional trauma he has caused his wife and children.
I encourage you as a community to unite and offer compassion, support, encouragement and assistance to everyone affected: the 16-year-old accuser, her family, friends, fellow students and loved ones; plus the family and loved ones of Mr. Jorgensen, his wife, his children, his former students and players, faculty and work colleagues.
I encourage you to refrain from passing judgment, speculation or ridicule.
Personally, I still struggle at times. For instance, in writing this piece, well, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve written, deleted, written again, deleted. I still have a hard time thinking of myself as a victim. At that time, there was no felonious law in Texas to criminalize such a relationship between an educator and a student. If our relationship transpired post-2003, he would be guilty of committing a felony, and I would be a victim. At the time, that law did not exist. No crime was committed, and no charges were filed. The guilt, shame and embarrassment, the self-loathing and blame that I still fight to this day don’t allow me to grasp this and acknowledge it fully. I’m still working.
Former Oak Ridge resident
|Then & Now|
When I emailed it, I shared it with my parents. Neither had much to say. I'm not going to lie. That hurts a little. It still makes me feel ashamed and like they'd rather me "keep quiet" about my experiences. I am making assumptions. That may not be what they think at all, but that's how I feel.
I received an overwhelming amount of support from former high school friends (and people I barely knew), from a friend of my mother's, from a couple of my aunts, from a parent of a friend that I was close to at the time...really, I was shocked by the number of positive responses that I received. What I most appreciated was a few shared my post and encouraged parents to use it as a talking tool with their teenagers. I liked that. A lot.
There were a couple of questionable comments on the link I attached (the paper's website), but those comments are going to happen. And, I didn't want to get in a keyboard battle with those couple of people.
If you have teens (or pre-teens), I encourage you to discuss inappropriate and appropriate relationships. Coaches and teachers can be valuable, influential mentors in kids' lives. Those are the ones that don't get thanked enough for all they do. Sadly, there are some ugly, effed up adults that use their position of influence to steer a student down the wrong path.
Talk to your kids about it...before it happens. If you have any questions for me about this, ask. I'm (finally) at the point I'm willing to share and want to help. Talk to your kids about coming to you if they know a friend in such a situation. Or suspect a friend. Get involved. I know, I would have not responded well to someone getting involved in my "relationship" at the time. But, I sure wish they would have.