June 04, 2006 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
In cleaning my daughter’s room, I could not avoid seeing diaries which were left near her desk. One was opened to the last entry, and curiosity led me to begin reading it. Soon I wished that I had not, as she was describing a love affair between a dance teacher and his student. The teacher is 35, engaged to be married soon; and that student is Rose, my daughter, 14 and a high school freshman.
With every page, my heart sank lower and lower, and I began to focus on entries written during the past two months. There were few references to the dance teacher a year ago; however recent entries revealed a relationship that had changed dramatically as Rose wrote of wanting to have sex with him and secret meetings.
I am a single mother, raising a son and daughter who attend the same high school. We all read your column and have a trip to Bakersfield planned. I know that I am asking a lot, but may I show you her diaries and then perhaps we can all talk? Rose is no different from most teenagers and will not listen to me, but I think you can find out what is going on. Thanks, Carol, a longtime reader.
After listening to that voice mail, I immediately phoned Carol and invited her and her daughter to the office to meet me and my paralegal. It would prove to be one of the most dramatic and important contacts I have had from a reader in many years.
How dare you!!
Prior to their arrival, the relevant pages in the diaries were faxed. They described a rapidly escalating sexual relationship involving at least two dance students, their teacher, and, amazingly, his fianc/e, also an instructor at the same dance studio.
Rose was unaware of the underlying reason for our meeting, thinking at first it was just a friendly visit. After the pleasantries were concluded, I told her that in cleaning her room, Mom found and read the diaries – which were in plain view. “How Dare YOU!” the 14-year-old, very intelligent, extremely attractive high school freshman yelled, over and over again. “You invaded my privacy! I always leave my diaries on my desk and trust my mother not to read them!” That statement was accompanied by a look at her mom which my paralegal described as “the look of death.”
“Let’s get something straight,” I replied. “When diaries are left out in the open, they are going to be read – and there might easily have been a psychological reason, such as your wanting someone to find out what was going on. Rose, a parent – especially a single mom holding down two jobs and not at home that much – has a duty to protect her children. Parents have a legal duty to know what her children are doing, especially with what’s out there online,” I quickly snapped back, but in a friendly way.
Yes, it sounds harsh, but in my book, there is no such thing as privacy where these issues are involved. This was in fact a cross-examination – I wanted to find out what she and her dance teacher were doing. My 14-year-old reader was caught totally unprepared and off guard for an important line of questioning and over the next two hours she poured out her feelings.
I love him
Rose told a story of a twisted, manipulative, highly talented dance instructor who groomed “virgins” for love affairs. “Don’t worry about STDs, because I only allow ballerina virgins to have a relationship with me,” he assured her.
Repeatedly she cried, “But I love him – don’t do anything to him or I will die!” With her mom sitting to my right, going through sheet after sheet of Kleenex, Rose described how it all began:
“Hugs, compliments, the things that made me feel so important to him,” she told us, proudly. Raised without a father, “Ricky” became that male-figure she lacked, but at age 14 when you are in love with a man 35, you are right and the world is wrong. And in the event you are wondering if the entire family had been following the Dateline NBC programs on pedophiles, yes, they had indeed. But in her mind it was the logic of, “I love him, he cares for me and I trust him.”
“It was always consensual, it’s my fault, not his,” she repeated. No matter how I tried to explain the legal issues, she simply refused to understand that at age 14, there is no such thing as giving consent, nor that the idea of having a sexual relationship with a girl that young is disgusting to normal men.
Responding to open-ended questions, such as, “Tell me how you two communicated …?” she led us to what I suspected: Instant Messaging, Chat Rooms, e-mail.
Within hours her brother downloaded every instant message and other communications the two had, revealing the unexpected: Ricky’s fianc/e – also a dance instructor at the same studio – actively encouraged Rose and other girls to “enjoy Rick, physically.”
Don’t tell anyone!
“Please don’t tell anyone. It’s all my fault!” she begged us all. While California has strict reporting requirements for doctors, teachers, mental health workers, to list just a few, lawyers are not required to report child abuses unless instructed by the parent. Mom, not knowing how to react, refused to make a police report at that time. I knew it would only be a matter of hours when she would be pleading to have law enforcement involved.
The next 24 hours were predictable; Rose spent most of the time screaming, begging for “them” to leave Ricky alone, threatening to kill herself. “Call the police,” Mom said. I did, and a report was taken. We also arranged for them to get into a counselor’s office at once.
No simple answers
For me, what was absolutely shocking was the speed to which Rose had been brain-washed by this monster, revealed through the pages of her diary ….” I was something special, a good dancer and a virgin,” she repeated. “We were in love, it was OK, you do things for the person you love,” she told us. While on one level, she knew it all to be wrong; it becomes right in the hands of a skilled predator.
Advice to parents
There is a strange kind of logic that far too many parents have bought into, “I will give my kids space and privacy.” Computers, televisions, cell phones in their rooms – with doors often closed – are an invitation to trouble for any child.
I believe that today, more than at any time in the past, parents need to know what their children are doing and where they are, both physically and in cyberspace. Our kids may be brilliant in math, science, art or God knows what, but they still have limited life experience, limited maturity. When I hear the terms, “Privacy Rights,” in connection with children, it is very upsetting, as too often it is an excuse for Mom and Mad doing nothing, asking nothing, to avoid unpleasant confrontation.
Fourteen years of age, attractive, raging hormones, the first tentative explorations of sexuality – it is all part of normal development and difficult enough without predators like Rick and his fianc/e in a child’s life.
Rose and her mom now face family counseling and difficult months ahead. I will keep you informed as to what happens to Rick.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.