A reader who asked to remain anonymous sent in a video about a recent interview by Star Jones with the lawyer for Kelsey Peterson, a teacher accused in 2007 of fleeing to Mexico in order to live with a 13-year-old student of hers (he was 12 at the time they began having sex together). In the interview, the lawyer for Peterson says he “resents” the boy being referred to as a child because he is a “Latino machismo teenager” (a phrase that doesn’t even make sense) and “manly”:
Notice that the lawyer also argues, at about 1:25, that teen boys have a high sex drive, which somehow excuses an adult woman having sex with a 12-year-old. In addition, at 3:30 in Jones mentions that some individuals have implied the kid couldn’t be a victim because he was physically larger than other kids his age (5′ 6″ in 8th grade, which doesn’t sound super unusual to me); it sounds like Peterson’s defenders have questioned his age because of his size.
Jones calls him out on his implication that Latino teens are hyper-sexual and therefore this boy shouldn’t be seen as a victim. At about 5:45 one of her guests discusses the adultification of non-White children — that is, the way they are often treated as adults, regardless of their age. Ann Arnett Ferguson discusses this process at length in her book, Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. This adultification includes assumptions that they are sexual at earlier ages than White children.
From what Jones and one of her guests say, it also appears that the fact that he was an undocumented immigrant has also been used as a way to undermine his ability to claim victim status. At about 7:55 a guest discusses the way that referring to people as “aliens” dehumanizes them, making it easier to deny them equal legal protection. (Side note: Jones mentions the history of immigration in the U.S. and in doing so says everyone in the U.S. is descended from immigrants, something Native Americans might find surprising, though I suppose if you go back a few thousand years to the migration from Asia to North America, technically yes, they are immigrants.)
When I searched for news stories about the case, I came across one at ABC news in which the boy is described as “a sexually-active sixth-grade student with a crush on her,” which seems to me to be reminiscent of the way female rape victims are often asked about their sexual history, as though they cannot be true victims if they have been sexually active.
The ABC story contains this quote from Peterson’s lawyer:
From the beginning, he was trying to entice her. There’s no question about that…He would try to kiss her, he would grab her, he would do these things. She didn’t initiate this relationship. That young man did.
Again the blame is placed not on the adult woman but on a 12-year-old boy. Peterson says she was shocked the first time he kissed her, which was in her kitchen — a place that maybe a thinking person wouldn’t have a 12-year-old student in. She also says his parents knew about and were fine with their sexual interactions; they dispute this.
Perhaps drawing on the stereotype of macho Latino men, her lawyer said,
He used to tell her what she could wear. And whether she could wear makeup and the length of her skirts in terms of where they were gonna go and what they were gonna do…He had a very, very strong influence over her in terms of controlling her behavior.
The comments to the ABC story are pretty fascinating too.
This is a disturbing example of the way that boys, and particularly non-White boys, are generally denied victim status when it comes to sex because our cultural beliefs include the idea that boys want sex and attempt to get it at an early age, and thus can’t really be vulnerable to sexual assault or coercion. For another example, see this post about how Jimmy Kimmel reacts when Lil’ Wayne confirms that he lost his virginity at age 11.
Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist — June 16, 2010
disgusting. And we all know what the reactions would be if the tables were turned around (older Latino male teacher with a young white female student).
finette — June 16, 2010
I was in high school when the Mary Kay LeTourneau case happened, but even then I thought the media was waaaaay to forgiving of her. And her victim was a minority too--Filipino, I think.
Anonymous — June 16, 2010
I can never understand why people don't *get* that in cases like this, it is the adult's responsibility to be a freaking adult and shut down this kind of behavior- whether the kid initiated it or not. While I think that childhood sexuality should indeed be more acknowledged, this isn't the way to do it. I get so angry when people involved in this sort of thing try to say "He wasn't a victim, he initiated it" (And why is it that no one would even believe them if a man said the same thing about an underage girl?) are so full of it! As the adult, it is your responsibility to shut that kind of thing down if the younger person IS hitting on you or whatever you want to say- and for pete's sake if you somehow really do fall in love, it is your responsibility to wait until they are an adult before even thinking about any kind of sexual relationship.
>_< Sorry, I just get so frustrated with this, because people act like there is a complete wipe of responsibility for the adult in question because the child initiated things, and I just have to wonder at what point did it become OK to have such a total lack of self control that you do something you KNOW is wrong?
Syd — June 16, 2010
Star Jones rocked that, plain and simple, and the guy calling him a 'Latino Machismo' has probably been blushing permanently since 2007.
And it's true. Anyone who's met a 12 or 13 year old boy knows that they all generally think they're 'manly' and are interested in sex. Hitting puberty and this society? Hard for a young teenage boy NOT to say they're so tough and manly, that they're such a great lover. I'm sure half the boys in class had a crush on the young teacher. But had he been a 12 year old white boy, no one would call him 'a Caucasian machismo,' they'd call him a victim (alas, not as much as if a girl was in this situation, certainly if an MOC was having relations with a white girl). And children of color are very rarely treated as the blonde-ringleted, blue-eyed children in commercials. A 12 year old white child is, well, a child, and their attempts to 'act grown' are, well, LAUGHABLE, not unlike a toddler putting on mommy's high heels and purse. You LAUGH when you see 12 year old girls in the mall with too much makeup and wearing clothes 'too old' for them, or 12 year old boys posing like they have muscles and talking about shaving their peach fuzz. But black and Latino kids? They don't need to 'act grown' in the eyes of white America. They should already know better about laws at age 8 or 12, and will get in trouble as preteens for offenses that white teens, or even young adults, will get warnings for. They're already grown. And then add to this that, apparently, this boy (gasp) had the audacity to hit a growth spurt at 11 or 12. The same happens to girls who develop a bit faster (I've seen the rape of a pre-teen girl DISMISSED BY COURT because she was wearing revealing clothes and, of course, had filled out a bit earlier than her peers. And everyone knows boobies=consent).
You know what? I'm sure this 'tall,' posing, manly-man of a child DID come on to his teacher. The answer to that is not 'oh, well, she can have sex with him.' It's 'firmly make sure the kid knows kissing the teacher is not appropriate and punish him if he tries again.'
And seriously, the guy defending the teacher? He's TWELVE. This is not one of those cases of someone a couple months shy of their 18th birthday forgetting to mention those couple months to someone they just met. This is a LITTLE KID, and an AUTHORITY FIGURE who knows damn well EXACTLY how much of a little kid he is.
Brianna G — June 16, 2010
Unless he actually raped her, she's 100% to blame. And he didn't. Is she seriously arguing that a 12-year-old had sufficient emotional control over her that she can't be held accountable? A 12-YEAR-OLD?
I really hope a judge throws out this entire line of argument as both victim-blaming and ridiculous. I doubt it, though. Part of me thinks the only way to get justice for a child is to make sure the jury is not allowed to see them in person.
skeptifem — June 16, 2010
If a man raped that boy he would get victim status, stat. People have such difficulty seeing women as something other than harmless docile creatures, receivers of sex rather than participants, that they can launch this defense.
Sexualizing a 12 year old boy only works in a heterosexual context. It says some awful things about male heterosexuality as being primarily predatory or aggressive. The racial comments about it add a layer of nastiness to the spin surrounding this case. Gross.
Umlud — June 16, 2010
But a 5'6" 8th grader is somewhat unusual. At least according to the averages and the percentiles:
The average height of 12-13 year-old boys is in the range of 4'10" - 5'2" (http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/height-weight-teens.shtml)
A 12-year-old boy who is 5'6" is above the 95th percentile.
A 13-year-old boy who is 5'6" is around the 90th percentile.
A 14-year-old boy who is 5'6" is around the 60th percentile.
In all these cases, the boy is "taller than average".
Still, apart from this quibble-point, I agree with the sentiment that this whole situation was more than a little bit eff-ed up.
Lucas — June 16, 2010
I can't stand when people say "If the situation were reversed and it was an older man with a young girl, people would think differently"... Yes, we would think differently. Because that is a completely different situation. The dynamic between sexes is totally different. I know in this day and age we like to pretend everyone is "equal" but the fact is, men and woman are different. There is a reason people look at a woman being involved with a boy as less serious than a man being involved with a young girl. The dynamic between the sexes is different, and YES it is less serious! That is reality...
My biggest worry in these cases is that a woman mentally unstable enough to get involved with a young student is probably a bit crazy and possibly will be a bad influence on the boy. Sexually, though there is no problem. I'd have loved to have had sex with a teacher when I was a boy.
Lucas — June 16, 2010
"It says some awful things about male heterosexuality as being primarily predatory or aggressive. "
What is so awful about male heterosexuality being predatory or aggressive? That is the natural dynamic between the sexes...Not just for humans but most animals. The male is the aggressor, the pursuer. The woman takes flight and eventually gives in, or resists.
I just hate when people try to deny the existence of our most base animal instincts.
Anonymous — June 16, 2010
Hm, wonder why my posts got deleted. Because I pointed out the affinity of Lucas' second post with rape culture, or because I mentioned that as an adolescent girl I would have liked to have sex with a teacher, too? Not condoning statutory rape, I'm pointing out the double standard...
Anonymous — June 16, 2010
Ah, not deleted, just the page being persnickety.
CarrieP — June 17, 2010
"Okay, now you done made me mad"
I love Star Jones
Lisa — June 17, 2010
Fun fact: Undocumented immigrants have the same right as victims as citizens do. And if their abuser is convicted, they can actually begin the path to citizenship as a sort of restitution for being abused by a US citizen.
Butter — June 18, 2010
On the flip side of all of this, women are often not seen as sexual and wanting sex. So, while the boy is assumed to be sexual and wanting sex by society (and therefore not seen as a victim), it's probably easier for a lot of people to not see the female teacher as some sort of child rapist. Also, there is usually a lot of talk around the female teacher's emotions, and getting love and/or not being lonely. Maybe this is another reason why female teachers who have sex with their students are not seen as criminals compared to male teachers who do the same.
links for 2010-06-18 « Embololalia — June 18, 2010
[...] The Hypersexualization of Latino Boys » Sociological Images This is a disturbing example of the way that boys, and particularly non-White boys, are generally denied victim status when it comes to sex because our cultural beliefs include the idea that boys want sex and attempt to get it at an early age, and thus can’t really be vulnerable to sexual assault or coercion. (tags: sexual.violence adolescence men race latin@s usa courts) [...]
nina — June 18, 2010
Sex is a commodity. A woman is supposed to save hers and give it to as few people as possible. A man is supposed to do the opposite. Part of the reason there is so little outcry about these things is because most people feel as if the boy is gaining something, not losing something- which they would feel if the child had been female.
Just a little brown primitive savage boy racking up notches on his belt way earlier than civilized people. Whats the problem?
Colinne Dhollande — September 12, 2016
Oh, poor little boys.