clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Teacher gets new accuser in sex case

Another possible victim came forward Friday in the case of a first-grade teacher, honored last year for going the extra mile with students, charged with molesting three students at a Riverton elementary school.

The Division of Child and Family Services received the new referral from someone in the Jordan School District, according to DCFS director Duane Betournay.

Teacher Laine Hall, 36, was charged Thursday with three counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child, accused of putting his hands "inside the pants" of three girls in his classroom at Rosamond Elementary School, according to court documents.

Hall was removed from the classroom Monday, arrested at his home Thursday and remained in the Salt Lake County Jail Friday on $500,000 bail.

The arrest of the popular teacher has parents asking themselves, and others, if there were signs they missed, and whether there's a foolproof way of recognizing a pedophile before damage has been done.

Psychologists and social workers who treat sex offenders and the children they molest agree that the terrain of pedophilia is never clearly marked. There's no clear-cut profile of what a pedophile looks like, and no foolproof way to separate a genuinely friendly adult from a friendly adult who is "grooming" children so he can later molest them.

"Successful" pedophiles are also often people who know how to engage children, said Carol Lear, director of school law for the State Office of Education. "It's interesting that a lot of the teachers who are found to be pedophiles are popular, very likeable teachers. The common thread is that they're outgoing and personable."

"But I hate to say 'if you have a teacher like that, be concerned,"' Lear adds.

So when should a parent be concerned? And how friendly can a teacher allow himself to be to his students? "There isn't a bright-line test," she said. But there are sometimes red flags, Lear and others said.

"Too much familiarity," Lear begins. "Keeping kids after school without letting parents know. Activities where the teacher is the only other adult involved. And a number of the problems we've seen with male teachers in elementary schools are when they let students sit on their laps. And tickling and wrestling," she added "are never good things."

Lear is uncomfortable if teachers invite students to their homes. "It's just too familiar," she said. On the other hand, when a teacher lives and works in a small community, "it's not clear you can say not to take cookies to (the students') homes."

To visit a child's home can also be a way of giving a subliminal message to a child, says James Cope, who worked for several years with the special victims team of the District Attorney's office. The message: "My parents know this guy, my parents trust this guy, so it must be OK. Or, conversely, your parents know you've been bad, and nothing's going to happen, so you'd better keep your mouth shut."

Parents often "beat themselves up in cases like this and think they should have discerned something," Cope adds. "But pedophiles are extremely capable of keeping secrets and covering up what they're doing. And of insinuating themselves into situations that promote children."

First grade teacher Hall last year was honored with a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education, in part for going the extra mile to hand-deliver rewards such as Happy Meals to students' homes.

"I just love doing it," Hall explained at the time. "I don't have kids, so regard them as my kids and put a lot of effort into them."

"Many of a pedophile's grooming techniques are ones a normal person would use to win the heart of a partner," says Dr. Mark Zelig, a forensic and clinical psychologist in Salt Lake City, who has worked with scores of sex offenders.

Figuring out who's genuinely nice and who might be a pedophile isn't easy, says Zelig. "If there's one area in the law where people get falsely accused, this is it," he adds, and profiles to help identify criminal offenders "are notorious for false alarms."

With pedophilia the profiles are further confounded by the fact that incest molesters are lumped together with what the experts call "extra-familial" offenders. "The family offender usually is not a predator," Zelig says. "Usually it's someone who falls in love with the child and at the same time violates the child's boundaries." Extra-familial pedophiles are rarer, he says. "And also much more dangerous. Much more."

Those caveats aside, Zelig has found that pedophiles tend to be unmarried men, between 25 and 35, with a "low level of social competency." When they do get married, he says, "consciously or unconsciously they select a female who looks like a child."

A person can be diagnosed as a pedophile without ever touching a child, Zelig explains. "Our best research shows that the majority of men who have a sexual attraction to children do not act on it." To be classified an offender, the pedophile has to also have a lack of control.

Research of college-aged males, he says, shows that a large majority of them have a sexual attraction to children. "If they all acted on it, people would be arrested every day. So probably 'control' is a more important variable than attraction."

Zelig has found that many pedophiles are expert "frotteurs" — people who "are able to touch people with sexual motivation in crowded places." Often they rub up against children in a way that seems like an accident. "It's one way of eroding boundaries, of testing the waters."

Although children are told to say "no" if someone touches them inappropriately, that's not good enough, says Dr. Doug Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center. Just like adults in the workplace who have trouble confronting a co-worker who sexually harasses them, children often don't know how to say "no," he says.

Instead, Goldsmith says, parents should be explicit: "There is good touch and bad touch, and nobody, nobody, nobody should touch you in your private parts, or bump into you in ways you don't like." If they do "you need to get out of there. Don't say 'please don't.' Run away. Find an adult to help."

The good news, says Julie Bradshaw, director of Primary Children's Medical Center's Center for Safe and Healthy Families, is that molested children can be helped. If they are able to tell their story, "to say, 'this thing happened to me and it made me feel this way,' then it loses some of its scary meaning. The intense feeling dissolves over time." She urges parents to seek treatment for their children. Financial help is available, if necessary, through Utah's Crime Victims' Reparations Fund.