Last month in Media, PA, a former middle school teacher and football coach was sentenced to serve 1 year in jail for sexually abusing a 15 year old student. The girl had come to her teacher seeking help with family issues.
According to a local news report, investigators were looking at similar contact with another young student. The teacher, William Barber, was 38 years old at the time and married with four children, one of whom had been diagnosed with cancer.
During the investigation, officers obtained texting records during which Barber asked the student to send nude pictures. In addition, officers uncovered Twitter exchanges. The exchanges occurred over a 2 to 3 month period and culminated in sexual intercourse in the teacher’s office.
In June 2015, Barber pled no contest to 3 charges: Statutory Sexual Assault (1st Degree Felony), Institutional Sexual Assault of a Minor (3rd Degree Felony) and Corruption of Minors (3rd Degree Felony).
Sentencing occurred on September 16, 2015. Judge Cappelli of the Court of Common Pleas (Delaware County) sentenced Barber to less than one year in jail and a 20+ year probation term. In addition, Barber will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The Assistant District Attorney had asked the judge to impose a 2.5 year prison term. The victim’s family members indicated during the sentencing hearing that the victim was suffering from serious symptoms of emotional trauma. Barber’s wife and mother testified on his behalf.
Barber’s attorney asked the judge to impose a jail term of less than 1 year so that Barber would be able to see his sick child if necessary. If Barber had received a term of over 1 year, he would have been sent to prison, which would have made seeing his daughter difficult. Judge Cappelli was lenient and imposed a short prison sentence.
What’s particularly troubling is that the defendant pled no contest. A plea of no contest or nolo contendere is not the same as an admission of guilt i.e., plea of guilty. A no contest plea allows a defendant to accept responsibility without admitting guilt; the defendant tells the court that he doesn’t contest the charges and agrees that there is enough evidence to result in a conviction. Oftentimes, defendants in criminal sex abuse cases will plead no contest in order to strategically avoid making admissions about the case. This is done in anticipation of a civil lawsuit, i.e., where the victim sues the perpetrator for civil or monetary damages.
It’s unclear whether a civil case is pending. However, with respect to the criminal case, this defendant didn’t have to admit his wrongdoing and got a shorter prison sentence for raping a young student while she was especially vulnerable (she had come to him seeking help with a personal, family problem). The plea and sentence are practically an insult to the victim.
Teacher-Student Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Since the Penn State Sandusky scandal in 2011, private and public schools throughout Pennsylvania have revamped sex abuse education and training. Many educators are required to complete refresher training annually. What’s particularly problematic is that many instances of teachers abusing students in Pennsylvania occurred well after 2011. These teachers no doubt underwent additional training in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal. This recent case in Delaware County occurred in September 2014, just last year. It doesn’t make sense that educators, who have received recent sexual abuse training, then turn around and abuse students. It’s abhorrent and disgusting.
One of the positive aspects of this recent case is that students reported the abuse to school officials. Like with most cases of teacher-student sex abuse, it’s likely that rumors swirled of the teacher’s “relationship” with the student. By reporting the teacher, these students may have stopped a vicious and repeated cycle. Often emboldened by a victim’s silence, a sexual predator usually escalates activity and behavior over time, accumulating victims along the way. This is something many teens, who believe they are in “adult” relationship with a teacher, don’t realize until it’s too late.
- Sexual Abuse of Teens & Adolescents – Brain Development & Harm (August 21, 2015) Students in high school cannot voluntarily engage in sexual contact with teachers, coaches, etc. That’s because educators are authoritative figures and hold a special power over students. Brain development also plays an important role.
- Can a Student Sue for School-Teacher Sexual Abuse? (December 22, 2014) Students who have experienced sexual abuse by teachers or coaches may be able to seek financial compensation for the damages. Get more info here.
- Sexual Assaults-Abuse by School Employees on School Field Trips (October 6, 2014) In the past few years, there have been literally dozens of cases of teacher-student sexual abuse or assault. The problem isn’t limited to teachers, other school employees like coaches and even principals have been embroiled in student sexual abuse or assault cases.
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