It’s a sad truth — perhaps one of the saddest of all the truths of modern life — that teachers having sex with their students is not an uncommon story. All it takes is a simple Google search to verify this in graphic detail. You can even find stories recalling the 50 most notorious female teacher sex scandals.
Notice the operative word there — female. Search for the most notorious male teacher scandals and you find not so much.
And if a segment of society judges the offending female teacher as good looking, the attention can become unbearable. There are websites that rank these teachers by looks. This may be worse news than the crime itself because of what it says about the true nature of a culture that feigns devotion to dignity, equality and basic rights, while sanctimoniously chiding sexism.
So I have some sympathy for Second District Court Judge Thomas Kay, who began the sentencing hearing last week for former teacher Brianne Altice, who pled guilty to three counts of forcible sexual abuse with three of her students, by saying he wished the media weren’t present.
“I have to look in sentencing at you, I have to look at the victims, I have to look at society, because no matter what happens and what I do today, it's going to be reported in the press,” Kay said, according to a transcript made of an audio recording. “And as we've learned, it's not just reported by the press in this country, it's been reported in other countries.”
The judge then noted he was one of the few “no” votes when it came to allowing cameras in courtrooms. “Now, the press may hate me for saying that, but I believe it, because I think it's a distraction when somebody's life or liberty is at issue.”
As I said, I have some sympathy, but not total sympathy. No, your honor, this member of the press doesn’t hate you by any means. You are right to note that this case garnered unusual publicity, but that would have happened with or without TV cameras.
Let’s not get two important concepts mixed up.
If reporting on the Altice case was the only problem, there would be little to worry about. But the extra attention it attracted was often unhelpful. At least one social media site attracted comments, in several languages, that were not concerned with justice, the victims or the accused, but with the false notion of “any kid’s fantasy,” to use the words of a prosecutor.
In an age of relentless tweets and posts, there were plenty of photos and facts available to keep the chatter churning, regardless of access to the trial.
But the value of keeping the state’s court system open to the public, and to television cameras, is something else.
You don’t have to look too far to understand this. After the massacre of nine worshippers at the end of a Bible study class in Charleston, S.C., last month, relatives of the victims were allowed to address the accused at a bond hearing. It was televised.
Those who watched heard people one by one approach the accuser, himself present by closed circuit television, and tell him they forgave him and hoped he would turn to God and repent. It was riveting, emotional and no-doubt life-changing to some who watched.
Imagine if we hadn’t been able to see that.
Opponents of cameras in courts say the notions that they shed light on the justice system, provide accountability and educate the public are overstated. That may be somewhat true in a society where entertainment is king. But it is equally true that worries about how cameras might stifle justice also are greatly overstated.
My guess is that, to most who followed the Altice case, especially parents, what they saw, heard and read led to discussions about what can happen at school and how to keep children safe. This case contained vital lessons for families grappling with a coarsening world.
That it also attracted the wrong type of attention is one of the risks inherent with freedom. The risks from an inaccessible court system would be much worse.