For teachers, being a strong role model and positive influence in the lives of students is essential to the job. But the disturbing trend of teacher-student sex abuse scandals indicates that this isn’t always the case.
For decades, stories of teachers facing accusations and charges for sexually abusing their students have emerged. It’s a narrative that has become all too familiar: A teacher, often married, grooms and preys on a young student. Now, FX on Hulu has fictionalized such a storyline with “A Teacher,” a new 10-episode limited series that looks at a dangerous teacher-student grooming.
(Warning: Spoilers below)
In the series, Claire Wilson (Kate Mara) begins teaching at a local high school only to quickly become obsessed with one of her students, Eric Walker (Nick Robinson). Wilson starts finding ways to get close to him—at first, it seems innocuous, but soon it becomes clear that she intends to groom the boy and sexually abuse him.
While the series is fictional, many elements mirror the dark details of true cases of teacher-student abuse. We’ve rounded up some actual cases that bear resemblance to how the plot of “A Teacher” unfolds.
Sending Snapchat pictures
In “A Teacher,” Wilson sends Walker illicit photographs over Snapchat, which initially makes him uncomfortable. In recent years, some real-life educators accused of abusing their power for sexual gratification acted similarly.
There’s the case of former beauty queen Ramsey Bearse, who was working as a middle school teacher in Cross Lanes, West Virginia in 2018 when she sent a teen boy four topless photos of herself over Snapchat. She was 29 when she was sentenced to two years behind bars earlier this year. Bearse is now a registered sex offender.
Between September 2018 and March 2019, former Massachusetts high school teacher Dorothy Veracka solicited erotic images from a 15-year-old student via Snapchat. The 42-year-old also sent the boy inappropriate photos of herself. She pleaded guilty earlier this year and avoided jail time, NBC Boston reported.
Tutoring as grooming
In “A Teacher,” Wilson begins tutoring Walker to get closer to him. One scene shows their arms touching as she tutors him in a restaurant, and she appears to enjoy the contact.
This tactic is similar to the case of Brooke Wright, a former Ohio teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old she was tutoring. Her case is still pending.
Dr. Alice Berkowitz, a forensic psychologist who has experience working with sexual abuse victims and sex offenders, told Oxygen.com that a predatory teacher will typically give their chosen victim extra attention in an attempt to make them feel special.
Sexual contact prompted by a school event
In “A Teacher,” it’s a homecoming dance that kicks off the sexual abuse between Walker and Wilson. In the series, Walker takes one of his peers to the dance as his date but quickly ditches her after Wilson makes it clear she wants to have sex with him. She leads him to her car and they drive off to a remote location before she orders him into the back seat.
Brittany Zamora is a real-life former Arizona teacher who groomed her sixth-grade student before sexually abusing him multiple times in 2018—including once in a classroom after a talent show. She was 28 when she was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for her crimes.
Giving illegal gifts to the victim
In the TV series, Wilson gives Walker several gifts during their inappropriate relationship—supplying him with alcohol and marijuana and even taking him on a getaway for his 18th birthday.
This is reminiscent of the case of former Oregon Christian school teacher Andrea Nicole Baber, who sexually abused her 15-year-old victim and supplied him with alcohol and marijuana beginning in 2016. Baber was sentenced at 30 years old to serve 20 months behind bars in 2019.
Blaming marriage issues for abuse
It’s clear in “A Teacher” that Wilson is unhappy in her marriage, even though her husband seems loving and supportive. She even tells Walker that her dissatisfaction in the marriage has led to their relationship developing. This excuse is nothing new.
Bearse—the jailed former Miss Kentucky who admitted to sending sexually explicit photographs to her teen student—claimed in court that her “husband was working all the time and was too distracted and overwhelmed with work to pay attention to me.”
Gushing about the details leading to an arrest
In “A Teacher,” Wilson’s colleague can tell she was having an affair and confronts her for details. In turn, Wilson gushes about sleeping with Walker. The coworker is horrified and soon reports the abuse.
This is similar to the case of former Florida middle school teacher Leslie Bushart, who at 49 years old was arrested after allegedly performing oral sex on a 15-year-old boy during a family graduation party, then bragging about it to partygoers. Bushart, who had been a teacher for 29 years, was quickly placed on administrative leave from her job. Her case is still pending.
Running away together after getting caught
After their relationship is discovered in “A Teacher,” Wilson and Walker flee to a motel—a rash decision that only results in more trouble for her.
That compounding of trouble echoes the notorious story of Mary Kay Letourneau, who began sexually abusing her sixth-grade student Vili Fualaau in 1996 when he was 12. In court, she pleaded guilty to child rape in exchange for a three-month jail sentence and probation, which the judge approved on condition that Letourneau had no contact with Fualaau.
However, two years after the initial abuse began, Letourneau ignored the order and the pair were caught together in a car. Police apparently also found $6,200 in cash and Letourneau’s passport inside the vehicle, leading authorities to speculate that they were planning to flee the country. Letourneau’s probation was revoked and she spent the next six-plus years in prison before being released in 2004. The two ended up marrying in May 2005 and separated in 2019. Letourneau died of colon cancer in July at the age of 58.
It also echoes a more recent incident: the case of Tennessee high school teacher Ted Cummins and his student Elizabeth Thomas. Cummins was 50 and Thomas was 15 when he abducted her in 2017. After a national weeks-long manhunt in 2017, the two were eventually discovered hiding out in a remote California cabin where he’d been attempting to pass her off as his wife. He received 20 years in prison last year for after pleading guilty to transporting a minor across state lines for sex and obstructing justice.
While Walker initially claims that Wilson didn’t do anything wrong, he changes drastically after the incident. He struggles to establish healthy intimate connections with women and he becomes more of a risk-taker.
Zamora’s victim has changed and no longer looks at women the same way anymore, according to a civil lawsuit filed against Zamora by his parents and obtained by Oxygen.com.
The lawsuit notes that boys with sexual abuse histories show many of the same issues as sexually abused girls, yet “masculine gender socialization tends to make boys much less likely than girls to acknowledge that abuse took place, or, if the abuse is acknowledged, that the boy was hurt in any way by the experience. This comes from a general, usually unconscious, feeling that being a victim is ‘feminine,’ and therefore that to acknowledge victimhood of any kind makes a boy less masculine.”
The lawsuit also states that it is common for sexually abused males “to get into compulsive behaviors like alcoholism, drug addiction, workaholism, and compulsive spending.
“A Teacher” is available to stream on FX on Hulu.