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Bystander guilt and other uncomfortable feelings

TW: predatory teacher, statutory rape

My dad calls me today. “You’ll never guess who I saw while running errands today. Mr. Smith.”

“Wait, how long was his sentence?”


One day, in my freshman year of high school, students’ parents came out for parent-teacher conferences, while we hung out at the school. My parents got out of the car and handed me a newspaper. With the mug shot of one of my middle school teachers on the front. Mr. Smith, teacher and one-time local politician, had been arrested for having a relationship with a student. I was shocked to my core. I knew him, I liked him. I’d been in clubs with him both inside and outside of school.


She was, of course, not named but my parents and I knew who she was regardless. He picked her up from her high school one day and the students who saw him kiss her reported it to the school, who called police. She was one year older than me, making her about 15-16 when he was caught. Not long after his arrest made the papers, a former student came forward to report that she too had been in a relationship with him as a student. He was charged on both their accounts and sent away to prison. The current student was bullied in her high school, because kids are terrible, and wound up moving to try starting anew. My dad saw hers a few times in the following years and he asked desperately, had my dad known? Had other people known? My dad of course said no. But...I don’t know if that’s strictly true.

We knew she was his favorite. She was in those clubs with me. Even after she graduated, she came to school events with him. He would pick her up from school. She came on field trips. When she was cold, she wore his jacket. And once when an after hours school event was over, I was one of the last few to go to his room to grab my backpack. He chatted with me and I noticed she was lurking back in his office. A little weird, but hey. So my friends and I joked about it. “If the car’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’!” During field day, “Think they’re hiding somewhere in the bushes? Hahaha.” We all joked about it but no one ever believed anything was going on. Looking back, there were so many red flags. But...actual predatory teachers weren’t even in our worldview at that point. So we didn’t believe. Or we refused to believe. I don’t know why we got so close but stayed so far from the truth.

So when I think of Mr. Smith, even 10 years out, I think of how we should have known. How we should have said something and gotten her out of that situation sooner. I wonder if anyone stood up for her when she was being called a slut in the hallways.

And now it’s, there’s a predator in my town. I know where his house is. What if I run into him? Would he say anything to me? Would I freeze up, run away, scream at him?


I’m not sure why I’m writing here. I don’t need comforting or to be told it’s not my fault. I...just wanted to tell someone. Thanks for listening.

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