People.com needs to do better
Recently People.com ran a brief article on Mary Kay Letourneau, who died at the age of 58 in 2020 from cancer. Unlike much of media coverage, People.com used the correct words to describe Mary Kay and her crimes. The article's subtitle describes her as "the former teacher [that] spent 7 years in prison for raping a 12 year old student who she later married". Thankfully, there is none of the all too commonly used media euphemisms about her having a "sexual relationship with her student" or an "affair".
So, Praise to People.com and author Steve Helling for getting this right! It is good to see accurate terms used in media coverage instead of terms that minimize or justify the sexual abuse of children. And yet...
People.com's source - described as a "legal source" that has been close to Mary Kay for over two decades - states that before Mary Kay died she wrote "nearly 30 letters to family [and] friends".
So what did Mary Kay write about in these letters? The source confides ""[Mary Kay] had a lot of wrongs to right,...She had a lot of things to say. She made a lot of mistakes in her 58 years — not just the big one everyone knows about — and she wanted everyone to know that she was sorry for the mistakes she made."
And here is one problem that People.com should rectify: The sexual abuse of a child, the betrayal of trust and multiple rapes of a student is NEVER a mistake.
Spilling your coffee mug on someone accidentally is a mistake. Hitting "Reply All" when you meant to reply to one person is a mistake. Buying non-fat milk when you meant to purchase 2% is a mistake.
But, choosing a victim, gaining their trust, betraying their trust, sexually abusing a boy and getting pregnant from those rapes twice before he is15 is not a mistake. Like every other sexual abuser, Mary Kay planned her actions, and made choices - many many choices, to betray and violate her victim. She groomed her student, a 6th grader, a preteen, and manipulated and violated him for years - all intentional - never mistakes.
Now for another problem with People.com publishing this source's opinions: the source claims, "I don't know if [Fualuaa] received a note, but I do know that [Mary Kay] made things right with him as best as she could...She loved him until the end."
So, here is a source that is saying that Mary Kay "loved [Fualaau] until the end".
Did she though?
There was grooming, betrayal, abuse, multiple rapes: nothing in any of those choices or behaviors is loving. Nothing. Mary Kay's relationship with Fualaau was predatory. It then stayed predatory. At no point did her preying upon this boy become her loving this boy or the man he became.
Whatever she felt for him was not love. And it should never be confused with love. What does this idea teach potential victims and survivors about their abuse? It teaches that abuse is compatible with love. It teaches that abuse is love.
I have heard sexual abusers of children, predators I knew well and loved, claim that they loved their victims(s). That their behaviors (abuses) were acts of love. This is a common cognitive distortion that predators use to justify their abuse. One abuser I know claimed that he was not really a child molester, because compared to other abusers, he really loved his victim. In their thinking their "love" somehow mitigates their abuse. Their "love" somehow magically makes it not really abuse at all.
To sum up, thank you People.com and Steve Helling, for using the correct language of sexual abuse and rape. It is important we get this right. Something as simple as using the correct language will help make the vulnerable safer, and survivors feel supported. It will let readers know the weighty reality of abuse and the impact it has.
Yet, it is also important that we stop spreading harmful nonsense that agrees with the lies predators tell themselves to rationalize, justify, and excuse sexual abuse and rape. We need to recognize the distorted thinking of abusers and refuse to engage or agree with their warped views of abuse. People.com, going forward, you need to do better.
Abuse is never a mistake.
Abuse and love are not compatible.