By Bummi Sofola
MIXED secondary schools have always been fertile grounds for predators masquerading as teachers to rake in their victims. Gullible, fresh-faced teenagers eager to practise out all they’ve read and watched on the internet on ‘love’ and porn. Jisola joined the drama class at the posh secondary school she attended. It was her last year at school and according to her: “Most of the girls, if not all, had a crush on Mr. Phillips, the drama teacher. Tall, slim and handsome, he was nothing like other teachers at our school.
“Then came the day my parents couldn’t send the car and I was asked to take a taxi. On my way to the taxi rank, he pulled along side me and asked where I was going. I told him and he offered me a lift, giving me one of his disarming smiles. Parents warned their kids not to take lifts from strangers, not knowing quite a few predators are well known to the victims. I was flattered when I got into his car, wishing the girls who were watching would feel so jealous.
“I was pleasantly surprised when he took me all the way to our house, then he leant over and kissed me. A kiss, which to a naive, self-conscious teenager felt so special. But which I now see marked the start of a destructive relationship which exploited my girlish naivecy—and then tore it from me, leaving me depressed and deeply disillusioned with men. But back then, I thought he was falling in love with me. And in my childish imaginings, I fantasised that one day” we would be together, even though he was married with a young daughter.
“What I didn’t realise was that this monster was ‘grooming’ me for sex. I was so naive I fooled myself I was so special to merit his love. Even my parents were taken in. He came in to introduce himself and offer his ‘services’ whenever they couldn’t pick me up from school. They thought he was my mentor, the one responsible for my passion and flair for drama. But in fact, he stole my innocence by worming his way into my affection. A good-looking teacher can take on almost celebrity-like status, the first time Mr. Phillips complimented me, telling me I had a cute… I was so ridiculously flattered rather than wary. It made me feel up. It drew me to him.
“His other master stroke was to win the trust of my parents, befriending father through a shared love of football. That’s why my parents didn’t mind his offer of lifts. I literally walked into his web without any resistance. The day after our first kiss, he drew me aside in class. ‘You’re aware I’m married, right?’ he asked. I nodded glumly. But he was quick to reassure me. ‘This is still like a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship to me,’ he said. Words which were music to the ears of an impressionable teenager.
“From then on, we started sharing secret little looks in class and found to brush past each other. Whenever my parents’ work schedule meant they were unable to collect me after rehearsals, Mr. Phillips would drop me off. Over the next month or so, he drove me home two or three times, and we’d kiss each other good night. This graduated to me staying late on Wednesdays under the guise of a longer drama class, telling my parents that I’d take a taxi home when in fact, we were together. We’d meet in a nearby car park and he’d drive us to a secluded end of the park so we could spend half an hour together, talking, kissing and fondling. And the fact that all this had to be kept secret only seemed to heighten its importance.
“He’d often say: ‘You do understand how much trouble you’d be if this came out don’t you?’ His tone, always light and conversational, never threatening. ‘And I’d be in trouble as well because I’m your teacher, but I just can’t help my feelings for you.’ Over time, our fumblings became more sexual. I preferred it when he was kissing me and whispering wonderful romantic things, but when he took things a step further and climbed on top of me in his car, I cringed. It wasn’t how I’d expected to lose my virginity. Would I get pregnant?
“When it was over, there were no cuddles or endearments. Confusingly, he was more concerned with dealing with the soiled seat of the car than me. The next day, I felt a bit confused, yet proud. Now I was a proper woman and we’ll soon be together. But the opposite happened after we’d made love again a few times. Days later, I learnt he’d left the school after resigning his appointment without telling me. And he made no attempt to contact me. One month turned into another. Still no word. I was distraught, confiding only in my best friend who tried to console me but didn’t really know how.
“Over the next few months, as I heard nothing from him, I became really heartbroken. My grades suffered and when the head teacher asked what was wrong, I claimed simply to be tired. And I tried to put it behind me, reassuring myself that at least I’d lost my virginity,to a man I loved. I tried my best to put what happened behind me but it was hard. I was in the university when my parents gave me a lavish party for my 21st birthday. I was shocked as I entered the small hall they hired for the party to see Mr. Phillips wearing a dark native shirt.
“I stood shell-shocked. For the first time, I saw a man so much older than me. He’d started to grey and his hairline had receded. My parents had invited him, not guessing the type of monster he was. As he stood there, looking utterly at home among my family and friends, on this birthday that marked my transition into adulthood, a totally unexpected emotion rose up inside me: hate. I’d been a child, he’d been an adult. What we shared was not love. I ignored him at the party.
“The next day, my parents were concerned about how badly I treated him. Without meaning to, I blurted that he ‘d taken advantage of me sexually. They were stunned. They tracked him down to the school he was and reported him to the principal who advised we took things up with the Ministry of Education. The pathetic idiot that he was; he tried to deny everything until I showed them some of his letters I was foolish to keep. Five years after the event, they were a life-saver! “It later came out there were other complaints against him and he was dismissed. I felt a slight satisfaction—that in confronting Mr. Phillips, I had managed to protect other girls…. “