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A scandal at the San Marcos ballet school

A scandal at the San Marcos ballet school

| On 01, Jan 2013

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The ballet instructor behaved badly, posting raunchy Craigslist ads for hookups at the studio. But everyone involved seems to agree no children were ever in any sort of danger.

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by BILL PETERSON

“If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.”

The standards for discourse certainly have not improved since Voltaire pleaded that some mutually accepted definitions of terms would conduct useful discussions about a shared reality. Today, much political thought gels into two competing descriptions of reality that tell their stories using the very same terms — it’s just that no two sides seem to define any term in the same way.

SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO

SHUTTERSTOCK PHOTO

Nowhere are the manifest confusions knottier than in matters of homosexuality, pedophilia and child sexual abuse. It’s long been a strategy of the cultural right to tie all of those together. It’s long been a strategy of the cultural left to keep them untied. Whoever wins this war of words, apparently, wins one front on the matter of civil rights for gays.

Sadly, high profile events in the news have encouraged the conflation of homosexuality and child sex abuse. Nothing leaves an imprint on the mind like deep cultural and moral shock, such as allegation after allegation of man-on-boy sexual abuses within the Catholic church, followed by the incredible story of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and, more recently, allegations of widespread sexual abuse of Boy Scouts by their male elders.

The confusion comes to mind because it not long ago appeared locally, springing from the docket of the 428th District Court, in a contentious matter of two partners running a dance studio on the San Marcos square.

On July 17, Caitlyn Kelly filed to dissolve Duncan and Kelly LLC, which owns the Central Texas Ballet Conservatory at Hopkins and Guadalupe. Kelly accused her business partner, William Keith Duncan, of numerous acts against the partnership and the business, among which included a failure to appear for classes he was to teach, the diversion of company assets for his personal enjoyment and his refusal to pull his weight in running the business.

But the most stunning allegation involved Duncan soliciting sex in crude terms, from an adult Texas State student who trained at the conservatory. The suit included an appendix of exhibits meant to show the extent of Duncan’s gay activities, including using Craigslist to try and hook up with sexual partners at the studio and an explicit outburst during a Facebook instant message conversation between Duncan and the adult student.

However, at no time does the suit allege any kind of child sexual abuse occurring with Duncan inside or outside of the studio. The idea that Duncan might be a threat to children in any way is nowhere contemplated in the law suit. That’s in the court of law.

In the court of public opinion, it came out a little differently. Two days after the suit was filed, out came a press release on behalf of the studio announcing that Duncan was out and, further, that Kelly obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting Duncan from accessing the studio. Later in the release, Kelly’s attorney, David Sergi, went to pains explaining that no inappropriate activity at the studio involved minors.

Stands to reason that it would come up. A good number of studio students are minors, so when word gets out about a student-teacher relationship, it’s fair to wonder if minors were involved. Sergi said there was no indication of minors being involved.

But a lot of sensitivities are at play here, and the road is not smooth. A couple of days later, the Austin American-Statesman worked up the press release, made a few more calls and reported on the problems at the conservatory. In the story, Sergi told the Statesman that a San Marcos detective had told parents that an investigation showed no minors to be inappropriately involved with Duncan. A San Marcos detective told the Statesman that there was no active investigation related to Duncan’s termination from the studio.

So, there we have it. Apparently, there was never any real suspicion of child sex abuse. The cops took a look and found nothing to verify or promote such suspicion. The cops said that they have investigated, found nothing, and are done investigating. One thing we don’t have to worry about here is child sexual abuse.

The Statesman story notes no such concerns by parents, but it does say, by Sergi’s account, that parents were, at first, upset about Duncan’s dismissal because he was such a beloved teacher. Of course, Sergi continued, the studio can’t have such relationships between teachers and students.

Then, curiously, Sergi is quoted saying this:

“We had to advise them, bearing in mind what happened with Sandusky, we had to protect the kids and make sure nothing else happened. And by all accounts, nothing else has happened.”

Did we just hear a switch? Suddenly, and after all the assertions from hostile parties that Duncan was not involved with minors, the suggestion is that by removing the gay teacher who hooked up with an adult male student, the studio was somehow protecting “the kids.”

The case was settled in October without a trial. Sergi said he could not comment on any aspect of the case, per an agreement between the parties, beyond a statement released by Duncan as part of the settlement.

“While teaching at CTBC, a friendship developed between myself and an adult male student. We met on several occasions socially with mutual friends. I want to stress that at no time did this friendship ever become sexually physical in nature. My treatment of him during business hours was that of a student. However, the lines between student/teacher and friends became blurred…. I apologize to him for crossing the line,” Duncan said in the statement, also apologizing to Kelly for using the ballet studio for after-hours “folly.”

Then he said this: “I have never touched a student — adult or child — in an inappropriate manner. The very thought of it sickens me. I am a survivor of molestation, acutely aware of the agony, terror and destruction it leaves in its wake.”

Perhaps Sergi doesn’t really believe that the gay man in his midst is likely to be a child sex abuser. But if he doesn’t believe that, then “bearing in mind what happened with Sandusky” wasn’t his most constructive move here, because what happened with Sandusky bears absolutely no relationship with what happened at the studio. Sergi may not have intended gay bashing, but gratuitously raising Sandusky’s name certainly has that effect. The lawsuit never asserted child molestation, and the police found none in their investigation. It was an adult teacher and an adult student. Nothing else. Until Sergi mentioned Sandusky.

It’s that old trope again about homosexuality and child sexual abuse. It just doesn’t go away and whoever falls for it, however temporarily or unintentionally, is making a mistake. Because Sergi said so many times in so many ways throughout the press release and the Statesman story that there was no involvement with minors, we know that he knows that there was no involvement with minors. For some reason, though, he’s bearing in mind what happened with Sandusky.

That’s the power of these stories, the stories like Sandusky, the Catholic church or the Boy Scouts. They encroach upon us and paint a certain picture of the world, quite a wretched picture. They would have us believe that children are constantly under siege, which is why any enterprise involving children now mandates comprehensive risk management. The picture is so vivid and powerful that it must be real.

And it is. But it is incomplete. Viewed against the big picture, the totality of events, these pictures recede beneath the larger and more common patterns of regularity, which explains why these pictures enter the news in the first place. It is because they are unusual, because they stand out. It is precisely because these stories are novel, because they depart from the status quo, because they are so disgusting, that they engage us to a gut level of anguish.

And once that’s got us, it keeps us, the larger and less visible facts be damned. A single story about a single man of a venerable institution abusing dozens of boys is a thousand times more resonant than a thousand humdrum stories about step fathers in ordinary homes abusing stepdaughters, which is the much more frequent scenario for child sexual abuse.

It’s worth noting that in each of these cases — the football coach, the church and the scouts — the problem did not arise because gays were extended their full civil rights and then leveraged those rights to track down young boys.

The problem isn’t that gays were extended full civil rights, nor would extending full civil rights to gays create the problem. Almost none of these people — Sandusky, the priests or the scout leaders — would have considered themselves gay. The problem is that, for decades, adult males of every imaginable sexual orientation have failed boys under their watch, systematically covering up for child sex abusers in all these settings that are so heavily populated by boys. The problem lies not in the sexual proclivities of gay men, but in the self-deceptive proclivities of these institutions, all of which were once trusted, if not sacred.

The actual number of gay men involved in child sexual abuses is unknown, and probably unknowable.

The anti-gay Family Research Council says 90 percent of sexual abusers are men, which is pretty well in agreement with the other literature. Next, the FRC finds that one-third of child sexual abuse crimes are committed against boys, a number it bases on a study of 457 male sex offenders published in an academic journal in 1984.

More detailed studies from the 21st century indicate that 78 to 89 percent of child sexual abuse victims are girls, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. So, as few as 11 percent of these victims could be boys, and the true prevalence probably is 15-20 percent. But we’ll go with 33 percent, anyway. The next step in the FRC argument is to point out that only one to three percent of the population is gay. Seems low, but let’s grant it and pick two percent.

Let’s do the arithmetic. Start with a 2010 U.S. Census population of 314 million, then subtract the 24 percent that the bureau says is younger than 18. Now, our adult population is 239 million. Men are 49 percent of that population, 117 million. Say two percent of the men are gay. Now, we have 2.35 million adult gay men in the United States.

We’ve conceded a low number of gay men, we’ve conceded a high proportion of sexual assaults against boys and now we’re bringing in a high number of child sexual abuse cases. One group opposing child sexual abuse, Stop It Now!, says only about one-seventh of such cases are reported and estimates that the real annual number is somewhere between 250,000 and 650,000. Let’s pick 500,000, a high number that’s easy to work with.

The FRC would stop about here and want us to conclude something like this: As about one-third of child sex abuses must be male-on-male, and male-on-male sex is homosexual, and only two percent of the population is homosexual, it follows that about one-third of sexual abuses are committed by two percent of the population. Therefore, gay men are more likely than straight men to be child sex abusers.

Maybe, and maybe not, but to what does that claim really amount?

Let’s take our large estimate of cases, 500,000 in all, counting all the reported and unreported instances in a year. Now, the FRC doesn’t mention this at all, but it is important: According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, one third of sex abuse perpetrators are juveniles. So, now our number of adult sex abusers is down to 333,335. And, since we’ve granted, with FRC and others, that one third of these crimes are committed against boys, we have 111,112 sexual abuses committed by adults against boys. Fourteen percent of the perpetrators against boys are women, according to the NCVC, so we end up with a raw estimate of 95,556 sex abuses by adult men against boys in a year.

Against our backdrop of 2.35 million gay men in America, that comes to a robust four percent who are involved in a child sexual abuse. That’s as strong as we can make that connection. We’ve used the FRC’s fractions and its argument. It’s a long way short of establishing that any gay man is likely to be a child sexual predator.

And we haven’t even begun to whack away at the flaws in this strongest possible argument for linking gays with child sexual abuse. Plugging in gay-friendly numbers, we can bring it down to well less than one-tenth of one percent. For example, the real number of annual reported cases isn’t 500,000, but more like 75,000. In that case, the raw number of gays accused in child cases, using FRC math, would come down to about 14,000, and the fraction of gays accused in man-on-boy cases comes down to 0.6 percent — less than one percent, one out of almost every 200. It’s true, by the same math, that the percentage of straight men accused in child sex cases is less than 0.003 percent. All that means is that if you stand a gay man next to a straight man, the gay man is more likely to be a child sex abuser. However, that likelihood, either way, is miniscule. And it remains that for any reported child sex abuse case we were to draw at random, the perpetrator is more than twice as likely to be a straight male.

We should point out, also, that the FRC characterization that 33 percent of the child sex abuses are committed by two percent of the population is messy and hostile to gays in the extreme. The banality of that argument comes to light when we consider this implication: if 33 percent of the child sex crimes are committed by the gay two percent of the population, then that means that 67 percent of those crimes are committed by the straight 98 percent of the population. Does it seem plausible that the straight 98 percent of the American people are committing sex crimes against children? If so, then we need to restrict certain civil rights for straight people because they are a menace to the children. Of course, it’s not plausible, and everyone knows it.

More to the point, the FRC conclusion amounts to very poor intellectual work, for it isn’t two percent of the population that is committing 33 percent of child sex crimes, but four percent (at most) of that two percent, or 0.0008 percent of all the people in the country.

The FRC wants to frame it so that all gays are responsible for the sex crimes of a few, so they say two percent of the people committed these crimes, when it’s really 0.0008 percent. If we put the number of sex abusers at 75,000 per year against a population of 314 million, that means 100 percent of the child sex crimes in America are committed by less than one quarter of one tenth of one percent. All child sex offenses, it turns out, are committed by child sex offenders.

The American people have steadily adjusted their views about homosexuals in the last 35 years, and that change will continue in the same direction as a demographic that opposes gay rights dies off. Taking center stage in American life is a younger demographic that includes gay friends and acquaintances, so these younger Americans take gay rights personally, whether they’re gay or not.

Asked if homosexuals should be hired as elementary school teachers, only 27 percent answered affirmatively in a 1977 Gallup poll. In a 2005 Gallup poll, that number had risen to 54 percent. Times are changing, and the American people are changing with them.


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A version of this article was published in the Winter 2012-13 edition of Bobcat Magazine, a publication of the San Marcos Mercury.

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