A matter of trust: How one brave girl stopped a sexual predator

Joyce Pitts, Prevention Coordinator, Family Crisis Center of East Texas
Joyce Pitts, Prevention Coordinator, Family Crisis Center of East Texas

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - According to an independent research study released in March 2013, Texas leads the nation in the number of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.

Not soon after the study was released, a former Nacogdoches substitute teacher, Jamar Ballard, 29, would be arrested and accused of having sexual contact with at least three students. He would later plead guilty and be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Shortly after learning Ballard's punishment, one of his victims reached out to the East Texas News, wanting the opportunity to tell her story to stop this from happening to someone else.

We called her "Susan" to protect her identity.

"…I think he should not have only serve 15 years he should have to serve all 15 years, because someone like him should not be out on the streets with anybody's children," Susan said in an intimate interview.

The day I met "Susan" she seemed like a typical teenager, laughing, smiling, and full of energy; but once we sat down to talk about the day her trust was violated, it was almost like she became another person.

"Susan" said speaking up was not easy.

"I was bullied; there was a bunch of boys that called me names. A lot of my friends would ask [tell] me, 'Oh, you wanted to do it, you wanted to do it. You shouldn't have told on him, you should go drop the charges.' It was really hard the last part of the school year."

It's a disturbing trend happening far too often in Texas schools. Educators, who parents have entrusted with their child's education, accused of having inappropriate relationships with students. An ultimate betrayal of trust for parents and students.

So far this year alone, there have been 380 national reported cases of inappropriate teacher-student relationships at least 63 of those cases are in Texas alone.

Terry Abbott, a former chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education consults with school districts, he is also the author of the study. He called these types of relationships an epidemic, and said school districts need to do more to stop it.

Abbott explained, "We're on course for this year. We believe to average about two cases per day in this country and this is shameful and we've got to stop it." He adds, "Texas has according to the media reports so far this year nearly twice as many cases than in other states and so it's a substantial problem in Texas."

"Susan" wants it to stop too, and she took a brave step to make it happen. She explained what happened saying she told someone she trusted about what happened.

"He said, 'What's wrong?' I said, 'How can you make a sub not a sub anymore?' And he said, 'Why?' I said, 'Because something bad happened.' He said, 'What happened you can trust me?' Then I told him that Mr. Ballard made me have sex with him in the classroom, and he said, "I think you should go home."

Soon after she spoke up two more students would come forward telling authorities that Ballard took them off campus to his apartment where they had sexual contact.

Sitting in the chair across from me, twirling a piece of her ripped jeans "Susan" said, "If I start to think about what happened I just think how may kids' lives did I change, because one person is in jail and I just look at the kids around me saying it could have been one of them, but it wasn't because I spoke up."

The Texas Education Agency is tackling the issue head-on. In October, the TEA released a report admitting the number of investigations opened by TEA staff specifically on allegations of inappropriate relationships has increased. For the 2000-2010 school year Texas reported 141 cases. In 2012-2013, the number increased to 163.

Abbott said more frequently than we would like to admit teachers and other educators are starting private conversations with children on Facebook or by text message and it goes from there into an inappropriate sexual relationship.

"Susan" said Facebook was how Ballard reached out to her.

"He just talked back and forth for a while, and he would tell me which classes he would be subbing in."

Joyce Pitts is the Prevention Coordinator for the Family Crisis Center of East Texas. She works with several East Texas school districts for a preventing teen violence program. Pitts said that one aspect of the program focuses on making sure students understand boundaries.

"You don't friend them on Facebook or like what they're saying, or follow them on Twitter. You don't do that stuff, it's a boundary thing; you're a student, they're a teacher.  You cannot cross that line," said Pitts.

In their report the TEA stated that many school districts have adopted social media policies that clearly define appropriate uses for educators. But parents have a responsibility too.

"They [Parents]  definitely need to monitor what their kids are doing on social media and with text messaging," said Abbott. "In a number of these cases parents have been the one who found text messages between the teacher and student and Facebook messages."

But in the meantime, there is always fear. "I am afraid there will be another person like him hired," Susan explained.

Pitts adds, "You do entrust the school district with some sort of honest trust, they are supposed to be reliable, but when something like this happens, you just have to rebuild that trust with the school district, that's basically all you can do at this point."

Abbott goes on to say, "Districts would be very well advised to take concrete steps to ban educators from having private text messages with students," he stresses, "there is no reason for that, they need to stop teachers from friending their students on Facebook, that's where so many of these problems start."

In my interview with "Susan" she made it very clear that her decision to talk about what happened was for the purpose of helping other girls or victims who may be holding themselves hostage because of the actions of a sexual predator.

"No matter what you know the truth, and if no one believes you, you know in your heart it's true; and you should come forward and tell someone that you trust, and they will help you through and they will get you the help that you need."

It's a matter of trust from a young girl who had the courage to speak up.

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