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Mary's Story

How S.E.S.A.M.E. Help Me Find Justice and Healing

In 1974, I was sexually abused for six months by a teacher in high school.

It took me 35 years to unearth the buried memories of what had happened and unleash the pent up feelings created by this abuse and finally to heal myself of PTSD engendered by that abuse. I spent many years seeking healing and wishing for some form of justice for the abuser. In the end, I found both, and Terri Miller and S.E.S.A.M.E. were instrumental in my success.

I first contacted SESAME and communicated with Terri in 2014 after I received a letter from the abusive teacher. It was what I had expected in a letter from this person, and it interfered with the healing I had accomplished to that time. However, it had an unexpected benefit later, with the help of SESAME.

I found SESAME during a GOOGLE search for “teacher sex abuse”, looking for how I could take action because the individual still had California State teaching credentials. My thought at the time was to see if I could file civil charges against him. SESAME seemed to be the only organization specializing in assistance for victims of this not-uncommon crime.

I certainly had a difficult time trying to find any meaningful help for my mental distress or my legal options. Terri told me it was possible to file a complaint with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC). She also suggested I talk to an attorney beforehand and offered to help me locate someone who could do a free phone consultation. Terri then sent me the names of three or four attorneys, and I soon spoke to one of them for about an hour.

The attorney told me a civil suit was unlikely to succeed for various reasons, but she didn’t see any problem with filing a complaint, especially since I had a confessional letter from the teacher: A letter which stated at one point “it never occurred to me that what I was doing with you was wrong” or that it would cause me any harm.

I immediately filed a complaint with CCTC.

The process took about a year, and I struggled frequently with attacks of rage and other PTSD symptoms. It was not fun. But CCTC did open an investigation and asked me for further documentation, which I had in the form of journal I kept at the time of the abuse as well as corroborating statements of support from others who had been present at the time.

About a year after filing the complaint, the CCTC held a hearing. I was not invited, but the teacher was voluntarily present and testified. The Commission voted to revoke his credentials. This was a tremendous relief, but I soon found out he had appealed. The case then went to the California State Attorney General’s Office to department dealing with the backlog of teacher misconduct cases.

Because my case was for a serious offense of repeated sexual contact and the man had both regular credentials and special ED credentials, the case was given priority. It also helped that the department had new funding and more staff. It took about a year before the Deputy Attorney General was able to schedule a hearing date before an administrative judge for December, 2016. The teacher had an attorney specializing in these kinds of cases. I had the CA DA’s office behind me and no funds for my own lawyer.

While I was completely willing and ready to meet this teacher and his lawyer before a judge and tell my experience, the DA worked out a settlement before the court date and it was cancelled.

The teacher self-revoked all of his credentials, and the DA made him sign an agreement never to reapply in California.

This conclusion has had a profound effect on helping me heal from PTSD. The teacher who injured me and 35 years later described what he did as a “growing experience” could no longer work in schools in California, and if he injured others, they may find some relief if they ever look up his credentials. I know I would have when I searched him years ago in the CCTC teacher look-up.

I am extremely grateful to Terri for her help and for the existence of SESAME as a support organization for anyone who has been sexually abused by a teacher. I don’t know if I could have done this without the assistance I received from SESAME and Terri. I do know if I had tried, it would have been immeasurably harder.