School Spanking Questioned as Educators Indulge Fetishes, Create Child Porn on Public School Campuses
An Ohio kindergarten teacher who recorded nude students is only the latest.
By M Dolon Hickmon
March 9, 2015 – the Associated Press reports that prosecutors in Ashland County, Ohio have charged kindergarten teacher Elliot Gornall, 32, with recording dozens of young children in various states of undress, using a miniature spy camera hung in the bathroom at the elementary school where he worked. Gornell, who resigned his teaching post late last year amid charges of felony drug possession, now faces 23 counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and additional counts of attempting the same. Gornell has also been charged with misdemeanors related to stolen children’s underwear found in his home during a search linked to the earlier drug charges.
When it comes to school employees exploiting students on school property, Gornell is merely the latest.
In 2014, television station WQAD reported that guilty pleas had been entered by Ian Dishon Isabel, 29, charged with placing cameras disguised as electrical junction boxes in the stalls of multiple girls’ restrooms around Hayes Elementary School, where he headed an after-school program. And in 2013, former elementary school teacher Kimberly Ann Crain confessed to having taken up-skirt pictures of her third-grade students using a camera concealed under a table in her classroom. Crain’s students were also videotaped naked, while changing clothes in an off-campus bathroom. The images were later sent to Crain’s online boyfriend.
Other on-campus sex crimes have been even more brazen. In 2013, former Los Angeles school district teacher Mark Berndt, then 62, pleaded no contest to 23 felony counts related to sexual fetish images he’d created in his elementary school classroom – images that included pictures of blindfolded 6 to 10 year old boys and girls with semen-filled spoons held at their lips and 3-inch cockroaches crawling on their faces. Following discovery of the images, students confirmed that they’d been tricked into consuming liquid from a spoon, during so-called “tasting games”. A spoon recovered from the classroom trashcan tested positive for Mark Berndt’s semen. Following his arrest, a search of Berndt’s home led to the discovery of more than 100 similar photos as well as adult pornography that “mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children”, according to police.
One of Berndt’s former students, who is now an adult, alleged that she’d told a school counselor decades earlier that Berndt kept a jar of Vaseline in his desk and that she’d seen him moving his hands suspiciously in his lap while ogling his students. Despite these and other unsavory complaints, Berndt maintained his job as an elementary school teacher for thirty years. After pleading no contest, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Mark Berndt reenacted his BDSM fantasies during what his victims believed to be light-hearted games, but in other cases adults sexually aroused by spanking children gained access to victims by taking on the role of school disciplinarian in districts where corporal punishment is still allowed.
In 2014, school teacher and church deacon Alan Morris, 64, was imprisoned for nearly a decade over charges that he stripped, beat and indecently assaulted numerous children under the pretext of administering school spankings. As in Mark Berndt’s case, police found adult pornography and web searches related to Reverend Morris’s sadistic fantasies during a search of the educator’s home.
One of Morris’s victims was Scott Morgan, who waived his right to anonymity in order to share details of his tragic abuse with the public: “[Reverend Morris] was getting a kick out of it. The longer he could drag it out the better. That’s how he spent his lunch-times”.
In another case, an international child pornography ring unraveled when video of 42-year-old David Lynn Patterson brutally whipping four naked children was discovered in the home of assistant school principal David Wadsworth. Ultimately, eight men and one woman were arrested for trading videos of children as young as 4 being beaten with whips and paddles. Among the accused was Gordon Murray, an elementary school teacher from Brewton, Alabama – a district where paddling of children by school employees is still allowed, according to the 2014-2015 Student Conduct Manual.
Recent research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine indicates that more than 40% of men report having fantasies that involve spanking or whipping someone “to obtain sexual pleasure”. And while the same study suggests that only a minute fraction would desire such activities with children, the fact that some people do is not news to law enforcement or state legislatures.
“It wrenches your heart,” said Michael Heimbach, who was chief of the FBI’s Crimes Against Children Unit at the time of the Patterson investigation. “All the children’s issues do, but when you see children being beaten on videos and their genitalia are being filmed, it’s very, very disturbing.”
Sexual spanking – also known as sadomasochistic abuse or erotic flagellation – is included in many state’s child pornography, sexual abuse, or obscenity statutes; but because of the difficulty in distinguishing an adult’s sexual motive from ordinary disciplinary spanking, even victims may be unaware that they are being used as a sex offender’s plaything. Consequently, such abuses can go unrecognized for decades. When cases do come to light, it is often because the abuser voluntarily shared his or her fetish with someone else – many times by trading images or videos of illegal activities.
That was the case with Robin Pagoria, a former Polk County Florida Sheriff’s Deputy, now serving a lengthy prison term for sending her online boyfriend videos of herself handcuffing naked children to a modified table and lashing them with a paddle. Pagoria had initially described the whippings – which left the children with substantial injuries – as overzealous attempts at discipline. Without the videos, her true motive might never have been discovered.
Robin Pagoria was not an educator; but the fact that those who desire such activities have been drawn to the teaching professions has been noted by historians and others: “In many cases, the avowed disciplinary value of flagellation in schools and colleges was a mere pretense to enable sadists to secure sexual titillation,” wrote historian, sociologist, and anthropologist George Ryley Scott, in his 1974 volume, The History of Corporal Punishment.
George Bernard Shaw suggested something similar in his 1914 Treatise on Children and Parents. On the practice of educators whipping children for disobedience, Shaw wrote: “other punishments were always available: the choice of this one betrayed the sensual impulse which makes the practice an abomination.”
Educators humiliating children for sexual gratification is nothing new; but the sudden proliferation of miniaturized cameras has introduced a new wrinkle to this very old crime. Parents must now contend not only with the possibility of their child being overtly sexually victimized while at school, but also with the risk that images of their child using the toilet, being spanked in a principal’s office, or engaged in any number of other possibly fetishized behaviors will make their way into the dark sexual underworlds of the Internet.
That could have been the fate of dozens of boys wronged at their school by Robert Burke, an Iowa elementary school principal who secretly recorded boys, aged 5 to 11, using the bathroom. Burke was arrested at his Dubuque home after an FBI agent linked his computer to child pornography images being shared on the internet. Burke quickly confessed to having surreptitiously recorded male pupils urinating. Forensic examination of Burke’s computer uncovered videos of 59 students’ genitals, saved in files titled with the child’s first name and last initial. Also recovered were logs of online chats. In one, Burke told another person that he had videos of “boys peeing at urinals.” Later, he offered, “Let me know if you’re interested”.
Burke was caught and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but if it hadn’t been for his illegal Internet activities, the bathroom recordings might have continued for who-knows-how-long.
Tom Johnson, a past board member of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, has been calling attention to sexual abuse disguised as disciplinary spanking for more than a decade. “If parents were to really educate themselves about this, it’s hard to imagine they would ever let school employees paddle their child,” he says.
“There is no reliable way to screen for sexual fetishists, or to tell what’s going on in the mind of the adult who gives or witnesses a paddling. There’s all the more reason for caution in a school setting, given that sexual predators are known to gravitate toward jobs that work to their advantage. We’ve seen many predators convicted for sexually assaulting children under the banner of school discipline, and without exception the perpetrators were esteemed, if not beloved, figures of authority – known and trusted by the community. Unfortunately, the sexual motive comes to light after the fact, which means there are usually multiple victims. Sometimes hundreds.
“When you consider that predators can now produce child pornography unbeknownst to their victims and then share those images with other fetishists over the Internet, it has all the makings of a parent’s worst nightmare.”
A growing list of new and historical cases of sexual spanking by parents and others is maintained at http://fiftyshadesofchildabuse.org