Child psychologist raises awareness about red flags in adult, student relationships

In most cases, children who are sexually abused in general know their abuser

SAN ANTONIO – A local child psychologist is raising awareness about the red flags both students and parents can watch regarding inappropriate relationships between children and adults. More specifically, between students and teachers.

Just recently, a former Comal ISD teacher was arrested for allegations of having sex with a 15-year-old student going to the same school she taught at.

Two weeks prior to her arrest, a Cibolo-based youth soccer coach was arrested for allegations of sexually abusing two minors for several years.

Anne Esquivel, founder and owner of Mind Works, said there is no such thing as a consensual relationship in this kind of scenario.

“There may be instances where a student may think it is consensual, but a child cannot consent to those types of activities,” Esquivel said. “Not until they hit 17-18 years old.”

She said in these scenarios, which are rare, the adult/child dynamic plays a role.

“It is a power differential,” she said. “It is an abuse of authority and an abuse of their position.”

Esquivel said the long-term effects depend on each child and each case.

“What are the circumstances around this kind of situation,” Esquivel said. “Was it one time or multiple times? How long was it going on? It depends on the relationship they had with this person, and the duration of the relationship/abuse.”

Esquivel said oftentimes, grooming does occur.

“That is starting a preferential relationship with that student,” she said. “Keeping them after class. ‘Everybody is gone. Come in for lunch. Come in for your advisory period.’ Maybe there is not other students around at that time. They make it look like an amicable relationship, like a kind of favoritism.”

That favoritism in some instances can mean a lot to children.

“This makes a student feel good,” she said. “They feel noticed in a school of 2,000-3,000 kids. They think, ‘This teacher sees something special in me.’ They are going to have a sense of identification. However, on the other side of that, the teacher is wanting to create that feeling of specialness in a child so they can perpetuate that relationship.”

Esquivel said that the grooming process can turn physical.

“It could be that lingering touch on a student’s shoulder or touching a student’s hair in an inappropriate way,” Esquivel said. “Most of the time, kids get that gut feeling that something is not right. I would tell them to trust that feeling because it is there for a reason.”

Other red flags could escalate during that favoritism also.

“Maybe they are giving the student money or a special cellphone to keep contact without the parents knowing about the contact they are making,” Esquivel said. “Staying after school and coming home late continuously.”

Esquivel says if a student believes the relationship is ‘consensual,’ it could have a major impact on them mentally.

“Depression, developing eating disorders, guilt, anxiety, self-blame,” she said.

She said if sexual assault is in the picture, it can have a slew of other effects with trust being a major issue.

“If you have young children and a 30 to 40-year-old man causing the assault, they are going to have a hard time trusting people period long term,” she said. “They think, ‘Who is someone I can trust?’ We always tell children if something is wrong, to go tell an adult when you are fearful about something so now, the child is trying to figure out who is it in this world that is trustworthy.”

The response to the child’s complaint has a big role to play as well.

“How do their parents or friends respond,” she said. “If we have a family that is shunning a child or tells them, ‘What did you do to cause this,’ that is going to have a completely different outcome than a family who is like, ‘Oh no! I am jumping in and will take care of this and will address this.”

She said the breakdown of physical red flags differs between age groups.

“A kindergartner is going to have a different reaction than what a middle schooler or high schooler will have,” Esquivel said. “For small children, they may experience irritability at home. They may not want to go to school because they don’t want to see a specific teacher. Their anxiety level may be higher. I don’t want parents to be alarmed every time their kids don’t want to go to school because there are several reasons. In these cases, it’s for a reason worth investigating. If they are older kids, are they skipping sports practice because they don’t want to be near a certain coach, or are they skipping classes where there is someone that is making them feel uncomfortable?”

No matter what, Esquivel encourages children to never be afraid to speak up and for parents to always support them.

“That is not the kid’s job to go and tell the teacher, ‘When you touch me, I feel uncomfortable.’ That is mom and dad’s job to intervene and advocate for their children,” she said. “Teaching their children about touch. What is appropriate, what is not. Teaching children to advocate for themselves. Teaching them they can always come to mom and dad if there is anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. ‘Come to us and we will handle it.’”

She said if parents feel their children have been abused in any kind of way to speak with the school counselor, administration personnel or the police.

About the Author:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.