Understanding the Power in Jordan Powers' 'Relationship'

What will probably happen in this relationship is what happens in most others like them: Powers will try to end it when she realizes it isn't about love at all. It's about power and control.
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If just one of the students who knew about 41-year-old James Hooker's relationship with a female student had come forward, the couple would not be living together now.

Hooker is the disgraced teacher who's making the rounds on all the morning news shows with his lover, claiming he's done nothing wrong by moving in with Jordan Powers -- who's 18 and just happens to be one of Hooker's former students.

But experts who study these inappropriate relationships say Hooker's attempts to justify his actions -- actions which are at the center of a police investigation in Modesto, Calif., after he quit his job as a business and computer teacher and left his family last week so he could move in with Powers -- is classic textbook behavior for child molesters.

"One of the most important things in his life... is to convince himself that he really is somebody who cares about children, and doesn't hurt them," Ken Lanning, a retired FBI profiler, said. Lanning has investigated thousands of child sex abuse cases and is considered one of the foremost criminal experts on this subject.

Lanning isn't alone. Psychologists who treat abused children and adults who once believed they loved their abuser, but who later realize such childhood experiences weren't mutually consensual, agree.

"They (abusers) rationalize that what they're doing is really to help the child. But unfortunately there's a huge negative impact and the victims end up believing them," Dr. Robert Geffner, founding president of the Family and Sexual Assault Institute, said.

What also happens in these cases is the adult perpetrator convinces himself "that she came on to me," Geffner added. He says this idea is "absurd to the rational mind."

Instead, what really happens is this: A child from a dysfunctional home or one with an absent parent seeks out an adult who will fill an emotional void.

"It's not unusual to have crushes (or to think you're in love), especially inexperienced girls or boys," Geffner said. What's really happening, though, is the child is seeking an "external replacement" for a parent, he added.

It's not uncommon for children to develop crushes on an adult authority figure, especially teachers. Perhaps that's what Powers' friends thought was happening, since earlier reports indicate students at Enochs High School knew about the couple's inappropriate relationship.

Police are looking into that since Powers was then a minor, but experts say something else is crucial to minimizing the harm done in such relationships. "Usually someone else knows. Don't keep it a secret," Geffner said.

The secret's out now: Hooker freely admits this relationship developed through spending time together during and after school, as well as through phone calls and text messages.

Because of that, Lanning says cases like these -- where the victim is complicit and willingly goes along with the adult abuser, even seeming to enjoy it -- are among the most difficult for people to understand.

"Hardly anybody understands it," Lanning said, adding that people can't seem to grasp that it's abuse whether a child enjoys the attention or not, and even when a child willingly returns to the abuser, for more abuse, again and again.

"Does it mean the child wasn't molested? Absolutely not," Lanning added. "Similar dynamics take place in these cases and they're dynamics that hardly anybody understands, including, in some cases, investigators."

What will probably happen in this relationship is what happens in most others like them: Powers will try to end it when she realizes it isn't about love at all. It's about power and control.

"Many of those relationships, if not almost all of them, end at some point or another because it's... a fantasy world," Geffner said.

That's when "reality starts setting in, and some of these other ingredients start showing up. When you have power and control issues... at the time the breakup does occur and the child, adolescent or young adult begins to realize it really wasn't... love," Geffner added.

This usually happens during the "early 20s... when a lot of the psychological aspects of the abuse kick in," Geffner said. "Most of these relationships don't go beyond a relatively short term."

As this story and others like it continue to play out on in the headlines and on TV screens across America, Geffner said having "much more open communication between parents and children" can help stop these relationships, as can "much more public awareness of what is and is not an appropriate relationship."

Lanning agrees, but he has two rules he provides parents to help them lessen the chance their child will end up as a victim. "Beware of anybody who wants to spend more time with your kids than you do," is his first rule.

"I'm not suggesting that people who want to help kids and reach out to kids are probably a bunch of perverts... but it doesn't mean they're not," Lanning said. "Just be suspicious" and don't take their motives for granted, he added.

Lanning's second rule is this: Be involved in your child's life. Talk to them, communicate with them... Start when they're little, because by the time they're 14 or 15, it's too late," Lanning said.

This means if your teenage daughter closets herself in her bedroom, don't just think "that's puberty." Find out why she's doing that. "Let her know you're concerned," Lanning said. If your teenage son tells you he's downloaded porn from the Internet and is now getting all these weird emails from people, don't react by screaming or punishing him, he added, because that will only close the door to any open communication.

While parents dream of protecting their children from predators, because some molesters are very skillful, Lanning said that may not be possible. But what is possible -- by fostering open communication in the home and at school -- is to minimize the harm that's done.

"Then you'll find out after one or two times (of abuse), not after three years," Lanning said.

Daleen Berry will be speaking about these issues at Las Positas College in Livermore, Calif., on March 12 and 13.

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