Photo: Son Koerant / Twitter
Photo: Son Koerant / Twitter
Fiona Viotti, the water polo coach at the centre of a teacher-student sex scandal in Cape Town, has ruffled feathers across the country. The dynamic of a female educator having sexual relations with a male student is, as a famous South Park scene depicts, viewed very differently when the roles are reversed.
It’s always the case: Male teachers who cross that line are, quite rightly, identified as “predators”. Their victims are “vulnerable”, and the senior adult in the situation has failed to uphold the trust invested in them by the school, the parents and even the students themselves. Damn, does that language change when someone like Fiona Viotti is at the subject of the allegations.
For many people, they like to believe that Viotti “seduced” her student, rather than preyed on him. He now goes home with the reputation of a teenage lothario, too. It lends credence to the idea that it’s “every boy’s fantasy” – as if the violation of her responsibilities can be excused because it makes for a decent plotline in a softcore porn film.
Speaking of which, the lawyer representing the educator has acknowledged that a video of his client has now gone “viral” on Pornhub – as we revealed on Wednesday. The clip features Fiona Viotti in her underwear on a bed, acting in a sexually suggestive manner. Of course, it’s now a trending feature on the site…
It’s darkly ironic really that, in all honesty, this is where this sort of narrative belongs – in the realm of fantasy. Because there are some very real-life consequences to every teacher-student sex case. It’s all well and good reasoning that “the lad must have enjoyed it”, but with short-term pleasure comes long-term pain.
What happens after the deed is done? Well, when the news gets out – as it has done here – the consequences are devastating. But even without the never-ending media coverage, is it fair to burden him with the fact a marriage could now disintegrate? Or even that he’s being implicated in the loss of jobs, staining the school’s reputation and making life extremely difficult for his friends and family?
This is why Fiona Viotti is accused of not just failing her student, but abusing him. If she is found to have entered into “several” improper relationships with learners – aged 18 or otherwise – she has still exposed him/them to scenarios which no educator should allow to happen. Quite simply, this supposed violation of trust is enough on its own to constitute abuse.
Just imagine, for a second, how incredibly complicated the teacher/student dynamic is: You’re expected to be a mentor, a friend, a disciplinarian, and a trusted confidante all in one. It’s beyond complex, and many educators struggle to find the perfect balance. Think about your teachers back at school. You could probably assign those four characteristics to four different teachers, but would struggle to find one which fits all.
Now, as grown adults, we all know that sex has the potential to complicate relationships. So what happens when you add “romantic partner” to that list? It’s beyond chaotic. The power, influence and compromising information each person holds over the other is a toxic, disastrous cocktail waiting to be tipped over.
Factors like grades, the treatment of other students, and in this oddly specific scenario, getting picked for the water polo team can be strongly dictated to by emotional attachments, rather than academic or physical achievement.
In an alleged scenario like this, the whole education system can be undermined. The teacher, as an authority figure, shouldn’t be engaging in sexual activity with a student, seen as a subordinate. That’s not what anyone paying their school fees and devoting their time to the final years of a child’s education wants to see. It’s an abuse of trust, an abuse of power and even an abuse of what teachers owe their students.
So yes, it is believed that Fiona Viotti has entered into a relationship with an 18-year-old male. But that doesn’t mean she is exempt from being labelled a predator. We can’t pick and choose the language we want to use in this case just because we are more comfortable with one scenario, and not the other.
Fiona Viotti is not yet facing criminal charges. But she is subject of an internal investigation at the school, after she resigned from her position last week. If she’s found guilty of misconduct, it’s time to start calling things as they should be seen: There is no excuse for any teacher to cross these boundaries, regardless of their gender.