AirTalk for February 2, 2012

New allegations in the case against elementary school teacher

Teacher Classroom Bondage

Damian Dovarganes/AP

Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Jan. 31, 2012. Veteran Miramonte Elementary school teacher Mark Berndt, 61, was arrested Monday on charges of lewd conduct with 23 children after a film processor gave police photos showing blindfolded children with their mouths taped and cockroaches on their faces.

Angry parents are questioning how an elementary school teacher accused of lewd acts against 23 boys and girls from 2005-2010, went undetected for so long. The Miramonte third grade school teacher, Mark Berndt, was arrested Monday at his home, for allegedly gagging students with tape, putting a 3-inch long Madagascar cockroach on their faces and forcing them to taste his semen.

Following his first court appearance yesterday on felony charges, Berndt is being held on $23-million bail. Today, new allegations of more potentially inappropriate behavior by Berndt have surfaced. Two former students of Berndt’s said school officials were informed about his questionable behavior two decades ago.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the two former students, who are now in their 30’s, say they went to a school counselor about possibly inappropriate behavior and were told not to make up stories. The Times also broke the news earlier this morning that Berndt was accused, but never charged, of attempting to fondle a young girl in 1994.

That news came after school and law enforcement officials started combing over Berndt’s records looking for any indication that the teacher had exhibited suspicious behavior towards children in the 30 years that he taught them at Miramonte Elementary School. That’s what has parents and the public so concerned in this case. Berndt taught children for decades, if he’s a predator, were there any signs? If this had been happening all along, why did so many children stay silent? What psychological tricks and tools do child abusers use to ensure their victims stay quiet? Also, what factors lead parents and educators to ignore signs of possible abuse?

Guest:

Lindsey Combs-Ronto, Ph.D., Director of Research and Training, the Harbor-UCLA Child Crisis Center; also a supervising forensic evaluator

Below are some resources related to sexual abuse prevention and related services, courtesy of Dr. Combs-Ronto:

Books:

"I said No!: A Kid-to-Kid Guide to Keeping Your Private Parts Private" by Kimberly King and Sue Rama

"The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse" by Sandy Kleven and Jody Bergsma

"Your Body Belongs to You" by Cornelia Maude Spelman and Teri Weidner

"A Terrible Thing Happened" by Margaret M. Holmes (Note: this book is good for children who have experienced a trauma)

"Please Tell: A Child's Story About Sexual Abuse (Early Steps)" by Jessie (Note: useful for children who have experienced sexual abuse)


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