Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Love or Addiction?

Vili Fualaau
Vili Fualaau

In 1992, Mary Kay LeTourneau   noticed a boy in second grade at the elementary school where she taught who seemed to have real artistic promise. He was part Samoan, so Vili Fualaau's dark features were exotic in the Seattle, Washington area.

Over the next four years, she kept her eye on him and when he graduated from her sixth-grade class with high marks, she took him out to a restaurant. There, he said in a deposition interview aired on Court TV's documentary Forbidden Desire, she started to play "footsie" with him. After the meal, they talked together in Mary Kay's car and he said he wanted to kiss her. Within a few days, they were making love on the roof of her house. She was 35; he was 12 and a virgin.

Mary Kay LeTourneau (AP)
Mary Kay
LeTourneau (AP)

They continued their secret affair, convinced they were soul-mates, but then Mary Kay realized she was pregnant. Already married for eleven years with four children, she now had to face the music. Her husband Steve found letters from Vili and he confronted the boy, who admitted to the liaison. Steve told him to stay away.

Then a distant relative called the school and it wasn't long before Mary Kay was arrested on a charge of child rape. She insisted it was love, but love isn't considered in the law that says adults may not have sexual contact with children. Consent by the child is irrelevant. Generally child abusers are male, yet this one was not only female but also a schoolteacher. It was a unique case that stunned the nation...although it would not be the last such illicit affair between an older woman and an underage boy.

Book cover: If Loving You Is Wrong
Book cover: If Loving
You Is Wrong

It then came out, according to Gregg Olsen, author of a book on the case, {If Loving You Is Wrong}, that Mary Kay was the daughter of a once-famous California congressman who had disgraced himself. John Schmitz, a prominent member of the John Birch Society and profoundly right-wing, was riding high on his success when it turned out that he'd had two illegitimate children with one of his campaign workersalso a former student. His double life ended his career.

Many people adopted the theory that this was Mary Kay's psychological legacy: she was doing exactly as her father had done. However, that's not only simplistic but fails to allow Mary Kay to be aware of her own actions.

While waiting for trial, Mary Kay had a daughter with Vili. Then on August 7, 1997, she tearfully pleaded guilty to two counts of child rape. While the prosecutor insisted that this was a serious crime, Judge Lau appeared to believe in Mary Kay's sincere interest in getting help. However, several journalists noted from a tape of the proceeding that as she took her seat after making her plea, she smiled at her lawyer in a way that hinted at self-satisfaction. Judge Lau sentenced her to 89 months in prison and then suspended the sentence in lieu of her taking medication, attending a sex offenders' treatment group, and having no contact with the boy. Mary Kay had to serve five months of her sentence, but was then free to go back to her family.

Her courtroom insincerity quickly played out when upon her release from prison she contacted Vili and continued to see him, having sex with him in her car. During one episode, a police officer came upon them and she was once again arrested. Found inside the car was her passport, new clothing, and over six thousand dollarsa good indication that she meant to flee with Vili and their child. She was also pregnant again. This time, the tears she shed in court made no impression as the judge reinstated the sentence and sent her to prison for seven years.

Steve divorced her and took the children to Alaska.

In prison, Mary Kay had her second daughter, which was given with Vili's other child to Vili's mother to raise.

In June 2001, Vili said that he might want to spend the rest of his life with Mary Kay, but he was fidgety and evasive. He'd just turned 18 and probably realized he had his whole life ahead, while Mary Kay was now in her 40s.

Mary Kay has both supporters and opponents and the debate rages on as to whether a male adult abusing an underage female is a serious matter while a female with an underage male is not. And should love have anything to do with what happens to the offender?

But then, one might also wonder about the nature of an obsessive love that exploits immaturity and vulnerability, not to mention a position of trust. Mary Kay appears to have been meeting her own needs, in particular upon violating the court's order as soon as she possibly could. Vili himself admits that mistakes were made and that the situation probably should not have been allowed to get out of control. While he and Mary Kay have written a book on the subject, published in France, his demeanor during interviews is less than enthused.

There is also a theory that Mary Kay suffers from a mental disorder and thus had no control over her actions. Psychiatrist Julie Moore examined Mary Kay for the defense and diagnosed her as having bipolar disorder. In other words, she showed periods of intense energy and activityincluding hyper sexualitycoupled with short periods of depression. That can induce inappropriate behaviors, impulsivity, and impaired judgment. She might find reward in high-risk behavior and remain unaware of the consequences.

A psychologist who treats sex offenders, Susan Moores, was quoted in an article about Mary Kay's disorder as saying that Mary Kay shows a deviant sexual arousal pattern. Moores resisted the notion that bipolar disorder was to blame. The cause, she insisted, was the decision that the offender made.

Nevertheless, her behavior was different when on medication than when off, and she admitted to stopping her medication once she was out of prison. She does not accept that she's bipolar and she continues to insist that she and Vili are in love and will spend the rest of their lives together. Since she'll remain in prison until 2004, it remains to be seen how long a teenage boy will wait for her.

She's not the only one to have seduced a boy in her charge. There have been several reports in recent years about teacher-pupil sexual abuse.

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