If there is anything positive to be found in the disturbing story of the City Honors School teacher who faces charges of sexual harassment and child pornography connected to his alleged behavior in the classroom, it is this: He got caught because four kids at the school reported him.
The hashtag #timesup speaks to what is likely to happen to any adult who tries to get away with taking advantage of children or teenagers. We now live in a world where kids speak up about bad behavior. They are also being heard.
That was much less the case in the 1970s, when many instances of abuse that surfaced this year due to the Child Victims Act allegedly took place. That includes the complaint against former Buffalo Public Schools teacher Mary Boblak, who is accused by a former female student of sexually molesting her “at least 120 times” over a period of 2½ years in the mid-1970s.
Boblak, who taught at School 60, signed a notarized statement admitting the girl slept in her bed and they had “inappropriate physical closeness and touching.”
Her statement says other teachers knew about their relationship, and that the district allowed her to quietly retire in 1994, after complaints from another student. She kept her pension.
In her notarized statement, Boblak said that, in hindsight, “I received no help from the Buffalo Board of Education. I feel that the Administration should have gotten involved and provided me with assistance or guidance while I was clearly in a relationship with a student.”
Despite her earlier admissions, Boblak now denies any misbehavior with her students. She says her words were “twisted” when giving her statement.
The facts will be up to a judge to determine in her civil trial, but the picture painted by the accuser in her lawsuit is all too familiar. Sexual contact between an adult and a child that goes on for months or years, with no one reporting it to authorities. When it is finally brought to the attention of the people in charge of an institution whose mission is to educate children, they ignore it or sweep it under the rug, rather than investigate and take action.
It’s a pattern we’ve seen in the Catholic Church and other denominations, in public and private schools, camps, Scout troops and anywhere else children have been sexually violated in the past several decades. There are too many stories from those days of young people being afraid to accuse an adult of inappropriate behavior. There were parents who dismissed such allegations and administrators who failed to act, worried more about shielding their institutions than protecting children.
For better or worse – and it can cut both ways – authority figures such as teachers are neither as feared nor revered these days. It takes courage for students to speak up – particularly in younger grades – but bad actors can no longer assume they are protected by a wall of silence.
Peter Hingston is a middle-school technology teacher from City Honors. He is accused of using a GoPro camera to secretly record images of female students. The video technology that allowed him to surreptitiously capture those images is also the source of the evidence that authorities used to charge him this month with attempted sexual exploitation of a child, sexual exploitation of a child and possession of material containing an image of child pornography. FBI investigators say they found video of Hingston rubbing his genitals against female students’ hair, among other disturbing actions.
U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr., who announced the charges against Hingston, praised the City Honors students for coming forward.
“The message to our students and to young people everywhere is, if you say something, we will do something,” Kennedy said.
According to a school district official, City Honors placed Hingston on leave the same day an assistant principal learned of the allegations. That’s a marked contrast to what happened with Mary Boblak, whose case was kept quiet, according to the statement she signed.
Buffalo Schools spokeswoman Elena Cala said such a cover-up would never happen in 2019.
“Under our protocols today, any time an allegation is made of child abuse in an educational setting, calls are made to 911 and Human Resources, and the person accused is immediately escorted out of the building and put on leave,” Cala said.
When people become nostalgic for the simpler times of previous eras, the examples of Boblak and Hingston are reminders that times sometimes change for the better.