By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
"I feel bad for that teacher," said one boy. "A guy being put in that situation." He says girls vied for Foster's attention — and they were all pretty.
"Yeah, [D.N.] was really pretty," says a girl who knew her.
Some felt D.N. should not have gone to the cops. To them, the law is what's messed up.
"It's not like he raped her," piped up a girl who had Foster as her teacher.
Another said D.N. should have expected sex when she made a conscious decision to date Foster. "He's a man! Twelve-year-olds are having sex!"
Another student offered bluntly: "I liked [Foster]! It's the girl's fault, too. First of all, they're both stupid. Second, he should not be in jail."
One drama student sent a thoughtful email: "None of the girls in drama, NONE, were stupid. These girls are smart. They know what they're doing. They know the consequences of their actions. As for them being 'in love,' so be it. You don't choose who you fall in love with."
The student dismissed descriptions of Foster as a "pervert." "I want people to know that he isn't 'sick,'" the student said. "These girls weren't brainwashed. I think everyone knew exactly what they were doing and what the outcome could possibly be. He's the authoritative figure and he should have known that he couldn't do it. But it's not like they were at a fragile age like 13 or 14; they were 17 years old."
The students' comments raise the questions: Are age-of-consent laws fair? Realistic? Should one person take the fall, even if the sex was consensual?
According to Florida statutes, "a person 24 years of age or older who engages in sexual activity with a person 16 or 17 years of age commits a felony of the second degree." Also according to Florida law, a "child" is defined as anyone less than 18 years old. Children do not have the right to consent to sexual acts. Federal law, by contrast, recognizes the age of consent as 16.
A web-based organization called Moral Outrage.com maintains data on statutory rape laws across the country. Spokesperson Laurie Peterson says the sex between Foster would have been legal if Foster were under 24, and D.N. over 18. "The crime is based solely on age difference." One Florida statute specifically covers sexual battery committed by "a person in familial or custodial authority to a person less than 18."
Peterson says that she, at age 15, had a consensual experience with a man. Seeking an adult's guidance, she told her health teacher, unaware that the teacher was obligated by law to report the incident to police. Soon enough, two uniformed men were asking Peterson detailed questions about her genitals. "I felt more traumatized by having to tell police every single step of my act [than by the act itself]," she says now. Intimidated, she did not realize that she could have refused to give a statement.
Peterson points out that states can continue to prosecute cases even if victims request that charges be dropped, and that convicted persons may have to live as registered sex offenders the rest of their lives. "Nobody can back out once it's been reported," she warns.
"We just want others to understand the law — and the consequences of that law."
What about understanding the consequences of the abuse? A law enforcement source says students may only realize the impact of the case ten or 20 years from now, when they can compare it with more adult experiences or perhaps when they become parents themselves. Foster, cops say, is an "actor." He was allegedly having sex with "children." So they don't feel bad about breaking up anyone's social clique, and they don't mind playing bad guy.
Experts say that many sex crimes go unreported because victims feel guilty or ashamed. They may be reluctant to release evidence or testify in court. Media exposure is another deterrent; being shunned by one's peers, yet another. Sexual abuse can result in a host of psychological problems, from post-traumatic stress disorder, to trouble with intimacy, to substance abuse. Ditto for females who've had abortions. In light of all this, some see D.N. as an incredibly brave young woman, one who could use a few defenders in her corner.
But investigators worry about the psychological effects on the rest of the drama kids, too. In October, police say, Foster was passing messages through a former student named Ricky Saturnini. Police say that Foster, through Saturnini, offered to pay D.N. to stop cooperating with police. Saturnini argued that he never took that idea seriously, but Foster was charged with witness tampering anyway. He was banned from writing letters or having visitors (besides his parents and lawyer) because communication could impede the truthfulness of students' future testimony.
After reading some of the letters sent to and from Foster in jail, Detective Mintus wrote a report calling Foster "manipulating and controlling." As Mintus put it, "Mr. Foster continuously maintains a control over these individuals in both their academic and personal lives." Foster's actions, he said, "created a potentially dangerous situation which could ultimately lead to devastating results similar to those that have occurred in cult-like situations."