Safe At School? Attorney, State Senator Raising Awareness About Sexual Predators

Officials trying to alert parents and educators that not all adults who work with kids can be trusted

The mere though of sexual predators in positions of authority, such as in schools, on playing fields or in after-school programs is frightening to any parent or guardian.

Now, one San Jose attorney, along with a state senator, is trying to alert parents and educators that not all adults who work with kids can be trusted.

Attorney Robert Allard says people have such difficulty talking about such a sensitive subject that it's hampering awareness.

Allard has prosecuted more than 100 cases of sexual molestation involving at least 10 Bay Area school districts. He says the hardest part of his job is making parents aware that their kids can be victims of pedophiles at school.

He is pushing California to train its teachers how to spot it.

Parent Paula Hammond thinks back to the days before she knew what was happening to her 17-year-old daughter. She had stopped eating, she was moody and she couldn’t get out of bed.

"I couldn’t figure out what was going on," Hammond said through tears. "I had no clue. It was really devastating for our family."

Hammond thought at the time it was nerves about leaving her Los Banos home for college.

She later learned the truth, and it was far worse.

"(She) had been sexually assaulted by her teacher," Hammond said about her daughter.

Pacheco High School drama and English teacher Gary Bettencourt got the maximum sentence in the state of california: eight years and four months for having sex with minors after two other students came forward.

Particularly disturbing to parents was that Bettencourt had victimized them at school.

"Half of this actually happened on campus during school hours, back where the theatre and the thespian society take place," Hammond said.

The on-campus attacks weren’t surprising to Allard. He prosecuted Bettencourt as well as several other school molestation cases last year and is working to add mandatory predator training in all California schools so administrators and teachers can spot so-called red-flag behavior in their colleagues.

"They engage in behavior which creates red flags or warning signs," Allard said. "For example, you cannot molest until you get the children alone. ... Teachers or educators who figure out excuses how to isolate the children in between classroom periods or after school, that’s a warning sign."

Allard is working with state Sen. Jim Beall to turn the predator training into law.

"We have a whole state hospital in Coalinga full of child molesters," Beall said. "It’s costing us a couple hundred thousand dollars per year, per person. I think we have to have stronger preventative measures and have people be more watchful in schools and in society in general in order to have fewer kids get molested."

Hammond says it’s outrageous that there aren’t more checks and balances to protect kids at schools, camps or in sports.

"There shouldn’t have been a time when my daughter, on multiple occasions, was able to be locked in a room with a teacher having sex during school hours," Hammond said. "Leave doors open, number one, and even have a sign in the system where there isn’t a female without a male present or a female or vice versa. We need to protect our boys too."

Allard, the son of a teacher, emphasizes he’s not blaming teachers. He’s blaming the molesters.

"Think about pedophiles as drug addicts. Where are the drug addicts going to go?" he said. "They’re going to go to the park where they sell drugs. Pedophiles go to where the kids are."

Hammond’s daughter read a victim impact statement against Bettencourt at his sentencing.

"We thought she would fall apart, but by the end of it she was indignant," Hammond said. "Made us really proud. (As if to say), 'You know what, I’m going to help other girls, to show them this is not OK.'"

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