On February 26, 1997, a popular middle school teacher was arrested in Des Moines, Washington. The charge, rape of a child, would incite a flurry of debate across the United States and even the world. The hot button for this case was that, unlike in most other rape cases, the perpetrator was female and the victim male.
Mary Kay Letourneau was a 35-year-old married mother of four who taught sixth grade at Shoreline Elementary School when she was arrested and charged with rape of a child. That child, 13-year-old Vili Fualaau, first met Letourneau when he was a student in a second grade class she taught earlier in her career. Letourneau saw promise in Fualaau’s artwork and began working with him individually to help him realize his artistic potential.
Fualaau came from a broken home, with a father in prison and a mother working to support four children on her own. Friends later said that Fualaau attempted to cultivate a “thug” or “tough” image. However, some people who knew him better, including Letourneau, asserted that beneath the rough exterior, Fualaau was a sensitive, caring young man.
Letourneau came into greater contact with Fualaau again when he was assigned to her sixth grade classroom. Facing a mountain of debt and a troubled marriage, Letourneau threw herself into her career. Working late into the night on lesson plans was not unusual for her, nor was requesting the help of a core group of students, including Fualaau.
After a time, Fualaau began spending nights at the Letourneau home and even accompanied the family on an Alaskan vacation. The visits could be explained away by the fact that Letourneau’s oldest son was very close in age to Fualaau and the boys were friends spending time together. However, as time went on, people began to suspect more, including Letourneau’s husband Steve, who found notes the couple had written back and forth. Their first sexual encounter, reportedly the first of hundreds of times the couple were together, took place in the Letourneau home as well.
In the fall of 1996, Letourneau realized she was pregnant. She had intercourse with her husband to try to assure him the baby was his, but he knew he was not the father. Steve Letourneau and other family members advised Letourneau to abort the baby, but she refused. Letourneau was now pregnant by a child, and there was no going back.