Los Angeles teacher Mark Berndt was arrested this week for performing lewd acts with children. Photographs of his students being bound, gagged, and tortured both in the classroom and in a basement, were discovered earlier last year after he sent them to a photo shop to have them developed. The children were told it was a game, and were photographed with large insects on their face, tape on their mouths, and ingesting what was later discovered to be Berndt's semen.
It's a sickening tale, compounded by the sheer numbers of students involved, not to mention his 30 years of tenure. It raises so many questions that may never be answered, and it shows the enormous fissures in the educational system of poor school districts.
While it is still unclear if the students were sexually abused through touching, oral sex, or intercourse, the introduction of Berndt's semen ups the ante for his prosecution, and for the odds that something sexual did take place. Pedophilia, as with many sexual addictions, escalates over time. It is likely that Berndt's initial photographs were more benign, and as he delved deeper into the bondage pictures and literature found in his home, his desire to recreate those pictures grew stronger and stronger. I would suspect that the semen he brought to school (that was both spoon-fed and put on cookies) is a recent development, the link between the bondage and torture and the sexual fantasy that went along with it.
Seriously, the man baked cookies and put his semen on them. This is a grotesque form of molestation, and it is harder and harder to keep typing the word semen without gagging just a little... The students are being tested for sexually transmitted diseases, although it is my sneaking suspicion that Mark Berndt hasn't had sex with a grownup for a very long time.
So, what drives a man to systematically blindfold, bind, and sexually assault dozens of elementary school children? If he did not have sexual intercourse with them, does he still get labeled a pedophile? Pedophilia occurs on a stratum, the very mildest being internet, movie and magazine based, and the worst being the torture, mutilation and horrific rape of their child victims. With the information given to date, Berndt would be classified as a low-grade pedophile.
That's not to say he wouldn't have escalated to full on sexual assault in time. Spoon feeding semen is a veiled substitute for oral sex, which may or may not have been impending, had he not been caught.
Some say this crime is worse than murder, as that is usually a spontaneous act of aggression, done once, complete, and usually perpetrated without meticulous thought. This crime was premeditated, ritualistic, and on a grand scale. Twenty children at a time were being victimized, and because most were blindfolded, many could not speak English and some are suspected to be illegal aliens, the acts weren't discussed outside the classroom.
We can point fingers all day. Where were the school administrators? Where were the parents? Where was the police for a year after the photographs were discovered? The real question is: how do we get information from these children without traumatizing them even more than they are now. Up until two days ago, they thought they were playing a simple little game. Will these children be scarred for life? Not necessarily IF the LA School District puts them into immediate counseling, and makes certain they have all the resources for recovery they need.
Initial seizure of Berndt's property only turned up adult pornography, and only time will tell if his computer renders any child porn. Which brings up the question: in a digital age, why on earth would
he bring his film to be developed at a CVS photo lab? Is it self-sabotage? If he took the time and forethought to put his semen in a tidy container and bake his cookies and bring a spoon.... Don't you think he would have had a printer at home?
In my career, I have dealt with multiple cases of pedophilia; I have heard stories much more violent than this one. I have heard stories of mutilations, beatings, rapes, you name it. But I will say I have not heard of something occurring right under the nose of authorities, in a classroom, without anyone questioning it. That's new to me. And just because I have heard worse, doesn't minimize what has happened to these students, and however many students that came before them.
Thank goodness they are finally safe today.