real life

We shouldn't be fascinated by this marriage. We should be outraged by it.

To ‘celebrate’ their 10-year wedding anniversay, Barbara Walters has done a sit-down interview with convicted statutory rapist and child sex offender Mary Kay Letourneau and her victim, husband and former student Vili Fualaau.

Warning: This post features details of child sexual abuse that could be triggering for some readers.

Most of us remember the story. Back in 1997, 35-year-old Seattle school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau was sent to prison for seven and a half years for the statutory rape of her 12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau.

Letourneau had known Fualaau since he was in Year Two, began seducing him when he was 12, and sexually abused and raped him for the first time not long after.

Fualaau with Letourneau while she was in prison. Image

After becoming pregnant with Fualaau’s child, Letourneau was initially convicted of the second degree rape of a minor (statutory rape) and sentenced to seven months in prison, provided she agreed to cut off all contact with the victim she had been abusing. Yet just one month after her release from jail, Letourneau was caught sexually abusing Fualaau in her car. Having violated her parole, Letourneau was sent to prison for seven and a half years – but she was already pregnant with her victim’s second child, and gave birth to the daughter while incarcerated.

Read more: “The hardest part wasn’t my brother’s abuse… It’s that it was covered up.”

Upon her release in 2004, Fualaau, who had been struggling with depression and alcoholism since his abuse, requested that the no-contact order be revoked, so that he could conintue a relationship with the woman who had seduced and repeatedly raped him, the first time as a 12-year-old. The two married in 2005, and have been together ever since.

And now Barbara Walters has done a sit-down interview with the pair, to discuss, among other things, ‘how they make their marriage work in spite of their age difference’.

Because what better way to celebrate the 10-year wedding anniversay of a child rapist and her victim than with a glossy sit-down interview?

Letourneau, Fualaau and Walters. Image: ABC

Um, what?

Why, WHY, since this case first hit the news almost 20 years ago, has it been treated as a tale of star-crossed lovers and not for what it truly is: A child sex offender who groomed and then sexually abused a young boy?

It makes no difference that the two ending up marrying – this is a child who was GROOMED and then RAPED by a sexual abuser. But since the two married, the story of how they came together has been constantly pushed to the sidelines, like an uncomfortable fuzzy fact that happened too long ago to remember. Like an adversity from their past that they survived. There’s been countless news stories, a tele-movie and magazine articles showing the two embracing and smiling together. Their story has become entertainment, and instead of inciting outrage, it seems to only incite fascination – an outcome that would almost certainly be the opposite if a 35-year-old man had raped a 12-year-old girl.

We obviously cannot speculate on Fualaau’s mindset, or the effect his abuse might have had on him. But he admitted to dropping out of school and to struggles with alcoholism and depression, had two children and became the world’s most recognisable victim of child sex abuse – all before he was 14. That can’t have been easy. The fact that he went on to marry the woman who had been grooming, seducing and abusing him since he was a child is a worrying one – but it’s something that needs to be dealt with by mental helath professionals. It shouldn’t be constantly splashed across the media as bizarre entertainment.

We shouldn’t be fascinated by the story of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, we should be outraged by it. And seeing a photo of a smiling Barbara Walters sitting next to the couple should make all of us incredibly uncomfortable.

As such, I’ve made a few adjustments to the press release ABC’s 20/20 has released about the interview. They seem to be promoting the interview as some kind of juicy tell-all with a couple who have overcome a lot together – I thought I’d add in a few extra details to bring it back to reality (my additions are in brackets):

In an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters, Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau and Vili Fualaau sit down together on the eve of their 10th wedding anniversary, sharing intimate details about their headline-making marriage. (Headline-making because he was a child and she raped him.) Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau is the former Seattle-area sixth-grade teacher who, at the age of 34, had an affair with her 13-year-old student, Vili Fualaau, and served seven and a half years for their inappropriate relationship. (Not just ‘inappropriate’ – ILLEGAL. Because he was a child and she raped him.) In the candid interview, Mary Kay tells Walters what makes their marriage work in spite of their huge difference in their age. (Also in spite of the fact their ‘relationship’ started when he was a child and she raped him.) She also discusses her surprising plans to teach again (not ‘surprising’ – absolutely shocking and completely disturbing because the last time she was a teacher she raped a child) as well as her intentions to have her status as a registered sex offender lifted. (Her status should not be lifted. She raped a child.) Vili Fualaau, meanwhile, discusses his bouts with alcoholism, depression (not surprising considering he was raped and sexually abused by his teacher from when he was 12 years old) and why he believes the system failed him while he was still a minor. (Because even he acknowledged that he was repeatedly sexually abused, while the school and police let it happen.)

The interview will air in the US on 20/20 this Friday.

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child, you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).