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Criminal - Or Victim of Bipolar Disorder?

Mary Kay Letourneau

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Updated March 26, 2012

Mary Kay Letourneau

Mary Kay Letourneau during her trial

Thirty-five-year-old Mary Kay Letourneau, an experienced teacher, wife and mother of four, had known Vili Fualaau since he was in second grade. They met again when he was in her sixth grade class. When he was 13 and in seventh grade, the two began an affair, and she became pregnant, giving birth to a daughter. Mary was subsequently arrested and charged with child rape.

She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 7 1/2 years (suspended); she served 80 days and was released into a treatment program for sex offenders. However, she quickly violated the terms of her parole, resuming her liaison with Vili, and so was sent back to prison to serve the full sentence. In prison, it was learned she had become pregnant by Vili again, and she gave birth to the boy's second daughter.

During this period, controversy erupted. A writer from Holland (letter no longer online), where the age of consent is 12, felt that the punishment was outrageous. Another writer wonders Why Such A Light Sentence? In an emotion-laden article, TIME Magazine blamed the boy. Vili, for his part, was quoted as saying, "I want people to stop seeing me as a victim. Mary didn't harm me in any way. Who are they to say I'm too young to know anything when they don't even know me?"

No matter which side of the fence one is on - it's ugly.

Is Mary Kay Letourneau a criminal, a child rapist? Is she a victim of her illness: Bipolar Disorder? Or is there some middle ground? Let us take a look at Mary's behavior in light of some of the classic symptoms of this disease:

  • Increased energy and decreased sleep. According to Dr. Julie Moore, who examined Mary for the defense, Mary worked long hours without signs of fatigue, sometimes going as much as three or four days without any sleep.1

  • Increased sexuality. "It's like she has a happy button and a love button and a hypersexual button in her brain and it's being pressed," said Dr. Moore. "When it's pressed, there is little room for self-reflection."2

  • Inappropriate and impulsive behaviors. There can be no question that in our society, Mary's actions with regard to Vili Fualaau were inappropriate. He was not only legally considered a child; he was her student, which placed her in a position of trust. Also, Mary had four children with her husband Steve; her eldest was a boy only a year younger than her young lover. (The Letourneaus are now divorced, and all four children are in the sole custody of their father, who has moved with them to Alaska.)

  • Impaired judgment. Psychologist Dr. Robert Wheeler, who testified for the prosecution, was quoted by CNN as saying Mary showed an extraordinary "impairment of social judgment."3 And Dr. Moore has pointed out that taking pleasure in high-risk activity "without regard to painful consequences" can be characteristic of persons with BP.4

  • Refusing medication. Mary was, after some delay, put on Depakote by her doctor while in jail.5 This may account for the way she behaved at her sentencing hearing, tearful and humble, saying "I did something I had no right to do, morally or legally. It was wrong. I give you my word that it will not happen again . . . Please help me. Please help me." Yet it did happen again. Shortly after her release she stopped taking Depakote, reportedly because of side effects.6 But perhaps, too, she disliked the drug's effect on her mood, as so many people with BP do. It was not long before she was back in jail for seeing Vili again - and pregnant once more.

Susan Moores, who treats sex offenders, says Letourneau has two separate problems: bipolar disorder and a deviant sexual-arousal pattern. "The cause of Mary's or anybody's sex offense is the decision to do it. The cause is not bipolar, it's not poor impulse control; the cause is a decision to do it."7 This statement, though, begs the question of why the decision is so easily made.

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  6. Mary Kay Letourneau
  7. Mary Kay Letourneau - criminal or victim of bipolar disorder ?

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