NORWOOD, Mass. – Parents, educators, students and school officials could learn a lot from Andrea Clemens.
Through her high school years, Clemens lived through a sexually active and emotionally exhausting relationship with her middle school science teacher that continued into college and graduate school. The “special” bond, as her abuser called it, morphed from an innocent friendship between teacher and student into a deeper emotional connection and sex in high school, and eventually a long-term affair rife with jealousy, threats and guilt.
Clemens’ former teacher at Norwood Junior High South in Massachusetts was eventually convicted of sexually assaulting two other 14-year-old female students years later, with the help of Clemens’ testimony to establish his inexcusable pattern of behavior.
The pedophile teacher, Robert Baker, was sentenced to less than two years for numerous counts of statutory rape and has since been released from prison as a registered sex offender. Clemens bonded with Baker’s two other victims and the girls leaned on each other to heal from their traumatic experiences.
But the tumultuous ordeal, and realization that she wasn’t alone, also motivated Clemens to speak out against educator sexual abuse of students by sharing her story through public seminars, school visits, television appearances and her website – AndreaSpeaksOut.com.
Most recently, Clemens finished a manuscript for a book titled “Invisible Target,” which melds her life-changing experience with research, statistics, and insight into what’s perpetuating the perverse relationships between teachers and students.
When she finds a publisher, it should be required reading for all school employees.
“There’s no books written from the point of view of the survivor” of teacher sexual abuse, Clemens told EAGnews.
“Invisible Target” is “sort of a memoir, but it’s also sort of a ‘how to’ about what to look for” in the tendencies and grooming practices of pedophile educators, Clemens said.
“These teachers target certain kids,” she said. “A lot of times it’s the invisible ones they prey upon.”
Clemens first met Robert Baker as a student at Norwood Junior High South in Norwood, Massachusetts in the early 1980s. Baker, who was married, was Clemens’ science teacher in 9th grade, her last year of junior high, and the two quickly developed a personal connection.
The popular and charismatic teacher spent a lot of time with students, but took a special interest in Clemens with lunch meetings in his classroom and rides home from school.
“When I was 14, when he started grooming me, my parents were divorced and I didn’t have a father at home,” Clemens said, adding that she later realized her situation likely made her an “invisible target.”
Baker would routinely take students to amusement parks or other events, but he spent hours on the phone with Clemens in the evening throughout her 9th grade year.
“As the year progressed, he opened up to me more and more about his personal life,” Clemens said.
When the 14-year-old transitioned from junior high to high school, the relationship grew more intense. Baker gave Clemens a special gift at the end of her 9th grade year – a windmill music box. Over the following months, he made a trip to her summer camp several hours north of Norwood, attended her music concerts, and they talked regularly on the phone.
“It became very intense emotionally,” Clemens said. “He treated me more like an adult and like a peer.”
Clemens said her mother eventually became concerned, but didn’t suspect Baker had ill intentions. She approached the teacher at one point and asked him to back away, for fear her daughter was developing a crush.
Baker used the meeting to draw Clemens closer.
“At that point I felt like he was my best friend. He told me my mother showed up and asked him to back off. I was completely baffled. I was frightened and confused,” Clemens said.
“All I knew is how much I needed him.”
Clemens said her teacher, who is 18 years her senior, spent about two years grooming her emotionally before he pushed the relationship to the next level. Clemens recalled the day her teacher and friend became something more.
“He brought me to his house after school around Christmas … and told me ‘I love you,’” said Clemens, who was in her junior year of high school at the time. “As we were leaving he kissed me.
“He just kept reaffirming this is special and other people wouldn’t understand.”
Baker also assured Clemens they could take the sexual aspect of their relationship at her pace, but quickly manipulated her into bed for the first time when she was 16 years old.
“I was about 16 years old when he crossed the line sexually. Physically, sexually it quickly escalated,” Clemens said. “I was too afraid to say no, mainly because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I just wanted his approval.”
‘Anxious, depressed, exhausted’
Things began to turn from bad to worse during Clemens’ senior year of high school. Baker would threaten to kill himself, or threaten Clemens with comments like “I will bury you!” if she revealed their relationship.
“I was anxious and depressed and exhausted in my senior year,” Clemens said.
Clemens eventually graduated and moved on to college, but Baker convinced her to attend Bridgewater State College, a local school he could visit regularly. She knew the situation wasn’t proper and wanted out, but Baker leveraged their emotional connection to keep her close.
“He had control of me no matter where I was. I tried to break up with him about four different times,” Clemens said. “I was so afraid. I went into graduate school still with this man.
“I didn’t know how to leave.”
While attending graduate school Clemens came across a support group for sex abuse survivors, and “redefining (the relationship) in that way … somehow empowered me to walk away,” she said.
Clemens moved from Massachusetts to Florida, and after dozens of unreturned messages from Baker, was able to finally break off the relationship.
“I was 25 years old before I felt like I started my life,” Clemens said.
‘I had to do my part’
About 10 years later, as Clemens was discussing her past with a friend, the friend asked if Baker was still teaching. She hadn’t considered the possibility that Baker would have repeated his behavior with other students, because their relationship was “special.”
“It just started bubbling in my head. I ended up calling the principal of the junior high I attended,” Clemens said. “I knew I had to do my part in case he did it again.”
The principal asked a lot of questions, and assured Clemens he would forward her statement to the district’s new superintendent. Eight months later she received a call from a police detective who told her Baker was under arrest for the statutory rape of two 14-year-old students, and he asked for her help.
“I was devastated. I have to live with that, that I didn’t come forward sooner” to prevent further abuse, Clemens said, adding that Baker had convinced her over the years she would be held equally responsible for their inappropriate relationship.
“I was about 36 at the time and I felt like I was in trouble.”
When Clemens gave her statement to police, the officers were amazed.
“My story was so identical to what (the other victims) said,” Clemens said. “It was the same places, the same gifts, the same threats.”
Clemens attended Baker’s trial and met his other victims – two young girls who were still attending high school in Norwood. Clemens passed her contact information to one of the girls, and “that night she sent me a four-page email,” Clemens said.
“The three of us met the next weekend and talked for hours,” Clemens said.
The girls realized Baker used the same manipulative tactics to groom all three girls, and his pattern of behavior was obvious after the fact. Over time, the girls developed a deeper connection that they continue today.
“We talked a lot the first year,” Clemens said. “We just stayed in touch the whole time. Two years ago, I was a bridesmaid in one of their weddings.”
Baker was sentenced to a year and nine months in prison and was released several years ago. He can no longer teach and must register as a level three sex offender.
Since Baker’s trial, Clemens has become a strong advocate for victims of educator sexual misconduct, which is estimated by many experts to impact 1 in 10 students in schools across America.
She’s researched the patterns of abusive educators, and shared her findings dozens of times at high schools, foster parent groups and school seminars. Clemens, a single mother of one, has also appeared to talk about her experience on the Montel Williams Show and Fox News.
Over the last decade she has also painstakingly detailed her compelling story in writing and used her experience to highlight the warning signs, grooming practices and other important information about how and why teachers take advantage of their students.
“Invisible Target” is the culmination of her work, and Clemens, now 47, is currently shopping for a publisher to get her important story into the hands of school officials and others who can learn from what she went through.
“I’m really looking for a publisher who gets it,” Clemens said.
Aside from telling her life story, “Invisible Target” is also designed as a resource for anyone dealing with the issue of educator sexual abuse. The book comes with resources like contacts for the advocacy group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (SESAME), lessons from her life and a “Consider This” section following each chapter that presents scenarios to generate dialogue about how to handle the uncomfortable topic.
Clemens is available for speaking engagements or interviews through AndreaSpeaksOut.com.
Here’s an excerpt from “Invisible Target”:
Profile of a target
What exactly does a target look like?
I remember lecturing at Wellesley High School when a teacher approached me with a request at the end of my talk. He asked me to please include a warning to high school girls about the way they dressed. He felt some of the girls dressed very provocatively, and this would give the wrong impression to some of the teachers.
After taking several slow, deep breaths and collecting myself, I sat this teacher down and tried to explain a few things to him. Many of the targets of educator sexual misconduct are not the bold, provocative girls that everyone sees. This is part of the reason that I entitled this book “Invisible Target.” I always try to explain in my talks that these perpetrators target students much like a lion stalks its prey. Does the lion seek out the animals at the front of the herd, running fast and able to be seen by everyone? No. It stalks the ones in the back of the pack, slower, less visible to the rest of the group. Mr. Baker knew what he was doing when he “befriended” me. He knew that I needed to be seen. He made me feel so special that I did not question his intentions, and he had my inherent trust.
Many published articles discuss this dynamic. The teacher singles out the student as very talented or promising, or on the flip side, very needy. The teacher will offer to spend more time and attention to make sure that child can thrive. Quite often the parents are relieved to have this teacher’s interest invested in their child. Many of the victims come from single parent homes. In almost everything I have read and researched about this type of abuse, my whole story fits in perfectly. I was the perfect target – the perfect, invisible target.