CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Matoaca mother is raising awareness about “grooming” after she says a teacher initiated an inappropriate relationship with her teenage son that started when he was in the ninth grade.
Grooming is when an often-older individual uses their position of power to build a relationship with a young person so they can manipulate and exploit them. It’s a crime Tonya Branch said happened to her son, and she hopes to protect other kids from enduring the same fate.
“My son met her in school,” Branch said. “He trusted her. He thought she was somebody that cared.”
Last December, the Branch home’s phone rang with an incoming call from Matoaca High School administrators. The caller insisted they speak with Branch’s now-18-year-old son. After asking about the call, Branch said her son informed her it was regarding an inappropriate relationship with a former teacher.
“He seemed to have her every single year,” Branch reflected. “And without question, I never questioned that.”
Branch’s son told her it started with the teacher giving him special attention back in the ninth grade. The mother said the teacher would pull her son out of other classes, tell him personal things about her life and eventually initiated sexual contact with the teen while he was still a student.
The two exchanged the following messages over social media. The teacher’s messages are in the grey text field.
Branch noted how many people overlook the possibility of these predatory incidents happening when the victim is a male.
“I didn’t have these conversations with my children — the boys — about this kind of thing, because in my mind, girls don’t — women, moms — they don’t do these things,” Branch said. “That’s not the case.”
Branch filed a report with the Chesterfield County Police Department, but the Department told 8News that investigators were unable to establish a clear timeline pin-pointing the student’s age when the physical interaction occurred, so they couldn’t press criminal charges.
“I said, you do not respond any more to her ever,” Branch reflected on a conversation with her son after she learned what happened. “Even though [the teacher] continued to try. [Branch told him] ‘No more contact ever,’ and he did not. That literally was still until this past January.”
In an emotional interview with 8News, Branch shared how her son has suffered — and is still recovering — as he comes to terms with what happened.
“Now he really understands the spectrum of — this is a pedophile,” Branch said. “This is what she did. This is what they do.”
The mother continued, “Sitting back looking at it, he’s going, ‘Wow, that happened to me’,” Branch said. “‘Wow. She said that to me.’ It’s not like she loved you.”
A representative with Chesterfield County schools confirmed the teacher is no longer with the school system. Now, Branch urges parents to talk with their children — and to realize that anyone can be a victim.
“It never happens to anyone except on TV…until it did,” Branch said.