Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape

In 1996, a thirty-four-year-old married schoolteacher named Mary Kay Letourneau became sexually involved with a thirteen-year-old student named Vili Fualaau. Initially released on a suspended sentence, she violated the terms of her parole by seeing the boy again and was sentenced to more than seven years in prison. She had two children with Fualaau and married him in 2005.

Summary of Event

Mary Kay Letourneau, who was thirty-four years old, a wife, and a mother of four children, became the source of tabloid fodder and instant scandal when it became known that she had been having an affair with a thirteen-year-old student. She was sent to prison in 1997 for statutory rape. [kw]Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape, Teacher Mary Kay (Feb. 26, 1997)
[kw]Rape, Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory (Feb. 26, 1997)
Letourneau, Mary Kay
Fualaau, Vili
Rape;and Mary Kay Letourneau[Letourneau]
Letourneau, Mary Kay
Fualaau, Vili
Rape;and Mary Kay Letourneau[Letourneau]
[g]United States;Feb. 26, 1997: Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape[02790]
[c]Law and the courts;Feb. 26, 1997: Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape[02790]
[c]Families and children;Feb. 26, 1997: Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape[02790]
[c]Sex crimes;Feb. 26, 1997: Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape[02790]
[c]Public morals;Feb. 26, 1997: Teacher Mary Kay Letourneau Is Arrested for Statutory Rape[02790]

Mary Kay Letourneau.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Letourneau grew up in Southern California and was one of seven children of John and Mary Schmitz. John G. Schmitz was a member of the conservative John Birch Society and had political aspirations. He served in the California state senate and was a U.S. representative. After an unsuccessful bid to run for president on the American Independent Party ticket in 1972, Schmitz moved his family to Corona del Mar, California. Two years later, Letourneau’s three-year-old brother, Philip, drowned in the family pool. Letourneau insists that this tragic event in her family’s life did not have any long-term effects on her.

In 1982, Schmitz’s political career was cut short by revelations that he was having an affair with Carla Stuckle, a former college student and Republican campaign volunteer, and had fathered two of her children. During the scandal, Letourneau sided with her father. In November, 1983, Letourneau met Steve Letourneau, a baggage handler for Alaska Airlines. Four months into their relationship, Letourneau became pregnant. While Letourneau was not in love with her husband, her strict Roman Catholic parents insisted that she and Steve marry; they did so on June 30, 1984. The couple moved to Anchorage, Alaska, then Seattle, Washington.

Letourneau finished her teaching degree at Seattle University in 1989 and got a job at the Shorewood Elementary School located in Burien, Washington, a suburb of Seattle. Initially assigned to second-grade classes, she first encountered Vili Fualaau when he was eight years old and in the second grade. By all accounts a talented artist, Fualaau made an impression on his teachers and was among Letourneau’s circle of favorite students. Fualaau was raised in a large, extended Samoan family. His father was in prison for armed robbery and his mother worked in a bakery. Letourneau, in spite of her own increasing money worries, helped nurture his abilities by buying him art supplies.

The year 1995 was a particularly stressful time for Letourneau. She was a busy mother of four and was now teaching fifth and sixth graders. Her Marriage;Mary Kay Letourneau[Letourneau] marriage woes were compounded by her and Steve’s financial situation. Letourneau’s father was diagnosed with cancer and she miscarried a fifth child just a few months later. The Letourneaus were forced to declare bankruptcy. At this time, the relationship between Letourneau and Fualaau grew closer. He was a constant presence in the home and even accompanied the Letourneaus on their family vacation. The unusual relationship between teacher and student did not go unnoticed among Steve’s family members.

During the summer of 1996, Letourneau and Fualaau had sexual relations for the first time. Fualaau would boast to friends that he and his teacher had sex more than four hundred times that summer, and had done so in every room of the Letourneau home. While making last-minute preparations for the fall semester, Letourneau discovered she was pregnant. As she and Steve had stopped having sex, she had no doubt whose child it was. Steve, who suspected Letourneau was having an affair with Fualaau, found a shoe box of letters in the linen closet of their home. Steve moved out of the house and started divorce proceedings.

Steve’s cousin made an anonymous call to Letourneau’s employer to reveal the affair. On February 26, 1997, she was arrested for statutory rape of an unnamed minor. She was released later that night and told not to go near Fualaau. Letourneau’s mother took charge of the children. When counseled by her attorney, David Gehrke, Letourneau admitted that she was carrying the child of the boy she was accused of raping. As the trial approached, Letourneau underwent a series of court-ordered exams. Psychiatrist Julia Moore noted Letourneau’s rapid mood swings during her interview and diagnosed her as having bipolar disorder. At her trial in November, Letourneau pleaded guilty to two counts of rape of a child in the second degree.

At her hearing, a seemingly repentant Letourneau told the judge, “I give you my word . . . it will not happen again.” Judge Linda Lau of the King County Superior Court accepted Letourneau’s plea. The judge took into consideration that Letourneau had no criminal record and sentenced her to three months in jail and ordered her to enroll in a sexual deviancy treatment program. Letourneau and Fualaau’s child, Audrey, who had been born in May, would be placed in the care of Fualaau’s mother, Soona Vili. Under the terms of her release, Letourneau was forbidden to have contact with Fualaau.

The court-ordered restriction did not stop Letourneau from seeing Fualaau again. Upon her release in January, 1998, the two resumed their relationship. On February 3, during a routine late-night neighborhood patrol, a police officer noticed a parked car with two people inside. When he ran the car’s license plates he discovered that the owner was Letourneau, now a registered sex offender. Inside the car was sixty-five hundred dollars in cash, baby clothes, and a passport. The officer recognized Letourneau immediately and arrested her for violating the terms of her parole. Fualaau’s name was publicly linked to Letourneau’s after his mother, Soona, agreed to a series of interviews with the tabloids.

Judge Lau harshly admonished Letourneau, saying, “This case is not about a flawed system . . . it is about an opportunity that you foolishly squandered.” Letourneau’s original maximum sentence of 7.5 years was reinstated, and she entered the Washington Correction Center for Women in Gig Harbor, forty miles south of Seattle. Upon her incarceration, a medical exam revealed that she was pregnant. In October, 1998, she gave birth to another daughter, Alexis, who would be placed in the care of Fualaau’s mother.

Defiant even behind bars, Letourneau attempted to smuggle notes to Fualaau in violation of court orders and was placed in solitary confinement for six months for doing so. In January, 2001, Letourneau’s father died of cancer. Her request to attend his funeral was denied. Letourneau served her full sentence and was released on August 2, 2004. Two days later, Fualaau filed a motion to vacate a court order that barred Letourneau from contacting him upon her release. Letourneau, never wavering from her belief that she and Fualaau from the beginning were deeply in love and meant to be together, married her twenty-one-year-old former student on May 20, 2005. Letourneau, now Mary Fualaau, would remain a registered sex offender for the rest of her life, regardless of the couples’ legal status as husband and wife, unless a court order allows her to unregister.


The Letourneau-Fualaau affair unleashed a media frenzy that inspired a made-for-television film and at least two privately published accounts of the scandal. More important, it prompted discussion about gender bias in statutory rape cases. In 2004, a U.S. Department of Education study found that 40 percent of educators who had been reported for sexual misconduct were women. The well-publicized incidents of female teachers having sex with their underage students led to renewed interest in the controversy surrounding age of consent and teacher-student sexual relations. These cases reflect a decline in the double standard of treating male authority figures more harshly than female authority figures in cases involving the abuse of a minor. Letourneau, Mary Kay
Fualaau, Vili
Rape;and Mary Kay Letourneau[Letourneau]

Further Reading

  • Denove, Myriam S. “The Myth of Innocence: Sexual Scripts and the Recognition of Child Sexual Abuse by Female Perpetrators.” Journal of Sex Research 40, no. 3 (August, 2003): 303-314. Reviews existing data regarding the prevalence of sex offending by women, placing specific emphasis on the ways in which conventional sexual scripts preclude official recognition of female sexual offending as a problem.
  • Dress, Christina, Tama-Lisa Johnson, and Mary Kay Letourneau. Mass with Mary: The Prison Years. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford, 2004. Dress, a close friend and former cell mate of Letourneau, chronicles Letourneau’s experiences behind bars.
  • Letourneau, Mary, and Vili Fualaau, with Bob Graham. Une Seule Crime: L’amour (Only One Crime: Love). Paris: Robert Laffront, 1998. This collection of interviews with Letourneau, Fualaau, and Soona Vili was ghost-written by Bob Graham. Capitalizes on the sympathetic belief held by many Europeans that Letourneau and Fualaau were victims of puritanical and outdated U.S. laws.
  • Olsen, Gregg. If Loving You Is Wrong: The Shocking True Story of Mary Kay Letourneau. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. True-crime writer Olsen’s investigative account of the Letourneau-Fualaau affair includes testimonies from friends of the family and belated interview material from Letourneau herself.

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