November 3, 2011
Suspenseful debut: School law expert pens first novel, draws on expertise in sexual harassment prevention
Teacher-to-student sexual abuse. It's a chilling problem that always seems to be in the news, most recently with the conviction of an Ohio teacher for having sex with five of her students.
As one of the nation's leading forensic experts in school law, particularly sexual harassment, abuse prevention and risk management, Kansas State University's Robert Shoop has come up with a novel -- and suspenseful -- way of drawing more attention to the problem of the sexual exploitation of a child by a teacher.
Shoop, a professor of educational administration, has written his first novel, "Compulsion," a suspense thriller about the search for a middle school teacher who's a serial child molester and possible murderer.
The book draws from Shoop's long career in sexual harassment prevention. He wrote his first article on sexual harassment in 1984 and went on to write 19 textbooks, five of them on various legal issues related to public schools. He has conducted sexual harassment prevention training programs for public schools, social agencies, universities and sport associations. In the past 10 years he's served as a forensic expert in more than 65 sexual abuse and sexual harassment cases. His expertise also has led to appearances on CNN, "The Today Show," ABC's "20/20," ESPN's "Outside the Lines," Fox News and more.
"I am discouraged that I'm seeing as much or more cases of teacher sexual abuse of student now as I have ever seen," Shoop said. "While I wanted to write an entertaining read, I also wrote this novel with the hope that teachers, administrators and parents would read it and become more aware of the seriousness of the problem of educator sexual exploitation."
"Compulsion," which is published by CreateSpace and available at Amazon.com and Kindle, features retired detective Adam Faulkner, who specialized in sexual exploitation cases after the abduction and murder of his childhood love, Julie Romano. Faulkner is asked to come out of retirement by Sarah Abbott, who wants his help in finding Tony Shepherd, a teacher who molested her in middle school. The two link Shepherd to Julie's death and find out he is still teaching, moving around every few years and changing his name.
"Tony Shepherd is an evil man, but not a aberration," Shoop said. "People who molest children generally do not dress in trench coats and hang around playgrounds. In almost every case I have worked on someone has said, 'He is the last person I would have believed could do such a horrible thing.' Tony is married, clean-cut, charming, good-looking, doesn't smoke or drink -- what parent would not want him to be around their child? In fact, the working title for the novel was 'The Last Person I Would Expect.'"
Drawing attention to a contemporary problem was among Shoop's goals in writing the book.
"While the vast majority of school people are competent caring people doing a difficult job, not all are, he said. "If teachers and parents are not paying attention, more children are going to be sexually abused. The good news is that states are beginning to respond to the serious problem of sexual exploitation in schools. Kansas, as well as other states, have recently passed laws that address unethical educators.
"However, hardly a week goes by without a reporter calling to ask me to explain why a teacher in their town would molest one of their students," Shoop said.
It took Shoop about three years to write "Compulsion" -- about three times as long it usually takes him to write a textbook.
"This was a new experience and definitely took me out of my comfort zone," he said. "Writing a novel, where the focus is on being entertaining, was much more difficult than writing a textbook. You also get more feedback than you do with a textbook."
Shoop said he had plenty of inspiration for his book. An avid reader, some of his favorite contemporary authors are James Crichton, James Patterson, Scott Turow, Ken Follett, Tom Clancy, Sue Grafton, Nora Roberts, Harlan Coben and Patricia Cornwell. Shoop said "Compulsion" is written more like suspense books by Crichton and Grafton, where readers know who the villain is before the protagonists in the book do.
The experience of writing a novel has been a gratifying one, Shoop said. "The book hasn't been out long, but I've heard from a lot of people who said it has really made them think about one of the most disturbing problems in our schools today."
Former and current school administrators have reviewed the book and Amazon.com, and Shoop is earning praise for sharing his insight into the problem of teacher-to-student sexual abuse in a compelling fashion.
Shoop isn't putting his pen down soon. He's already working on his second novel, which will team Faulkner and Abbott on a second case involving the hunt for someone who is killing ski instructors.
At Kansas State University, Shoop is senior scholar at the School of Leadership Studies and director of the school's Cargill Center for Ethical Leadership. He also serves as a consultant to school districts, universities and corporations on standards of care and harassment and abuse prevention. Along with his 19 textbooks, he is the author of more than 100 journal articles, monographs and book chapters.