SEATTLE: Their relationship scandalised America. In 1996, teacher Mary Kay Letourneau began a sexual relationship with Vili Fualaau, her sixth-grade student in Seattle. She was 34 and he was 13. They formed a strong bond, one that has lasted for nearly two decades.
Letourneau was jailed for seven years for the illicit relationship. They were married in 2005, nearly a year after she was released from prison.
Now 53, she wants the world to know that she and Mr Fualaau, 31, are still happy as a couple and busy raising their two teenage daughters Audrey, 17, and Georgia, 16.
But the relationship has been far from smooth sailing.
In an interview with TV host Barbara Walters on ABC News’ 20/20 programme on Friday, Fualaau said he faced a very dark period when Letourneau was in jail.
“I’m surprised I’m still alive today,” he said.
Not having a strong support system when Letourneau became pregnant with his children was the hardest part.
“It was a huge change in my life, for sure. I don’t feel like I had the right support or the right help behind me,” he said.
Letourneau was married with four children at the time she met Fualaau, and her relationship with him led to her divorce from her first husband.
Letourneau said Fualaau was a gifted artist, and she began spending time with him to help him develop his skill. Their relationship turned sexual by that summer.
“The incident was a late night, and it didn’t stop with a kiss,” Letourneau told Walters, according to ABC. “And I thought that it would, and it didn’t.”
When asked whether she felt guilty or disgusted with herself for having an affair, Letourneau replied: “I loved him very much, and I kind of thought, ‘Why can’t it ever just be a kiss?'”
Letourneau became pregnant with Fualaau’s child by the end of the summer of 1996, when he was just 13.
In 1997, her husband discovered a love letter she had written to her former student and turned it over to the police, and she was arrested. She gave birth to her and Fualaau’s first daughter while out on bail in May 1997.
Letourneau was sentenced to 89 months in prison in November 1997 but was paroled after three months – on condition that she stay away from Mr Fualaau.
Within weeks, however, she was found having sex with him in her car, and then she became pregnant with their second daughter. She was sentenced to an additional 71/2 years in prison, and she gave birth to their second daughter behind bars in October 1998.
Fualaau said he has warned his daughters against having boyfriends.
“The reason for me telling them that was just from, out of experience,” he said. “A relationship could lead to something that you think you wanted back then. You don’t really want it, maybe, years later.”
If either of their girls did what they did, if they came home one day and said they were sleeping with their teacher, both Letourneau and Fualaau said they would be shocked and upset.
“I don’t support younger kids being married or having a relationship with someone older,” Fualaau said. “I don’t support it.”
The interview drew very strong reactions, with more than 3,600 comments on ABC’s Good Morning America website.
Respondents hailed Fualaau for staying with Letourneau and their children while others severely criticised his wife, calling her a sexual predator who trapped an innocent young man.
“No wonder he felt depressed and screwed up,” wrote English Rose. “He was the child victim of a sexual predator. 6th grade!! For God’s sake, he was a well-developed baby. She got her hooks into him, stunted his psychological growth, and never let go.”
Letourneau is working as a legal assistant but hopes she can return to teaching. Her teaching licence was revoked during the scandal, but she has now started tutoring and giving piano lessons.
She is still registered as a sex offender, but is trying to get her name removed from the registry, ABC News reported. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network