A former teacher in Tennessee faces 19 sex crime charges, including rape, after she allegedly posted inappropriate videos of her students on TikTok.
Taylor Cruze, 23, was a first-year fifth-grade teacher at John Colemon Elementary School in Smyrna, Tennessee, Rutherford County Schools spokesperson James Evans told Newsweek. As the result of a law enforcement investigation, she was suspended without pay on May 2 and submitted her resignation on May 22.
The school district has learned that Cruze was indicted by a grand jury in Smyrna last week.
“Ms. Cruze is accused of inappropriate explicit communications and sexual contact with a student,” said Evans. “The school district is fully cooperating with law enforcement and will continue to provide any information needed for the investigation.”
The ex-teacher was charged with five counts of exploitation of a minor under 13 by electronic means, five counts of exploitation of a minor by electronic means, and five counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, according to WSMV-TV. She also faces three counts of solicitation of a minor—rape of a child, along with one count of sexual battery by an authority figure.
Cruze was arraigned on August 29 and posted a $100,000 bond. Her plea hearing is set for September 28.
She allegedly posted explicit videos of her students on TikTok, reported local news, although information on the substance of these videos has not been released.
TikTok reported increased sexualized content in its Community Guidelines Enforcement Report for the first quarter of 2022. The platform removed over 102 million videos between January and March, with “minor safety” cited as the top reason for content removals by a large margin.
Mental health professionals across the U.S. have expressed concern over the impact of TikTok’s sexualized videos on teenage girls, particularly those with underlying mental health struggles such as disordered eating and body image issues. Several states have already investigated how Instagram deleteriously affects the mental health of teen girls, following reports from whistleblower France Haugen that Meta, Instagram’s parent company, knew about its potential harm.
Paul Sunseri, a psychologist and director of the New Horizons Child and Family Institute, told The Wall Street Journal that about 25 percent of female patients at his clinic have produced sexualized content on TikTok.
“For a young girl who’s developing her identity, to be swept up into a sexual world like that is hugely destructive,” said Sunseri. “When teen girls are rewarded for their sexuality, they come to believe that their value is in how they look.”
Newsweek reached out to the Rutherford County Circuit Criminal Court for comment.
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