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When La Costa Canyon High School officials investigated an English teacher suspected of having a sexual relationship with a student in fall 2010, they were already concerned about the teacher’s relationships with recent graduates, school records show.
Then-teacher Marc Sandknop was reminded of “a number of reports” about his “relationships with girls who were your recent students,” and admonished by the assistant principal, who wrote in a warning letter, “Your closeness to certain female students reinforces the perception that your girlfriends may have been ‘recruited’ while they were your students.”
Now, one graduate says she dated Sandknop for two years shortly after graduating La Costa Canyon High in 2004, but emotional boundaries were crossed while she was still a student, which set the stage for a sexual relationship not long after she began college.
Kristen Murphy, 32, now lives in Oceanside. She told Voice of San Diego in a Q-and-A that even though she was legally an adult when her relationship with Sandknop became physical, it was more damaging than she initially realized. She now sees her experience with her public school teacher as part of an alarming pattern of teachers grooming students for sexual relationships. Murphy said she hopes others can learn from her account and better protect vulnerable students and young adults.
“I’d be remiss at this point to stay silent, to continue to be silent,” she said.
Sandknop resigned in 2016 after a 2011 graduate told police they’d had a sexual relationship her senior year. No criminal charges were filed.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was your reaction to seeing the VOSD article about “Julie’s” experience, and did you see any similarities?
I think my reaction to it was kind of a weird fusion of dismay and eerily like I was expecting it too. … I think I always thought that my relationship with him was really special and unique, and after reading that article, I realized it was none of those things. That he was, it wasn’t just me who he had decided to hone in on and pursue a relationship with. … Reading it was definitely, it was shocking, but it was also at the same time, also kind of like something that I think I knew deep down was true. It was like I was waiting for the evidence to prove that point to myself and that was the evidence that I needed.
Were there specific things about her description that reminded you of your relationship?
Yeah. I would say the big one, because this is geographically significant, is her reference to him taking her to Fletcher’s Cove in Cardiff. … To me it was kind of a fact check that this clearly did happen to her because that’s exactly where he brought me for our first date. And outside of that one specific point … one of the things that stood out was the Humbert Humbert “Lolita” reference. And that was, quite often we would make jokes like that in person or you know, verbally, over email. We often would reference those types of things. And that obviously really hit me pretty hard too, because again … you do think that you’re in something that’s kind of special and that’s just using the same material over and over again, which it’s very sickening to think.
What was your relationship with Sandknop like as a student, and was it like any other teacher-student relationship?
I do know that there was an affinity there that he had for me specifically, and it was clear that it was there. … It was the kind of relationship where like we would spend time speaking alone with each other quite often. I would go see him at lunch. We would, you know, share intimate stories about each other’s lives. I remember him divulging things about his marriage, things that were not appropriate to be shared with a student. It creates this sense of informality and kind of a friendship, and that’s not what this was supposed to be. … The student should never feel like they are having or should be having intimate conversations with their teachers. That is where the line should have already been drawn.
And when I was 16, he was already letting me in that way … accepting gifts, sort of like inviting the kind of flirtations that I was giving him and at his age and knowing what he was seeing, I’m sure he knew. I mean obviously he knew that my affections were not one of like, a friend. They weren’t. It was a girl who was flirtatious and who was interested, and he was never one to say at any point, which is what you would hope a teacher would say, ‘Sorry, we can’t have these types of communications. You know, we need to keep this as a teacher-student relationship,’ or just the subtle, little things that one can do even non-verbally to indicate disinterest. That never happened with him.
What happened after graduation?
I left La Costa. I went to Syracuse University in New York for my first college year and it was, would’ve been winter break after my first semester that I came home. And that first semester was, it was challenging for me. … I just felt very disenchanted with the experience of college. I was like, ‘This is not what I was expecting. This is not what was sold to me,’ you know. I think I felt quite vulnerable. … I thought maybe he would have answers. I think it was like a lot was going on in my brain when I reached out to him. But I reached out and just sort of conveyed my discouragement with my first semester at school. … He ends up sharing with me his instant message name… We expressed that we were sexually interested with one another and then set to meet for the first time at Fletcher Cove. So that winter break, that was our first date, and I believe the same night we met up at the beach was the same night that I went back to his house to have sex with him, and I was losing my virginity that night. … (Afterwards) we were dating through my freshman, sophomore and junior year, first semester (of college).
How did the relationship impact you physically and emotionally?
You know, the screwed-up thing is that to say that it was like unenjoyable would have been a complete lie. I’m not going to say that. I mean, at the time I thought I was absolutely in love with this person. Outside of the fact that I had to be sleuthing around and lying to my parents, and that was very taxing. That part of it was absolutely destructive for me psychologically. I mean, I was doing it, but at the same time I was constantly feeling scared that I was going to get caught. I knew my parents would be devastated if they found out. I knew it was like weird because again, it’s hard to have this dissonance between right and wrong and knowing that something can feel good, but also you kind of know it’s wrong at the same time. … I’m enjoying having this kind of exotic, exciting relationship with this very much older man than me and, and the enjoyment of that, which is like seemingly odd, against some of the other things that I intuitively knew weren’t right. …
I think that a lot of the hiding and running around and being out in public and that the seductiveness of this relationship we had kept me in it … he was very good at keeping me super locked down. Like, we were always constantly on the phone and talking on Skype and emailing every day. And there was this expectation that I was always going to be available no matter what. … now reading through all the old emails between us, he had me under his thumb. … And I think he would quite often sort of manipulate me into serving his needs more than my own … he just kind of had this really good way of utilizing language and his emotions, which were very adult and developed, to manipulate how I felt about him and to always make me kind of concerned about his emotional well-being… I feel like I was taking care of, in some instances,the fragile mind of a man who was 22 years older than I was at that point. And I just feel like that you’re not ready for that when you’re a teenager. …
Looking back now, I kind of wonder if I would’ve had a real college experience, if I would’ve maybe grown into learning how to be a young adult and learning how to take that on and learn about what it’s like to go through a tough experience and work your way through it if I wasn’t so bogged down by trying to service this relationship that I had with him.
When did the relationship end and why?
I was coming to grips that I saw this as being very abnormal. I was getting tired of lying. … After like a lot of thinking on it and an incredible amount of stress about the impending breakup, I did what I thought was the right thing and I went to his house (and ended it).
Why are you speaking up now?
I really wish I had a lot longer ago. … You don’t even necessarily always know you were abused, even after you, you know, have an aborted child from sex that you were having with a guy who was completely lying to you about protection and even after all of the pain and the anguish and the suffering that you have gone through from the experience, you still think that it wasn’t wrong or that it was your fault or that it could never have happened unless you did it. … I think we don’t want to admit to being abused, because we don’t like the sound of that, and I think we also don’t even know that we were abused.
It took me a really, really long time and a lot of therapy and getting older to just have the perspective that I ended up having, which was, oh my God, this was totally unacceptable, and it was wrong and it was an abuse of power … And then the story came out that you wrote. … It was just like, this is true, this was abuse. He’s done this more than once. And he is like many in a string of professors and popes and bureaucrats and movie stars and producers that are using their power.
For those who might hear your story and think, ‘Well, you were 18 when things became sexual and therefore, you know, it’s unfair to criticize the relationship as predatory or concerning now,’ do you have anything to say to that sort of a reaction?
If someone says something like that, then it’s not malice. It’s ignorance, and I’m willing to teach people how that is wrong … Just because you weren’t 17 when you had sex with this teacher does not mean that what you were going through wasn’t something that was orchestrated far before you ever turned 18. And evidence to that is all around us, because it’s happening to kids all over this country all the time. … I mean, to think that we’re in a position at 18 to decide to have a relationship with a teacher that we had the year before is lunacy. …
I guess I didn’t realize until after the fact how it did affect me during that time in my life because again, I was too young and naive to realize it. I didn’t realize that I was, the things that were impacting me the way that they did when I decided to be with him while I was in college. … It’s insanely laughable to think that people somehow in their heads can go, ‘OK, yes. You’re 18.’ That that little difference all of a sudden means you are completely equipped and you are completely capable of having a relationship with your former teacher from high school who is 20 years senior to you. … And to think that someone at 42 thought that was OK.
Are there lessons others should take from your experience?
I think speak out. I think whether it be the teachers who see other teachers’ behaviors. Whether it be the students that see other students with teachers and think it’s weird. Whether it be the administration who has inklings or beliefs from somebody who has either come to them specifically, or from just rumors that are happening, really look into those. … So that really is gonna be a part of the structure of fixing this problem is creating a safe sort of space for people to share what they know or to come out and ask for help if they have been inappropriately touched or talked to by a teacher.