A Boy’s Struggles

A Boy’s Struggles

A sexually abused boy and his mother recount the anguish they suffered at the hands of a trusted teacher when he was in kindergarten. (LAT)

As a six-year-old kindergartener, the child in this Los Angeles Times audio slideshow was molested repeatedly by a trusted teacher, Paul G. Thompson. Although the teacher had been accused of misconduct in the past, he was returned to the classroom and allowed to tutor the boy in his own home. This story focuses on the tragic loss of innocence suffered by the boy, and his mother’s anger at the school system that allowed this to happen.

The award-winning video is at the heart of “Failure Gets a Pass,” a Times’ investigative series examining California public school districts’ ineffectiveness in removing teachers who harm their students.

Photojournalist Liz O. Baylen skillfully sets the scene and acquaints viewers with the victims without revealing faces or recognizable places. Every frame is carefully chosen to highlight a point, from the various uses of the child’s bedroom, to subtle suggestions of emotion in body language and placement of hands on heart, shoulders, and face. Images of ordinary life — a bowl of cereal, hugging the dog — provide counterpoint to dark or blurry images that suggest fear and contribute to the somber tone of the piece. One of the more telling photos is that of the boy sitting in a tiny Lego chair that would have been his size when the crime was committed.

Audio is also used effectively, such as the mother’s sweet lullaby over the opening frames of explanatory text that segues into the child’s voice describing the “horrible person” who abused him. The boy and his mother alternate telling their story. Although sadness permeates the story, it never strays to the maudlin.

This audio slideshow won first place in the 67th annual Pictures of the Year International awards, in the category of “Issue Reporting Story – Multimedia.”

CHANNEL: Los Angeles Times

Length: 5:26

Photography and audio by Liz O. Baylen