Last week, Betty Karasik wrote about decriminalizing sex between students and teachers. My first question after reading her article was, to benefit whom? Whether one agrees that not all cases of sex between high school students and teachers classify as rape, it’s still considered statutory rape by law. Ms. Karasik’s use of the case of Cherice Morales as an example to support decriminalization is woefully inappropriate. In fact, Morales’ death undermines Karasik’s argument entirely because it showcases how sexual maturity does not equal emotional maturity.
Certainly “extreme pressure,” shame and guilt may have been factors in Morales’ suicide. The emotional maturity required to endure a trial is significant. But removing criminalization of rape in teacher/student sex situations doesn’t remove a victim’s emotions; Morales would still have had to endure the trial and its stigma and the situation would still have been wrong. I don’t use the word wrong in a naïve or pearl-clutching way. I know sex between students and teachers may happen. But, it’s not inevitable as the author implies. We can’t say oh, that, we can’t stop that from happening because we can at least decrease its occurrence. It’s called criminalization.
Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold to 30 days in jail (15years with 31 days suspended and credit for the one day he‘s already served for felony rape of a minor). The judge’s comments about Morales being in control or older than her years missed its mark, seemingly indicating that it’s her fault she was so beguiling. It was her fault an adult was unable to disbelieve her attestations of being ready for sex (if she indeed agreed each time or at all). It was her fault she forced her teacher to sleep with her, repeatedly. The idea that a child can be so enticing, so incredibly sexual and willing to prove his/her “readiness” for sex benefits no one but the adult.
There is no time when a teacher has sex with a student, regardless of how consensual the act is, that it should be looked upon as permissible. If, as the author reasons, teens are more mature than they’re given credit for, both the teen and the teacher should be able to wait until the student/teacher relationship has concluded. There has to be a consequence when the law is disregarded, no matter how determinedly a teen pinky swears about readiness. Loss of a job and rehab? That’s enough of a consequence to the author? No matter how adult Gonzales may have acted, no matter how carefully constructed her pretend feminine wiles, Rambold should have been able to keep their relationship from escalating.
Why should Rambold, age 49, be shown any leniency in his complicity in raping a 14-year-old girl? Karasik writes that “absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized.” In this case, is the difference between 14 and 49 not extenuating? A 49-year-old man should not be held criminally accountable because a girl may have told him OK? Where is his responsibility, as the adult in the situation, to say no?
While yes, there is a “vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students,” the bottom line should be clear for adults with even a modicum of a moral code: teachers should not sleep with students. It’s as simple as that. Is this too naïve a stance to have? Karasik seems to think so, considering those who disagree with her opinion to be delusional.
The author’s use of the Louie scene doesn’t work to bring her point home either. There is no kernel of truth in an adult having sex with a child, a teacher with a student. Wanting to is its own problem. Acting on that desire is wholly different. Applying the Louis C.K. bit’s theory that a child molester would be less likely to kill his/her victim if the consequence of the molestation wasn’t so steep doesn’t make the action any less intolerable. Karasik writes, “Many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature.” But she doesn’t address how many teenagers’ brains/emotions are not as mature as their biological selves.
The author asks “why does society expect that members of other professions can be coerced into meeting this standard” of keeping their pants on. I ask why do they need coercion. Shouldn’t we approach the issue of inappropriate sex with the expectation that an adult equals common sense owner? The bottom line is clear: sex between an authority figure such as a teacher with an underage person is illegal. The law is not there to simply punish morally deficient adults. It’s also there to protect the children against whom the crime is committed. Removing criminalization doesn’t magically make the act itself permissible.