Last week, we told you about an appalling case in which Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced convicted statutory rapist Stacey Rambold to a mere 30 days in jail for raping a then-14-year-old student (who subsequently committed suicide). Judge Baugh justified his lenient sentencing, saying that the victim was ”older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. People were understandably appalled and Judge Baugh has since apologized (though Rambold’s puny sentence stands). But writer and former lawyer Betsy Karasik (above) found herself “troubled” by this case for other reasons and wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post arguing that she doesn’t believe “that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized.”
That Karasik chose to peg her argument to this case, in which the victim committed suicide following her statutory rape, would be incomprehensible, except that Karasik suggests, based on absolutely zero evidence, that the suicide occurred not because of the rape, but because of the legal case against Rambold. Karasik writes:
I don’t know what triggered Morales’s suicide, but I find it tragic and deeply troubling that this occurred as the case against Rambold wound its way through the criminal justice system. One has to wonder whether the extreme pressure she must have felt from those circumstances played a role.
Hmm. So teachers who rape their students shouldn’t be arrested, prosecuted and jailed because the stress of those legal proceedings may be too much for the victims? While it is absolutely true that the legal system is not kind to rape victims, often putting them on trial — to the point where countless rape victims don’t report the crime to police — I hardly think the answer is to throw up our hands and say, “Why bother?” Statutory rape laws are pretty clear, as are the rules in educational institutions about teachers having sexual contact with students. Honestly, I don’t even think Karasik believes the bullshit she’s selling, as her Op-Ed fluxtuates between kinda sorta arguing two weak points: 1) that teens are sexually mature enough to consent to sex with their teachers and it’s really no big deal and must we be so prudish, and 2) that statutory rape between a teacher and underage student shouldn’t be prosecuted because the legal process might be too traumatizing for the victim.
I’ve been a 14-year-old girl, and so have all of my female friends. When it comes to having sex on the brain, teenage boys got nothin’ on us. When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, the sexual boundaries between teachers and students were much fuzzier. Throughout high school, college and law school, I knew students who had sexual relations with teachers. To the best of my knowledge, these situations were all consensual in every honest meaning of the word, even if society would like to embrace the fantasy that a high school student can’t consent to sex. Although some feelings probably got bruised, no one I knew was horribly damaged and certainly no one died.
Oh good, I’m so glad no one Karasik knew was horribly damaged by the sexual relationships they had with high school, college and law school professors during the groovy ’60s and ’70s. Yes, many 14-year-old girls (and boys!) have sex on the brain. There is nothing wrong with that. There’s also nothing wrong with a teenager crushing on a teacher. But there is something wrong with a teacher pursuing a sexual relationship with a teenage student, not only because a teenager cannot consent in the eyes of the law, but because of the tremendous power disparity between the two. And she totally neglects to address how the two are related — that the power imbalance makes the concept of consent even more problematic and muddled.
I found it extremely troubling that Karasik’s Op-Ed focused entirely on the underage victims of statutory rape — their sexual maturity, the damage caused to them by the legal system — rather than the responsibility of teachers to keep their goddamn pants on when it comes to the students in their charge.
The point is that there is a vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students, ranging from flirtation to mutual lust to harassment to predatory behavior. Painting all of these behaviors with the same brush sends a damaging message to students and sets the stage for hypocrisy and distortion of the truth. Many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature. Pretending that this kind of thing won’t happen if we simply punish it severely enough is delusional.
No, the point is that regardless of a teenager’s “sexual maturity,” it is completely reasonable to expect public servants not to have sexual contact with those over which they have power, especially those who are not able to give consent in the eyes of the law. But Karasik is too busy opining about the lusty nature of the average teenage girl to really address what responsibility (if any!) the person with power in the student-teacher relationship has. Except to say this:
If religious leaders and heads of state can’t keep their pants on, with all they have to lose, why does society expect that members of other professions can be coerced into meeting this standard?
Got that? Because Anthony Weiner and Bill Clinton and countless others have put their dicks where they don’t belong, we should just accept that teachers are going to do it too. What a cop out.