Earlier this month, a high school teacher and coach in Oregon pleaded guilty to sexual contact with a former student of his, who was 17 years old when the sexual contact began. During sentencing, the teacher basically refused to accept responsibility for his actions and stated that the sexual contact was “mutual.” That statement deserves the following response.
Dear Teacher, Coach, or Principal:
It is a gross misunderstanding of and complete departure from your duties as an educator to engage in any sexual contact with a high school student. You hold a fundamental duty to provide education and foster growth. By engaging in sexual contact with a student, you not only violate that duty, you violate the student, the young individual struggling to grow up in an increasingly confusing world. Instead of helping the student navigate that world, you only add to the confusion.
No teacher, coach or principal is on equal footing with a high school student. There is a natural imbalance of power. High school students are not your peers. You are not the students’ peer. You hold a unique position of authority, and engaging in sexual contact with a student constitutes sexual abuse precisely because you are not on equal footing.
Here are 3 things you, the educator, probably haven’t thought of:
1. High school students are naturally sexually curious and that curiosity can lead them to make bad choices. Students also naturally seek their teachers’ approval. Curiosity + seeking approval = decision-making errors. You, as the educator and adult, should be helping students make good choices, not ones that will bring them embarrassment or lead to criminal and civil lawsuits.
2. When you continue a “relationship” with a high school student, at some point, the student will probably want to discontinue the relationship, but is afraid of others finding out, or afraid of what your reaction will be. Will you fail them? Will you intentionally prevent them from going to college or otherwise getting a job after school? Basically, teacher-student, coach-student or principal-student sexual relationships are naturally coercive, again, because educators are not on equal footing with their students.
3. Engaging in sexual conduct with a student is selfish and probably illegal. In response to the Jerry Sandusky Penn State sex abuse scandal, more and more states are passing school-student sex abuse laws which criminalize sex abuse in a school setting, regardless of the age of the victim.
For instance, in 2011, Pennsylvania amended its child sex abuse law to specifically criminalize teacher-student sex abuse. In PA, teachers and other educators who have sexual contact with high school students, even ones over the age of 18, are committing the crime of institutional sex abuse. If convicted, you will probably have to register as a sex offender. Good luck finding a job after that.
Brian Kent, a former sex crimes unit prosecutor and now civil crime victims lawyer, who is disgusted with the response educators have after they get caught sexually abusing students.
- I’m unsure about filing a civil lawsuit against a school for sex abuse. What should I do?
- What rights do school sex abuse victims have against the abusing teacher?
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