I swear it feels like there has been a rash on “teachers sleeping with students” news over the past few months than I can recently remember. What seems to be more striking about this is that there is more reporting of female teachers sleeping with male students.
What is now equally as interesting is the response to that sort of news. I suppose the old phrase of “the more things change, the more they remain the same” applies here. There is still a marginalizing of the youth involved as victims regardless of the gender, the trivialization of the crimes committed and the comparatively shorter sentences or less hard punishment for the female offenders.
So what’s up with the double standard anyways? Shouldn’t a crime be a crime? Well, it’s often more complicated than that in this scenario; sex is always complicated. Many people weigh on the issue of consent and how to establish that. Following legal guidelines here in the US shows that age of consent varies from state to state. Even within legal guidelines for consent have other tricky areas to determine – age gap between teens. For instance there may be legal grounds for the crime of statutory rape if the younger partner was under the consent age initially and there was a 3 year age difference.
Whenever doing a workshop with both middle school and high school students, this was a popular question and it is hard to explain the legal nuances to adults, much less young people themselves. Such nuances can get more complicated when an adult and a minor at the time are involved – consent is just as hard to prove then clearly on either side.
No matter the legal ramifications, what seems to be lost in the sauce the most is that there was an egregious misuse of power that occurred. Yes, many folks have had the school teacher fantasy in their heads. I can think of personally a couple of cute HS teachers I had that all the boys had the hots for. One even had a few rumors going around that she crossed the line and was seeing a student. But my personally issue is that there is an uneven distribution of power there that is no different from the doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship. Such an uneven power dynamic really makes these things just rife with issues more often than not.
To me, the power dynamic issues play into how consent gets really skewed. The student could have given “consent” because hey, it’s a fantasy fulfilled – older woman + teacher. Then once things get serious and feelings get wrapped in, some of the needs of the teacher that may be getting met can cause a tug on the power dynamic in the relationship.
I can recall watching a TV special about a woman who was abused by a female teacher from middle school through late high school. She recounts how the teacher used her role as teacher to secure trust, then the sexual element came in, then the control came in to maintain the relationship. Threats to parents, personal embarrassment were some of the tools used by the teacher to maintain the relationship to as long as possible. Can we say that this happened in the case of the article above? Maybe – maybe not…but with a built-in imbalance, one can see how even the mildest cases of pulling rank by the teacher can create issues.
We can also talk about gender roles play into the double standard where because it is a male as the student, he should exercise his implied right to “just suck it up and be proud of the fact that an older woman + teacher is after you”. If the roles were reversed, the same folks who say we need to lock him away and do all sorts of other things to him. So…the rights and feelings of the victim still doesn’t matter – the young man can get ostracized for “perceived weakness” because the sex and attention should be more important than his own true feelings in what he may perceive to be an unhealthy situation. There are female “predators” out there, some who are as vicious in their intent as their male counterparts.
As a community, this is an issue that needs to be addressed, especially in light of our ever evolving sexual and gender roles. Still, boundaries need to be respected and laws need to be enforced. While the lawyers and judges work on each case, perhaps it is time to really take a look at not only how and why we go looking for love, comfort and affection, but where we choose to do so. After all, is the message of “I need to get mine to meet my own wants and needs at all costs” the one we want to be teaching our kids?