The Washington Post published a problematic op-ed by Betsy Karasik, a Dupont Circle artist described by the Post as a "writer and former lawyer," that argued for the legal acceptance of consensual sexual relationships between teachers and their underage students.
Karasik's column centered on a widely discussed Montana case in which a 49-year-old teacher was sentenced to 30 days in prison after the statutory rape of a 14-year-old student, who several years later committed suicide. This sentence, which many feel was far too lenient and which came after the judge stated that the student was "older than her chronological age," led to a national public outcry.
Karasik, however, found herself "troubled for the opposite reason":
I don'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.
Karasik does acknowledge that "that teachers who engage in sex with students, no matter how consensual, should be removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation."
Her argument seems to center around her own experiences coming of age as a teenager:
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.
The Washington Post gave no indictation that Karasik -- a former attorney who specialized in "negligence, product liability and insurance unfair claims litigation" -- has any expertise qualifying her to make broad, sweeping generalizations on the impact of teenagers engaging in sexual activity with adults. In fact, her entire op-ed seems to hinge on her observation that "no one [she] knew was horribly damaged" after sexual relationships with older teachers.
Furthermore, Karasik misses the principal reason sex between teachers and students is problematic not just legally but ethically as well. As Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress points out:
Even beyond the gulf that often exists in statutory rape cases, teachers wield tremendous authority over students. They have the power to discipline students, to detain students (that's where the word "detention" comes from), and often to suspend students based on their mere word given to a school official. . . . And, of course, all of this ignores the power teachers have over the students in their classrooms to set their grades -- a power that can potentially shape the remainder of the student's future.
The publication of this op-ed, considering its controversial subject matter and the its author's apparent lack of relevant credentials, is yet another odd misstep by the Washington Post.
(Photo: Luis Gomez Photos via Borderstan)