I have a friend who was an employee of the high school where his then-girlfriend was a student. He was 24 and she was 16, which is illegal on a number of levels. They’re married now, with three children.

Making the rounds has been the story out of Montana of a judge who found himself in hot water:

A Montana judge has come under fire after handing down a 30-day sentence to a former high school teacher convicted of raping a 14-year-old student and for making statements in court that the victim was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher.

Outrage is particularly sharp in Billings, where the crime took place, because the girl committed suicide in 2010, just shy of her 17th birthday, as the criminal case was pending. A protest was planned for Thursday, and organizers have called on Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh to resign.

The uproar began Monday when Baugh sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, to 15 years in prison on one count of sexual intercourse without consent, but then suspended all but 31 days and gave him credit for one day served. Prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

Both Dr. Phi and Mike Hunt Rice have taken issue with the press’s reference to the crime as “rape” without a qualifier. Having followed the issue, it’s something that I have noticed more generally. I don’t tend to believe that dropping the qualifier is “intellectually dishonest” as MHR put it, but I do understand the objection.

Is this rape? I am inclined to believe that it’s not, except in the statutory sense. Whether we believe such behavior should be legal or not, the differences between this and holding down a woman while forcing himself on her are manifest. Likewise, this doesn’t compare to a having sex with a woman who is drugged or drunk and unconscious or something close to it. On the other hand, I recently linked to a story in Louisiana about a guard and an inmate having sex, and I have very little difficulty calling that rape regardless of how much she (superficially) consented. There are circumstances in which I would consider consent to be impossible. I draw the line between Montana and Louisiana. Some draw it on the other side of Montana, while others draw it on the other side of Louisiana.

When “Nathan J.” was fifteen, he was legally raped. When the child of the rape was born, he was successfully sued for child support. The court ruled ‘The law should not except Nathaniel J. from this responsibility because he is not an innocent victim of Jones’s criminal acts.’

The Washington Post is calling for the judge’s resignation:

“I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct,” the judge said in a mea culpa issued to the Billings Gazette on Wednesday. He said he would file an addendum to the court file to “hopefully better explain the sentence.” Actually, Montana residents, along with much of the nation, know all they need to know about this case and this judge. His parsing of the sexual exploitation of a troubled teenager by a teacher in a position of trust as not a “forcible, beat-up rape” — and his sentence of a mere 30 days — sent the message that this is a crime that is not to be taken all that seriously. Judge Baugh’s ignorant notions about rape and his insensitivity to victims are an absolute affront to justice, and he should immediately resign.

To their credit, though (both sides of the story and all that), they also ran this piece by Betsy Karasik, which argues that teacher-student sex shouldn’t be illegal and that it may have been the law, rather than the crime, that drove the victim to suicide:

I do think 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. But the utter hysteria with which society responds to these situations does less to protect children than to assuage society’s need to feel that we are protecting them. 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.

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.

Several years ago I read a book, the title of which I cannot recall (something about reading signs, there were signs on the cover), about early woman sexuality. It was mostly a descriptive book, the different approaches different young ladies take towards sex, though to the extent it had an “agenda” it tended towards being very supportive of girls taking control of their sexuality. It leaned considerably more towards the feminist direction than not. It had a chapter on young women and older men and was by and large supportive of the notion – or at least the right of women to explore the notion.

MaryKayAll of which drives at one of the complexities of the issue. Which is that it actually doesn’t fall strictly among ideological lines. There are liberal and feminist arguments in support of laws condemning this activity. Arguably, this may be where the framing of the issue as rape comes into play. Feminists would be hard-pressed to support anything that could be construed as supporting rape. At the same time, though, the counter-arguments are also quite feminist in nature. It involves young women taking ownership of their sexuality. Being allowed to decide not just to have sex, but who to have sex with. The notion that young women should be in control of their sexuality – including access to birth control and abortion – is mutually exclusive to the idea that they cannot consent to sex, or that they can only consent to sex with men (boys) roughly their own age.

Ultimately, though, I disagree with Karasik that I don’t think it should be legal, for a teacher, to sleep with a student who is fourteen. Or a non-teacher, for that matter, who is forty-something. I don’t believe in the unqualified sexual autonomy of children, which I consider a fourteen year old to be. Though I support a general loosening of our teenage sex regime, that’s a bridge further than I can go. And on top of that, I think that the power dynamics of teachers and students are, while not comparable to prisoner and guard, cause for potential criminal action in itself. But I don’t think it should live in the same tent as someone who holds a woman down and forces himself on her.

To open this book, and explore this issue, we would need a greater review of how we view teenage sexuality. The two things that shut down the debate are our cultural discomfort with the possibility of two people having sex, and a strong desire never to make excuses for anything that can be called rape. I am not holding by breath for reform.

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11 Responses to Sex With Teacher

  1. Φ says:

    Somewhat ironically, of the various crimes the Louisiana guard was convicted, rape was not among them.

    We should note that in the Louisiana case, the present controversy isn’t the guilt of or penalty for the guard, but the civil suit against the parish by the juvenile inmate. For my part, I don’t have a problem punishing the guard, but I do have a problem with compensating the “victim” for somethinng in which she was a willing participant, if that is shown to be the case.

    That said, you are correct: it’s a freakin’ juvie prison! It shouldn’t be hard for her to demonstrate coercion or intimidation.

    • trumwill says:

      I do have a problem with compensating the “victim” for somethinng in which she was a willing participant, if that is shown to be the case.

      That seems fair. Let’s say, for the moment, that there are a dozen witnesses of the girl bragging about the special against-the-rules treatment she was getting because of her relationship with the guard. That would be indicative that it was something other than coercion (bribery, perhaps, or prostitution of a sort).

      Even then, I would support the prison being made to pay because it’s systemically problematic to allow these things to go on. The victims being, though, the other inmates. But also, in a way, a girl who was navigating a corrupt system by sleeping with the guard. If there was any indication at all that failing to sleep with a guard meant not only the loss of undue privileges, but also undue punishment (even if in the form of extra scrutiny and prescribed punishments for every little thing you do wrong). And I’m not sure how much we can reliably say “She benefited from the sex” and be sure that, had she withheld it, she wouldn’t have been unduly punished for doing so.

      It’s a systemic problem any which way, and one for which the prison should be held into account. And it seems to me like civil courts are a good place for that.

      And yet… I do share your sense that it would be odd for the bragging inmate to benefit civilly from having slept with the guard.

  2. Mike Hunt Rice says:

    1) I am disappointed that this wasn’t cross-posted.

    2) As for Nathan J, I feel bad for him, but child support isn’t punishment; it is to support a child.

    Perhaps the mother should be declared unfit per se. After all, she was convicted of child molestation. Then support wouldn’t be as issue; Nathan would have the choice to either raise the child or give it up for adoption.

    • trumwill says:

      1) I don’t need the headache. Besides, aren’t you the one who was implying this site was redundant because of all my crossposting?

      2) It’s not a punishment, but it is a responsibility. Being responsible for the consequences of your own actions and all that. And yet, if you were raped, it’s not clear you should bear responsibility because the actions in question aren’t yours.

  3. Mike Hunt Rice says:

    1) Yes, I was hoping you wouldn’t notice the irony. I was going to mention it in my post, but I wanted to see if you would pick up on it.

    Obviously you have the gravitas to post this over there if you wanted to. If the others would give you that much grief over it, then they really are an echo chamber.

    ϕ made some excellent points in his post. Bravo to him.

    2) Courts have held time and time again that bastard children are just as entitled to the support of both parents as those born in wedlock. I would prefer that wasn’t the case, but the courts feel it is an equal protection issue.

    Also, unless the boy was raped-raped by the woman, his “actions” caused the pregnancy. I don’t know if such a thing has ever happened in the history of the world.

    I still feel that my solution of custody automatically being granted to the father in these cases would solve the issue. But there is a bias against fathers in family court.

    • trumwill says:

      1) It’s not so much that I think people would pile on to me. More along the lines of what the comment thread would look like. I have over 200 emails from the email list from the last explosion, which occurred earlier in the week. I’m not going to be the one that is going to cause the next explosion. I may repackage the thrust (no pun intended) of this post into something for over there at some point.

      2) Sure, and you’re consistent. And more, I am inclined to agree with you. But that only works if we draw a distinction between being held down and sexually assaulted and being fifteen years old. For those who aren’t making a distinction there, it represents an interesting thing. The thing that those judges said about Nathan is not very different from what that Montana Judge said about the girl who slept with the teacher. That’s why I mentioned it.

      Anyway, they can’t let Nathan have custody of the kid. Dude had sex with a felon. 🙂

      • Mike Hunt Rice says:

        1) What was the explosion about?

        2) Good point about the Nathan judge. I agree that you mentioning his comment was a useful contrast to the Montana judge. I just didn’t explicitly say so.

        Also, I’m sure you noticed that the judge reconsidered his sentence because it ran afoul of the minimum sentencing guildines.

        • trumwill says:

          1) It involved comments surrounding a post about race and politics.

          2) It’s actually questionable whether it did. Slate argued that the reconsideration is actually problematic.

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