In certain cases, it is not always easy to define whether sex between two people was truly consensual. In cases of adults having sex with minors, the law makes clear that minors below a certain age cannot legally give consent. In most of the U.S. the age of consent is between 16 and 18 years old.
But even if someone has reached the legal age of adulthood, the issue of consent is murky when that 18-year-old has sex with another adult who may be in a position of authority such as a teacher. Pennsylvania readers have no doubt heard news reports about the 31-year-old female teacher who recently resigned and now faces criminal charges after allegedly having sex with a high school student. He was 18 at the time, but the teacher has nonetheless been charged with institutional sexual assault.
The teacher and the student were allegedly in private contact for about two months, and shared racy cellphone pictures and texts. They also allegedly engaged in sexual activities in a classroom during after-school hours.
In 2012, Pennsylvania laws regarding sex between teachers and students were amended. The change made the age of the student irrelevant in such cases.
Public reaction to this scandal will likely be mixed. There are some who argue that the student was not a victim of sexual abuse because he is legally an adult and could therefore consent to have sex. But consider the fact that the young man is still a student, and was “consenting” to sex with a considerably older adult who was also an authority figure.
It would likely be difficult – even for the student – to sort out how much of his decision was true consent and how much was influenced by the teacher and her position of authority.
Even if this case does spark some debate, the problem of teacher sexual abuse and misconduct is far too common in Pennsylvania. Commenting on the case, the county’s district attorney said: “Frankly, we’ve had too many of these cases involving school employees.”
Source: Penn Live, “‘We’ve had too many of these cases,’ DA says of Cumberland Valley teacher-student sex case,” Jeffrey A. Johnson, March 14, 2014