The Stacey Rambold Case: Can A Teenager Ever Really Consent To A Sexual Relationship With An Adult?

September 4, 2013  |  

So should sex between a minor and an adult always be considered rape?

No, seriously, this was the question posed in the recent op-ed piece The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students in the Washington Post. Betsy Karasik, author of the piece, former lawyer, and possible believer that the pedophiles on Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator only wanted a brownie, said this:

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.”

As Karasik explains, she was inspired to write the column in response to the story about Stacey Rambold, the Billings, Montana high school teacher who only received 30 days in prison (actually, he received 15 years in prison, with one day credit for time served and all but 30 days suspended) after pleading guilty to the statutory rape of one of his 14-year-old students. According to published reports, Rambold had a “months-long relationship” with Cherice Moralez, and she committed suicide before the case could go to trial. The judge in the case said that Rambold did not deserve a lengthy prison sentence because Moralez was in “much control of the situation” and appeared to be “older than her chronological age.” In her op-ed piece, Karasik said that while she would not defend the judges comments on Morales, she believes that consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized. She recounts her own experience as a horny 14-year-old girl in the 1970s as well as the experience of her girlfriends, who carried on sexual relations with high school and college professors and by her own estimations, turned out fine. Karasik writes:

The point is that there is a vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students, ranging from flirtation to mutual lust to harassment to predatory behavior. Painting all of these behaviors with the same brush sends a damaging message to students and sets the stage for hypocrisy and distortion of the truth. Many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature. Pretending that this kind of thing won’t happen if we simply punish it severely enough is delusional.“

While the Washington Post is fast becoming a place of frequent irritation (if we recall, It was the Post, which also ran the op-ed about weddings leases about a month ago), this is not entirely a new concept. In fact, go watch many movies or television shows, read a book, or visit your nearest social networking site and you can see somebody, somewhere (regardless of gender) right now, casually making reference to these “grown a**” little girls with out of control libidos. You know, the provocatively dressed teen and ‘tween-age girls who are out in these streets, sending the “wrong message” to adult men? It is true that teenagers, particularly teenage girls, like the rest of the human race, are capable of sexual desire and expression. However, I don’t know how comfortable I feel about using the tale of the Lolita as the general consensus of adult-meets-young-person sexual encounters in general.

Just like Karasik, I too was once a horny teenage girl. I also had a body, which could suggest an age much older than I actually was. And just like Karasik’s girlfriends, I too had a relationship with a much older man. While I was a willing partner in the relationship, I certainly would not say that it was a mutual relationship. For one, he was older, thus more experienced in life than I was. So naturally, there was always a power imbalance. His wants and desires were mine. In arguments, his logic was much more stronger than anything I could reason at 15 years old. And although my older beau used to speak of our relationship as a moment of male weakness, brought on by his inability to resist the charm of a young girl who acted much older (that being me of course), I recall that on many occasions in our relationship, I felt as though I was always emotionally and intellectually outmatched.

And that is the problem I have with the narrative around the “grown-a**” young girl with the vampish sexuality. It lets the real life “grown a**” adults in these sexual relationships off the hook for not doing what we accuse these kids of doing – and that’s acting like an adult. Being an adult is much more than about the stuff you get to do, such as sexual intercourse; it’s about thinking about, as well as taking on the consequences of those actions, such as knowing that there is a strong possibility you are not only taking advantage of a minor, but will break the law. That’s why it’s hard not to see Karasik’s op-ed piece as just another carefully crafted excuse used to alleviate the guilt of adults, who do not want to take responsibility and don’t want to see that what they are doing is actually predatory. And let’s be frank: it is predatory.

Truth be told, as an adult, I too have been visually tricked by some very tall 16 to 17-year-old young men with full Beanie Sigel beards. However, the moment these visually tricky youngsters open their mouths, it becomes instantly apparent who and what I am talking too. A child. And I don’t care how you try to cut it, there are very few things a child could do or say, which an adult would find attractive, seducing, or alluring – unless he/she already had a predisposition to liking that sort of thing.

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