Decriminalization of teacher/student sexual activity is not the answer.

MaleSurvivor.org

Last Friday, the Washington Post ran a controversial opinion piece written by a former attorney named Betsy Karasik. In the piece, Ms. Karasik argued that some incidents of sexual activity should not be considered a criminal act. As a reaction to this column, MaleSurvivor Executive Director Christopher Anderson collaborated with the partners listed below to draft a response that was sent to the Washington Post in hopes that our response would be given equal space.

Today, the Post agreed to run a part of this letter under Chris’ name. Below is the full text of the letter along with all the signers.

Please share this full version. It is important that the message be heard.

September 6, 2013

We, the undersigned, emphatically disagree with Betsy Karasik that student/teacher sex should be decriminalized. We also express in the strongest measure our disappointment with the Washington Post for giving her a national platform – remarkably, just one day after issuing an editorial strongly rebuking a Montana judge for his unacceptable comments and inappropriately lenient sentencing of a then 49-year-old teacher convicted of raping a 14 year old student.

Sexual activity between teachers and students is a profound ethical violation. The authority placed in teachers, coaches, counselors, or other instructors creates an inescapable responsibility to maintain appropriate behavioral boundaries. When that line is crossed, the power differential between teacher and student creates an abusive betrayal of the trust placed in the teacher by the student and the community. A student’s willingness to engage in a sexual liaison with a teacher cannot eradicate this truth. As Dr. Richard Gartner, a pioneer in the treatment of men sexually abused as boys, has written, “Even seemingly consensual situations may turn out to have long term negative effects…. There’s no way for an adult to know whether a particular child–even if he seems happy to participate–will be affected negatively by taking part in sex acts. And the very last person we can expect to be objective about the needs and best interests of a child is the adult who sexually desires that child.”

The high levels of sexual abuse of children and teens in our society are further evidence for the need for stronger prohibitions, not weaker ones. Decades of research indicate that at least 10%, and perhaps more than 20% of all persons under the age 18 are sexually abused. In addition, overwhelming evidence makes clear that many victims suffer significant long-term emotional harm in these cases. Suggesting that legal sanctions are unwarranted based upon a small sample of self-selected anecdotes is both intellectually irresponsible and a needlessly cruel insult to millions of people who were sexually abused as children.

Criminalizing sexual activity between age-appropriate, truly consenting people is not a good idea. Yet the prevalence of abuse and the significant risk to students’ long-term health and well being necessitates that clear legal boundaries be drawn and enforced between teachers and students. Stronger enforcement of professional and legal sanctions against teachers who violate these boundaries is required. Importantly, better enforcement does not imply that draconian punishments are required for all offenders.

A great deal of evidence indicates that decriminalization would lead to more students being sexually exploited, abused and harmed. Decriminalization would wrongly signal to many, including potential abusive teachers and student victims, that teacher/student sexual encounters are not harmful. It would also effectively empower perpetrators of sexual abuse, and make it more difficult for many victims to get support. Ms. Karasik is right to be concerned about the stigma and pressures victims face in the legal system, but decriminalization is not a solution to those problems, and certainly would not provide the support that all victims of sexual exploitation and violence deserve.

Signed,

Christopher M. Anderson

Executive Director

MaleSurvivor 

 

Lois Beekman

Former Advisory Board Chair,

Darkness to Light

 

Omar Bell

Vice-President

MaleSurvivor

 

Julie Brand, M.S

Caper Consulting 

 

Elissa Brown, Ph.D.

Founder and Executive Director

Child HELP Partnership 

Professor of Psychology

St. John’s University

 

Jim Campbell, PhD

Coordinator, University of Wisconsin-Madison Conference on Child Sexual Abuse 

 

Roger Canaff, JD

Former Prosecutor, Child Protection Expert

 

David Clohessy
Executive Director, SNAP 

 

Norris J. Chumley, Ph.D.  

Author, Executive Producer, Professor

 

James T. Clemente

Retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent

Child Sex Crimes Expert Witness

 

Joanna Colrain, LPC, CGP

Facilitator,

MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery

 

Mark Crawford

NJ Sate Director, SNAP  

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

 

Michael Deninger, Ph.D.

Secretary,

MaleSurvivor

 

Andy Dishman; MDiv; LPC

Facilitator;

MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery

Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program
Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California

Beth Finkelstein

Executive Director,

New York Center for Children

 

Kenneth Followell 

President, MaleSurvivor

 

Howard Fradkin, Ph.D.

Co-Chair,

MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery

 

Sandi Forti, Ph.D

Facilitator,

MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery

 

Donna Fox, MSSW, CAPSW

Executive Director,

Canopy Center 

 

Richard Gartner, Ph.D.

Training and Supervising Analyst, Faculty, and Founding Director of Sexual Abuse Service,  

William Alanson White Institute for Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology

 

Michael W Gillum

Licensed Psychologist

Director, Let Go, Let Peace Come In 

Silent No More Group

 

Marilyn Grundy

Symposium Coordinator

National Children’s Advocacy Center  

 

Marci A. Hamilton

Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School
Yeshiva University

Robert Hoatson, Ph.D.

President,

Road to Recovery, Inc.

 

James W. Hopper, Ph.D.

Independent Consultant and Clinical Instructor of Psychology

Harvard Medical School

 

Mic Hunter, Ph.D. LMFT 

Author, Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims Of Sexual Abuse

 

Todd Kostrub
CEO,
Medlync

William C. Kellibrew, IV
Trauma Survivor

David O. McCall, Ph.D.

Private Practice, Washington, D.C.

 

Yale University School of Medicine

 

Sandi Capuano Morrison

Executive Director,

Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma at Alliant International University 

 

Ernesto Mujica, PhD
Psychologist/Psychoanalyst

Adjunct Faculty, TC-Columbia University 

 

The National Center for Victims of Crime 

 

National Sexual Violence Resource Center 

 

Chris Newlin, MS LPC

Executive Director,

National Children’s Advocacy Center 

 

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape 

 

Matt Paknis 

Board Member,

MaleSurvivor

 

Scott Pitts

CEO, Scott Pitts Consulting 

Owner, Event Merchandise Group

MaleSurvivor Advisory Board 

 

David Pittman

Executive Director,

Together We Heal

Support Group Leader, South FL Area, SNAP

 

Angela Rose

PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment

 

Mikele Rauch, LMFT 

Facilitator,

MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery

 

Amy Russell

Deputy Director,

Gundersen’s National Child Protection Training Center 

 

Joanna Schroeder

Senior Editor,

The Good Men Project 

 

Jim Struve, LCSW

Co-Chair,

MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery

 

Murray Schane, M.D.

 

Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.D 

Professor,

Virginia Commonwealth University

 

Michael Skinner,

Director,

The Surviving Spirit

 

Stephanie M. Smith

Southern Regional Director,

Gundersen’s National Child Protection Training Center 

 

Carol Smolenski

Executive Director,

ECPAT-USA 

 

C.J. Sumner

Board Member,

MaleSurvivor 

 

Basyle J. Tchividjian, J.D.

Executive Director, GRACE 

Associate Professor of Law,

Liberty University School of Law

 

Viola Vaughan-Eden, PhD, MJ, LCSW

President,

American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 

 

Victor Vieth, J.D.

Executive Director,

Gundersen’s National Child Protection Training Center 

 

John L. Walker, Ph.D

Survivor and Board Member,

MaleSurvivor

 

Debra Warner, Psy.D. 

Forensic Psychologist

 

Beverly Whipple, Phd, RN, FAAN 

Professor Emerita,

Rutgers University

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