This is a steamy story that captures our attention because it is a real life version of so many male fantasies. In spite of this popular fantasy, the reality is that younger teachers can often get absorbed in the teen culture of their school and lose their judgment, professionalism, and find themselves in compromising situations. It also points to the sexual double standard in our culture of males as pursuers and females as pursued -- this is mostly news-worthy because the roles have been switched.
As a former high school teacher, I can recall clearly at how easily the lines between older students and younger teachers and coaches get blurred. It can be much easier to revert back to being a part of the high school culture and become their friend rather than keeping your professional distance. Many teachers can get caught in this trap and need strong guidance and mentorship to avoid it.
Many schools place extreme demands on young teachers to coach teams , direct plays, supervise detention, and other after-hours work which puts them in intense contact with many of their students on a daily basis. They often have more energy than their more senior colleagues and are anxious to earn a bit of extra money.
High schools need to balance the demands they put on young teachers to allow them to maintain a life outside of school and perspective on the relationships they have with students. These relationships were so common at one school, that the administration even had a written policy stating that teachers may not have personal relationships with former students within a year of graduation.
In these cases, there are often professions of true love and long-term commitment in spite of age differences such as Mary Kay Letourneau and Leah Shipman and student-teacher relationships. Students even try to protect the teachers when facts come to light. In spite of this apparent mutual consent, these relationships are always unethical, usually illegal depending on the age of consent in that state , and meet the definition of sexual assault: The Louisiana case meets the definition for a sexual assault since the minor could not legally give consent he as 16 at the time, and 17 is the age of consent in Louisiana and the teachers were exploiting their position of authority over the student.
As a society, we need spaces to be able to engage in conversations with adolescents and young adults about sexual assault, consent, and healthy relationships. Many sexual health programs in schools focus solely on Sexually Transmitted Infections and teen pregnancy and never discuss important topics such as mutual respect, consent, and open communication for more healthy intimate relationships.
We need more comprehensive sexuality education programs and less that focus solely on abstinence and fear. In the Obama administration cut funding to abstinence-only programs but it is up to each state to adopt their curricular priorities. The White House recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses called itsonus to engage everyone in the conversation.
This pledge asks everyone to engage in four simple behaviors to reduce sexual assault: We need to have more discussions about consent and who can give consent in what situations. If these Louisiana teachers had a more nuanced understanding of consent, they would have seen that nothing about their relationship with this student was consensual and this entire scandal could have been avoided.
It is my hope that this case in Louisiana can help move the conversation forward about sexual assault, consent, and healthy relationships. I also hope that the media will continue to present fair coverage of stories and not focus exclusively on selling the shock and male fantasy world exposed when reporting on female offenders.