Several teachers from local school districts in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area have been charged with sex crimes for having inappropriate relationships with their students.
Of course, it’s easy to find outrage at our teachers for engaging in that type of activity with our students.
But when we look closely at the law, what we realize is it can be a rather confusing situation for both the teacher and the student.
This blog post originally comes from a conversation on our Your Best Defense blog. To listen to the original podcast, click here.
What does the law say?
A number of times we see these students who are 16, 17, or 18-years-old who are otherwise legally able to consent. They believe that they are following the law when they’re engaging in activities with their teacher. They think that they have the legal, lawful authority to consent.
And, sometimes, even by the government’s account, the children, if you will in these cases, the 16, 17, and 18-years-olds are the ones pursuing the sexual activity.
Not to make excuses for what’s appropriate and inappropriate, but the law says that a 16, and 17, and 18-year-old can, in fact, consent to sexual intercourse in certain situations. What they don’t understand, and what many people don’t understand, is that there are special circumstances for teachers.
There is a statute, separate and distinct from all of the other rape cases, that defines having sex with a student, or an employee of a school. And what it says is that NO student can consent to sexual intercourse with a teacher.
But why is that so? If the teacher and the teenager are both consenting adults (for the purposes of this conversation) and can consent to a consensual sexual act. Why can they two of them not do it together?
Well, it’s not just because it makes us feel icky.
The idea is that the teacher is in an authoritative position over the student. Whether they are actually in an authoritative position over the student, or they can be perceived by the student to be in an authoritative position. And that’s why the legislature has carved out this special set of circumstances.
It doesn’t always shake out to be fair because people are unaware of this law, and it’s only found in one little, tiny paragraph in a very complicated statute in Oklahoma laws.
But because the teacher maintains an authoritative position over the student, the law just says under zero circumstances is this type of relationship okay.
How do people feel about this law?
People in the community have different, varying opinions on this.
The fact of the matter is that we all owe a duty to each other, and to our children, to talk to them about what the law is.
We have a duty to make sure that they know how the law will view these actions, even if they think it is fun and exciting and meaningful because they’re not being “forced” to do it by their teacher in an authoritative position, or because they’re not being coerced, or threatened, or bribed, or promised good grades.
Because in these cases the student, oftentimes, is not only a victim of the crime charged. The student becomes the victim of the media.
What can happen to the student?
Especially when we’re dealing with young men, the damage to the teacher being charged is as great upon the child, as it is to the teacher. The child now has a reputation in the community of whatever the community wants to accuse him of. But he’s oftentimes not brought back in and coddled and taken care of because he’s no longer considered a child, but he’s also not considered a victim of a rape in the more traditional sense of the term.
Oftentimes, he’s embarrassed. Oftentimes, it prohibits him from being able to continue school in that school because he cannot stand to go back and face his peers. Oftentimes, the only way the story gets out is because the student is bragging about it to their friends.
And we also know, in those situations, if we’re dealing with teenage boys talking about sex, that those stories oftentimes get drastically exaggerated and embellished, especially in a locker-room setting where they’re bragging and talking about how much action they got the night before.
So, this young man, who, for all intents and purposes, just got to put a new notch in his belt, is now drug through the mud as some child-victim of rape. And having that label placed upon them is as damaging to them in their future as having the label of rapist be placed on the teacher.
It’s probably time for the laws to change, but it’s not likely to happen here in Oklahoma. So, we have to understand where the law is, and we need to inform our kids so as to not find ourselves in this position.
If you’re a student engaged in that kind of activity, I would encourage you to keep it to yourself if this is not something that you want to be made public and to be drug into court to talk about it and testify about it.
If you’re a teacher engaged in this type of activity with a student I suggest that you stop it right now. Because the damage to your relationship and the damage to your career is greater than you can ever imagine. And the results of how this is going to shake out just can’t be measured.
What are the consequences?
If we’re dealing with student on teacher sexual assault, or rape, as it’s defined in Oklahoma, it carries a mandatory minimum of one year, and a maximum of 15 years in the Department of Corrections.
That teacher will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life, which not only means they’re going to never teach again, but they’re likely not going to be able to live in the metropolitan-area because of sex offender registration laws, and restrictions on where folks can live.
The idea of a child being the aggressor in these situations has some appeal for a jury because I think jurors understand day-to-day activities and real life way better than legislators ever could. But it is not a legal defense.
And it’s important for us to recognize the difference between legal defenses and arguments made to a jury. To run the risk of taking a case like this to jury trial carries with it a huge burden when the teacher is facing 15 years in the Department of Corrections.
Prosecutors in this state have no interest in making deals with teachers because our prosecutors are elected officials. And as soon as they don’t charge you, or make a deal where you’re not a convicted felon, or don’t require you to register, that will be the first ad against them in their next election. It’s going to draw opponents. And, unfortunately, elected positions make decisions based upon their future electability, and not what’s right and wrong.
In the same vein, our legislators continue to make laws that don’t make any sense, and aren’t designed to protect anybody. And they’re not going to loosen up the ties on these laws, so we owe it to each other, and to our kids, to inform them.
So, what if you’re a teacher, or you’re a student, and you find yourself in this situation?
Is this all doom and gloom and everything’s awful, and we should just pack up our bags and go to prison for the rest of our lives? No. The most important thing you need to do if you’re involved in this situation now if it’s been disclosed or has come out publicly is to contact an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer that knows how to handle the cases from the get-go.
It’s a terrible idea to give a statement to law enforcement without the sound advice of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. But worse than that is to go out publicly and answer questions with the media.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t apply just to teachers. It applies to any adult employee of a school district, including the principals, or a counselor, or a coach, anyone who’s employed by the school district is deemed to have an authoritative position over the children.
Contact Jacqui Ford Law
So, we would encourage you, if you have any questions about rape, or sex crimes, in Oklahoma City, or sex crimes involving children, specifically with regards to teachers and students, and other employees of a school district, please contact us to advise you and represent you in the future.