Argument over statutory rape simplified too much

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

When it comes to political policies, the public wants simple answers to blunt questions: Is politician A’s new strategy good? Are country B’s actions deplorable? Policy is easy to judge when the issue is black and white. In every debate, however, there are gray areas — these make writers’ jobs challenging when dealing with polarizing issues.

In the Aug. 30 edition of The Washington Post, Betsy Karasik explored gray areas in her op-ed, ““The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students.” As uncomfortable as her argument is, she raises a worthy discussion, and the article does not deserve the backlash it has received.

Karasik argues that the criminalization of consensual sex between teacher and student — resulting in law proceedings that are often drawn out and heavily scrutinized by the media — does more harm than good.

“The intensity of criminal proceedings — with all the pressure they put on participants, the stigma, the community and media scrutiny, and the concurrent shame and guilt they generate — do the opposite of healing and protecting the victim,” she said.

Her article was written in response to the 30-day sentencing of teacher Stacey Rambold, who pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old student, and it has enraged readers.

One reader’s comment states, “As far as I’m concerned, [Karasik] is as bad as a sexual predator. She is able and willing to rationalize sexual predation to the point that if she witnessed it, I doubt she would do anything to stop it.”

ThinkProgress, a progressive blog, criticized and simplified Karasik’s argument down to the idea that consensual sex between student and teacher should not be criminalized.

Critics miss many of Karasik’s points by overlooking the gray areas.

Karasik never explicitly states that student-teacher sex should not be criminalized. Although legal action may not be taken, she advocates for professional action. In fact, she says, “Teachers who engage in sex with students ... should be removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation.”

While having sex with an underage student is a blatant abuse of teacher power and rightfully falls under the crime of statutory rape, the public attention and the stares from classmates can do more harm to the student than good. In the case Karasik references, the student committed suicide two years after the initial incident, as the case was pending. No one will ever know what led her to take her life, but the timing suggests that it was the events following, rather than the sex itself, that pushed her.

It is unfortunate that many readers drew such hasty conclusions, as if one must be either for or against the criminalization of statutory rape. The moral spectrum Karasik proposes, however, is much more delicate and complex than such binarism.

What Karasik offers is not a solution to a dividing issue, but a starting point for a new discussion. To interpret her argument as a definitive proclamation on what must be done would be to overlook the gray areas that Karasik tries to clarify.