It’s been 82 days since local TV and radio host Dan Yorke invited any lawmaker to come on his show and announce their support for making it illegal for teachers to have sexual relations with students who are sixteen or older. I was sitting in the studio when he did it on the heels of a piece I had written about the gaping loophole in our state’s consent laws.
Not a single elected official responded. Not even Representative Teresa Tanzi, who made news for days on the issue of sexual harassment, has raised her voice on behalf of students. And we wouldn’t be re-inventing the wheel because Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine already have stronger laws which provide us with language that we can use to strengthen ours.
What about Massachusetts? A bill to address exactly this issue was filed in June.
A new bill recently filed in the Massachusetts legislature could fortify the state’s laws against sexual misconduct in schools. Per a report from New England Cable News, Massachusetts has some of the laxest laws in the nation concerning student-teacher relationships. The new bill, proposed by State Senator Joan Lovely, is allegedly aimed at closing loopholes and bringing the state’s laws into step with other parts of the country.
So, that leaves Rhode Island as the only state in New England that continues to sit on its heels and do nothing. Seems to me that our lawmakers might as well wear T-shirts that say, “It’s legal for your child’s teacher to have sex with your 16 year old and we think that’s fine.” But it isn’t fine. It is so far from fine. The imbalance in power between a student and a teacher (or coach or administrator) is so pronounced that a student can easily feel pressured—and even obligated—to engage in a relationship that is romantic and sexual in nature.
As one family in Massachusetts painfully learned when their daughter began having an affair with her Spanish teacher and the two of them took off for California, there is no legal recourse. There was nothing illegal about what the teacher had done. All the police could do was apologize and say, “there’s nothing we can do.”
Regardless of the age of a student, it should not be legally sanctioned in the state of Rhode Island for adults in positions of authority within the school system to have romantic or sexual relationships with the students that they serve. Period.
And this should be easy, a political lay-up of sorts. Who is going to be against making it illegal teachers to have sex with their students?
Seems like the perfect moment to quote Patriots coach Bill Belichick: Hey lawmakers, do your job. While I was hoping to be able to say thank you for your action this Thanksgiving, I’ll be hoping for a Christmas miracle instead.