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Revamped sex law needs another fix

Posted: March 18, 2012 - 12:00am

Wherever she is now, Melissa Chase certainly has to count herself lucky.

The former Harlem High School PE teacher was facing a 10-year prison term for her sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student when Chase’s conviction was thrown out on appeal. The state Supreme Court in 2009 agreed that the flawed law allowed consent as a defense in such cases.

Because the student was old enough to be a willing participant, Chase was free to go.

Lawmakers wisely stepped in to fix the law, removing consent as a defense. That means it is illegal for teachers, in similarity to prison guards and psychiatrists, to have sex with people in their care – even if the student, or inmate, or patient goes along.

That’s the law now looming over Mitchell Sivas, a decorated U.S. Army veteran who recently resigned as senior JROTC instructor – sadly, again, at Harlem High School. There still is conflicting information about whether Sivas, 57, had sex with the 17-year-old senior for whom he admitted having “strong feelings,” and who had spent lots of time at his Thomson home. Both denied it at first, but the student since has said otherwise; investigators here and in McDuffie County are sorting it out.

But just as the Chase case exposed a flaw in the law, so does this one. It seems that under the revamped law, sex between teacher and student is illegal only if they are both in the same school. That means if the student instead had attended, say, Grovetown High, she would have been fair game for the man 40 years her senior.

The law needs to be fixed, again, even as this creepy case is sorted out.

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Comments (5)

Riverman1

"That means if the student

"That means if the student instead had attended, say, Grovetown High, she would have been fair game for the man 40 years her senior."

The thing is if he were not a teacher, he could still legally do it with a 16 year old student. That age of consent is pretty low in my opinion. There's absolutely no legal reason he can't have relations with the girl now since he is no longer teaching, assuming he's not sent to jail. Then there's another factor, I don't like. Many 17 year olds are in college, yet, college professors were exempt from the law.

Little Lamb

Custody

A teacher in one school does not have any sort of academic or custodial authority over a student in a different school, so there should be no criminal penalty for engaging in consentual sex with someone over the age of consent.

Riverman1

The Whole Thing Reeks of Ambiguity

LL makes a good point. We are saying it's okay for a teacher to have sex with a 16 year old if they are not at the same school. We also say a college professor can have sex with a 16 year old even if he is her instructor. Where is the morality here? Either it's wrong and should be enforced for all or it's not.

Barry Paschal

Good points

It probably should be pointed out that, aside from any laws, those relationships typically are expressly prohibited by the institutions' ethics codes. The person caught in that behavior likely would see an end to his or her career. That's a pretty strong sanction by itself.

Little Lamb

Exactly

It is reasonable for a school system to fire a teacher for having sex with a student over the age of consent because such behavior is against policy and all teachers sign releases saying they read and understand the policies.

But a teacher should not lose his/her civil rights for that behavior.

Our legislators are creating entirely too many shades of variability on the meaning of the word "consent."

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