There is no doubt, none whatsoever, that students and their teachers should not have sexual contact.
There also is no doubt that, because of the control educators exercise over students, that students - no matter what their age - should not legally be able to consent to sexual contact with teachers.
Such contact should be illegal. Consent should not be possible.
But does Georgia law say that?
It's an intriguing question, one that the Georgia Supreme Court agreed last week to review. And it's the second time in the past year that a sexual conduct case originating in Columbia County has gone all the way to the state's high court.
The first case involved one of the many challenges to Georgia's Draconian and evolving laws regarding sex-offender registration. But the newest case regards a possible loophole that very well could set offenders free until the Legislature fixes it.
At issue is the conviction of former Harlem High School teacher and coach Melissa Chase, who was given the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for a single sexual encounter with a 16-year-old student.
That former student admits initiating the relationship with Chase and consenting to the sexual encounter. In any other context - say, for example, if the student attended a school other than Harlem, or met Chase outside school - the encounter would not even have been illegal because the teen is older than the state's age of consent.
Disgusting and immoral, perhaps, but not illegal. However, prosecutors read the current law to mean that the relationship between teachers and students is similar to the relationship between prison guards and inmates: in that circumstance, consent to sexual contact is considered impossible because the inmate is hardly in a position to act freely.
Chase's attorneys, however, point out that while Georgia's law specifically says consent is not a defense in the relationship between jailers and inmates, or between medical personnel and patients, the law is silent on consent as a defense in the teacher-student relationship. Even the prosecutor handling the arguments before the Georgia Supreme Court in arguments this past week admits the law has a loophole.
Still, prosecutors make a powerful case that consent should not be a defense in cases in which teachers have sex with students. Augusta Superior Court Judge Carl Brown, in Chase's original trial, would not allow Chase's attorneys to use consent as a defense, and the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed.
In the end, though, the Georgia Supreme Court will render the final decision as to whether "should" is good enough when the law doesn't say what prosecutors believe the law should say.
Under any circumstance, Georgia's lawmakers must make it their No. 1 priority in the next legislative session to close this loophole and rewrite the law to emphatically state that students of any age cannot consent to sex with teachers.
It might very well be that Chase has the current law on her side. Either way, current law must be changed to better law.
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