Student-Teacher Relationship Laws

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  • 0:03 Inappropriate Relationships
  • 0:54 Possible Charges
  • 2:32 Dangerous Relationship
  • 3:55 Patience
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will examine the ethical and legal ramifications of a teacher and student getting involved in an inappropriate relationship. We'll also look at how the age and status of both parties can change which laws apply.

Inappropriate Relationships

There are different kinds of inappropriate relationships between students and teachers. Some are quite clearly wrong. For example, an intimate relationship between an adult and a very young child. Other types of relationships might be a bit harder to denounce outright, but under U.S. law relationships like these can still have serious consequences and should under no circumstances be pursued.

For example, Nick and Taylor are falling in love at school. Nick is Taylor's teacher, so they've gotten to know each other well over the year. As the year has progressed, they've become drawn to each other. Their age gap is small: Nick is 22 and Taylor is 17. Is it still morally wrong for them to have a relationship? Maybe, but whether or not you feel that way, their relationship is illegal, and Nick and Taylor could be charged with several offenses.

Possible Charges

Sexual harassment involves a blatant abuse of power through creating a hostile environment or quid pro quo. Quid pro quo, Latin for 'this for that,' is a form of harassment that involves an exchange of favors, money, or other incentive to entice the victim to perform sexual acts. For example, Nick would be committing quid pro quo if he improved Taylor's grades in exchange for sexual favors, or to use grades or assignments to manipulate Taylor into sex. Creating a hostile environment involves sexually aggressive behavior, even if the aggressor thinks of it as merely flirting, or making inappropriate comments and jokes.

Each U.S. state only allows its citizens to participate in sexual activity when they reach the age of consent, the age at which one can legally say 'yes' to a sexual proposition. When one or both parties in a sexual encounter are below the age of consent, it's considered statutory rape. Nick is an adult, above the age of consent nationwide, but Taylor is only 17, and might be under the age of consent in her state. In that case, Nick could be charged and convicted with statutory rape. This charge is very serious, and often involves prison time and sex offender registration.

Even if these charges don't apply to Nick and Taylor, Nick can still be prosecuted if authorities think he committed sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is a broad term that can cover a multitude of actions that do not fit into the other charges. Whether or not an act is considered misconduct can depend on consent, abuse of trust, or, for someone like Nick, whether the sexual encounter involves an authority figure, like a teacher, and a subordinate, like a student.

Dangerous Relationship

Even without legal or criminal concerns, Nick and Taylor's relationship is dangerous, and has a potential to cause harm to both Nick and Taylor.

Each state and school varies in their handling of inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Regardless of the legal and criminal consequences, there are serious ethical considerations that have personal and professional consequences.

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