Rape and sexual assault are difficult to talk about, and many people are uncomfortable even thinking about such topics. But rape is a crime that gets committed every day, and silence on the issue only hurts victims.
Currently, prosecutors in one Pennsylvania community are trying to sort out exactly what sort of interaction took place between a high school girl and a 28-year-old former shop teacher at her school. The girl has alleged that the man exposed himself to her in a secluded room adjacent to his classroom and later had sex with her. These incidents allegedly occurred in April 2012 when the girl was just 16 years old.
According to news reports, a judge in the case dismissed four charges against the now-fired teacher, including rape and aggravated indecent assault. But the man still faces five other criminal charges that include corruption of minors and intercourse with a student.
Defense attorneys have reportedly tried to discredit the teenager by saying the encounters were completely consensual. One defense attorney asserted: “There’s no rape here. This girl had every opportunity to leave. This girl had every opportunity to scream out. This was a situation where she was 16, and it was consensual.”
It’s impossible to draw definitive conclusions without knowing the full details of the case, but the quote above warrants a rebuttal. First of all, it should go without saying that not screaming and not running away are not the same thing as consent. Many sexual assault victims become paralyzed with fear or decide to comply with their attacker out of concern for their own safety.
Second, given the difference in age and authority between the man and the teen girl, consent becomes a much murkier issue. In the relationship between teachers and students, teachers very much have the power and authority. When faced with a frightening situation, students may not realize in the moment that they can say no. They may also worry that no one will believe their word over the word of their attacker.
Again, these are general observations and may not apply perfectly to the undisclosed facts of this case. The bottom line is that when sexual assault allegations involve victims who are minors or who were allegedly assaulted by an authority figure, those victims are coming from an especially vulnerable place and deserve deference and patience.
And regardless of what may happen in a criminal trial, sexual assault victims may be able to hold their attackers liable in a separate, civil lawsuit.
Source: TribLive.com, “Rape, 3 other charges dropped against Saltsburg teacher,” Renatta Signorini, Nov. 13, 2013