Friday, May 11, 2007

A Lesbian Gym Teacher?!

I know that you will be as shocked as I am to discover that a girl's high school gym teacher in Gloucester County New Jersey is a lesbian! Yes, that's right. Just like Dick Cheney's daughter. (For more info and pics on Mary Cheney, see the Edwards For President website.)

Since today is Friday, let's make this post quick and . . . well, quick and short.

A few items of interest raise their heads in this short story. The teacher, a woman, was doing something sexual with a 17 year old student. The specifics are politely excluded from the news coverage. The student was a girl. That's how we know it's a lesbian thing. (Good detective work, Brisco.)

Softball and field hockey are mentioned. A picture of the teacher is included. She looks kind of cute.

The "relationship" (that's the word they use) is said to have been "consensual," and lasted at least a month. This is important, because the teacher has been arrested.

So far, so good. When it comes to teachers and students, we need to enforce a strict "do not fondle" rule. And we do. We can't afford to have any exceptions to it. It's a bright line rule, as lawyers say. You cross the line, and WHAMMO, you are out of there!

Otherwise we end up with, "Well I only did this, and she said it was OK, and I thought . . . blah, blah, blah." Tough. WHAMMO! Off with his hands!

But, oh yes, but . . . I see two problems here that I believe need to be addressed.

First is how we deal with pedophilia. Yuck. Well, everyone is referring to the student here as a child. OK, legally 17 is still not adult age. But assault on a 17 year old is not child molestation as most of us think of it. Bad? Of course. Jailable? Certainly. But to call it child molestation dilutes the issue of child abuse by mixing it up with adult crime. It does not help the cause.

Second is over-prosecution. Our bad teacher in Jersey has been charged with three crimes. The news only specifies that one is first degree sexual assault. I looked it up. It doesn't fit.

The "age of consent" (not a legal term by the way) in New Jersey is 16. But if the Actor (that is a legal term) has authority over the Victim, then the age is raised to 18, and a Victim between 16 and 18 constitutes second degree sexual assault for such "consensual" friskiness. "Consensual" is quoted here because the law assumes that consent cannot be freely given where the Actor has such legal authority over a Victim of such an age.

All of that makes a lot of sense. Lots of smart, concerned people spent a lot of time developing this legal scheme, and it has developed over many years. Most of us would gladly shoot a child molester. But we also have to allow our kids to transition to adults. It's a tricky business. Here we have a very good, workable legal doctrine to protect our youth.

What's not so hot is when a zealous prosecutor decides to throw the book at someone by adding charges that obviously do not apply. That may not be the case here, but it looks like it. Often this is done to show toughness by the prosecutor. A prosecution is seen as more successful if the conviction is of a more serious crime. Most cynically, it can be done knowingly, to scare a defendant into pleading guilty to a lesser crime. None of this is appropriate prosecutorial behavior.

Why not? Well, because it is possible, really, that honest people commit crimes. They may want to plead guilty, be judged by their peers, and serve their punishment. It happens.

What if that happens here? What if our bad teacher is sorry? What if she wants to apologize and take responsibility for what she did? Maybe she really wanted to be a good teacher. Maybe that still means something to her. Maybe she did what she did out of desperate loneliness and not predatory lust. Maybe she can't believe what she did and that it all turned out so wrong.

Maybe she's not some lesbian predator who wormed her way into the profession just to get a clear shot at corrupting our youth.

Or, maybe she is. And did.

Prosecution and trial are supposed to answer these questions. Bring clarity to dark questions. This piling on extra charges doesn't help. It forces the accused into a corner. The choice then changes from whether to admit or deny what she did, into whether to admit or deny something worse than what she did. That doesn't bring clarity. It adds extraneous issues and brings more confusion. Soon you have a jury that knows the accused did something, but realizes that it doesn't add up to the charges levied.

That does not help achieve justice.

This is not a "who done it?" Or even a "she done what?" The facts are on the table. The statutes are clear. The system can work well in this case if the people running it don't muck it up.

Let's watch and see.