Can Students Consent to Sex with a Teacher?

Last June, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that in cases where the teenager was over sixteen years of age, consent could be used as a defense in cases of sex between teachers and students. This is based on the fact that, in Georgia, the legal age of consent is sixteen.

From this perspective, if the student is a willing participant in the act, the sex between teachers and their students could be viewed as irresponsible or objectionable, but not technically illegal.

At least one state lawmaker has this issue in his sights for the coming year.

State Rep. Doug Collins (R-Gainesville) plans to attempt to clarify the language of the law where it protects to sexual assault in cases where one party has custody of the other. This law applies to someone, such as a teacher, who has power over the victim. The theory behind this sort of law is that when one person is in a position of power over another, consent becomes difficult to determine. A victim may consent out of fear of retribution if they do not, or out of an eagerness to please someone who they respect. By this theory, this sort of relationship is by nature exploitive.

Collins would remove the consent defense from teachers who sleep with their students when those students are in primary or secondary school.

"It's not OK for a teacher or administrator who has control over a student to have sex with that student, even if that student consents or falls in love with him, as was the case in Cobb," Collins said regarding this issue. "I bet 99 percent of Georgians – especially parents – would say it's not OK."

Any changes to the law will come too late to make a difference in at least two cases, though.

Both teacher Christopher King, thirty-six, and teacher Steven Martin Parkman, thirty-three, were arrested for having sex with their seventeen year old female students. In both cases, the alleged victims claim to have consented to the sex. Both girls involved in these cases were legally above the age of consent by state law, but the nature of the teacher student relationship in these cases cast that consent into question.

"I absolutely knew I had the choice, I could engage in a relationship or not," King’s alleged victim said during his bond hearing. "I chose to wholeheartedly pursue it."

Noah Pine, the defending lawyer in Parkman’s case, would seem to agree with her position.

"If you ask me, the case was presented to the grand jury under a theory that a student – no matter how old she is - doesn't have the ability to consent," Pines said. "That's not what the law is. It is just what the prosecutor interpreted it to be."

But at what point does a student have the ability to consent to sex with a teacher?

Thankfully, while the law may be ambiguous on this issue, school policies are not. Both teachers resigned from their jobs rather than face termination, and both have lost their teaching certification.