In recent weeks, two news stories have broken involving younger teachers sexually assaulting their students. These teachers were rightfully arrested and charged with assorted crimes for their offenses. Yet because of the facts of each case, the way that the media covered these crimes — and the way that the public has reacted to them — has been disturbing. The reason for this is that perpetrators in both cases were young female teachers, and the victims were teenage boys.
The Washington Post headline for one case was, “Boys brag: Police say art teacher had sex with four students.” The article goes on to describe these alleged sexual assaults as “illicit affairs.” The teacher in this case admitted to the allegations. In the other case, the New York Daily News titled its article “Former substitute teacher accused of having sex with her student,” and described the sexual assault of a teenager under the age of 18 as a “romance” and a “relationship.”
Cases involving male teachers and female students are often reported inaccurately, portraying the relationships as consensual or even with the teachers as victims of seductive young girls. Unfortunately, there is also a bias in how the sexual assaults of teenage boys and young adult men are reported. The boys are often viewed as “lucky,” or as equal partners in a consensual relationship, rather than as victims of predatory adults. Age of consent laws exist for a reason, and they are applied regardless of gender. A teenage boy may have the physical capacity to have sex, but typically lacks the emotional and mental maturity to consent to sex, particularly when it comes to sexual relations with an adult. The rational, decision-making part of the teenage brain — the prefrontal cortex — is not fully developed until the mid-20’s or later. This can make teenagers more vulnerable to coercion and exploitation by adults. Just as a male teacher can use his position of authority to coerce a teenage girl into a sexual relationship, a female teacher can do the same to victimize a male student. Assuming that boys are willing participants or that they cannot be raped because of their gender is incredibly harmful to boys and men. It can prevent them from getting the help that they may need to recover from abuse, and it may push them into a coercive situation in the first place because they believe that they should want it.
There is a double standard when it comes to the abuse of teenage boys by female teachers, and it can help perpetuate ongoing abuse. At Blackburn Center, we call on the media to change the way that they report these crimes, and on all of us to think more critically about how we talk about them. Boys who are sexually assaulted by their teachers are not lucky; they are victims, and are deserving of our help and support.
Sexual assault is a devastating crime that can happen to anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, religion or sexuality. Blackburn Center offers services to all victims of crime and violence. If your life has been impacted by violence, contact us at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to someone about how we can help. If you would like to get involved in our mission and learn how you can be part of the solution, consider donating to or volunteering for Blackburn Center today.