In “The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students,” Betsy Karasik, an artist and former attorney living in D.C., admitted that she was “ambivalent” about the jail sentence (15 years suspended except for 30 days) given to Stacey Dean Rambold, a former Montana high school teacher who pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old female student who later committed suicide.
In an interview with CNN, Auliea Hanlon, the dead girl's mother, said that Rambold "had groomed her well...They find someone, they prey on them, they pretend to be their friend, and they're not. And they make the kids think it's their fault, and it's not...They're not old enough to be responsible."
In her Post oped, Karasik said, “As protesters decry the leniency of Rambold’s sentence — he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who committed suicide at age 16 — I find myself troubled for the opposite reason.
“I don’t believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized,” she wrote.
The oped sparked immediate reaction, including a blistering letter to the editor the Post published on Sept. 3 in which a Washington, D.C. woman described two years of being sexually abused by a high school teacher, starting when she was 15: “At the time, I believed it to be consensual. He was never violent, so in my 15-year-old mind, everything was okay.
“But everything was not okay. He was emotionally abusive and coerced me into sharing my body in ways I was not ready for nor able to understand; it has taken me years to heal from the things he said and did. At one point, I fell into a deep, three-year depression, and I found myself at the brink of suicide more than once.
“Ms. Karasik has no right to tell those of us who have struggled with humiliation, regret and fear that what happened to us was not a crime.”
“Washington Post Op-Ed Appallingly Defends Teacher/Student Sexual Relationships and Rape,” blared a headline on Talking Points Memo’s Forward Progressives blog.
In “Washington Post this Weekend: Teenage Girls Are Asking to Be Raped,” Slate’s Amanda Marcotte harshly criticized the paper for running Karasik’s op-ed and another column by Richard Cohen “trying to tie Miley Cyrus to the Steubenville, Ohio, rape.”
In an email to the Washington City Paper, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt defended the newspaper’s decision to publish Karasik’s piece because "it raised a legitimate question, namely, is a criminal trial always the most beneficial route for victims of sexual abuse?"
In the same article, Karasik complained that the media had “distorted” her message by focusing on her statement “that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized.”
“The vast majority of commentators fixated on my suggestion about decriminalizing consensual sex, claiming that I condone or even advocate sex between students and teachers. That is just totally false; I clearly state all teachers who have sexual relations with students should be fired and prohibited from teaching unless the law deems them rehabilitated. There is a big difference which seems to have been lost on people.”
Even after the backlash, Karasik thinks that high school teachers who engage in statutory rape should be fired, but not prosecuted.
“The Washington Post has accomplished the rare feat of publishing something that pretty much everyone can agree on, namely that op-ed writer Betys Karasik should maybe stick to painting,” said a post on the liberalroundup blog. “There’s hardly a sentence in it that doesn’t present a real danger to children.”