One school district in Oregon is taking some unusual steps to combat a problem threatening the safety of students, but it’s difficult to determine precisely what problem they’re trying to solve. The teachers and administrative staff of the Salem-Keizer school district have been informed that if they learn – or even suspect – that any of their students are sexually active with others in their age/peer group they must report them to either law enforcement or “state officials.”
This, as you might imagine, is raising some eyebrows among the staff, not to mention the students. (Washington Post)
Teachers and staff in the Salem-Keizer school district — which includes more than 40,000 students — were recently told that if they learn or merely suspect a student is sexually active, they must report it to law enforcement or state officials.
According to Oregon law, anyone under 18 years old cannot legally give consent, meaning all sexual activity between minors is considered sexual abuse. This policy, district officials say, stems from Oregon’s mandatory reporting and child abuse laws. But that seems to be a singular interpretation of the law. The Statesman Journal reached out to school districts around the state and found that not one of them had the same mandate.
This is a tricky topic, both emotionally and from a legal perspective. As a starting point, I’m fairly sure we have a broad consensus that children can’t give meaningful consent for sexual activity, but most frequently we deal with this in terms of statutory rape and crimes committed by pedophiles. And clearly, any sexual activity between an underage student and an adult (particularly if it’s a teacher) should be reported to the police immediately.
But what about when it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend situation and both of the students are underage? (And to be fair, same-sex relationships also.) As an adult with a sufficient number of years in the rear-view mirror, it’s easy enough to say that we should discourage children from becoming sexually active. The potential results, particularly for those with no education regarding the risks of pregnancy, STDs and moral consequences, can be catastrophic. But calling the cops?
Two objections come to mind. The first is that the appropriate people to call when such activity is discovered are the parents. Sadly, far more so today than when I was a youth, that’s not always going to produce the desired result. Familial guidance just isn’t what it once was. There’s also the fact that even if I now realize why such activity is a bad idea, I can still remember being a teenage boy. You could have told me such things until I was blue in the face and it wouldn’t have lessened my interest in my suddenly very infatuating female classmates. Fighting the urges of biology is a daunting challenge to say the least.
Should it be a criminal offense for two 15-year-olds to have sex, no matter how unwise such a decision might be? I’m not even sure you could successfully prosecute them under Oregon law or anywhere else, assuming they’re both under the age of consent in that state. And for that matter, I’m not sure we should even try. Isn’t this still a matter for the families of the children to handle, even if some of them are ducking those responsibilities? It all sounds a bit too nanny-state for my tastes.