The Epidemic of School Sex Abuse

In March, a Florida school district that was already dealing with one teacher being arrested for teacher-student sexual relations had to deal with another young female teacher involved with an underage boy.
Anecdotal evidence and statistical studies hint that sex abuse in American public schools is at epidemic proportions and that school districts regularly sweep the problem under the carpet — moving offending teachers on with glowing references just to transfer the trash. Cynics say the reason the problem doesn’t surface in the press is because public schools are shielded by legislation that protects their assets from being seized in lawsuits. “Where there’s no money,” the argument goes, “there’s no lawyer; and where there’s no lawyer, there’s no story.”
Catholics, still reeling from the sex-abuse scandals in the Church, may be inclined to wag a finger and say, “You see, Catholic priests are not the only pedophiles. School teachers are worse!” That may be true, but such shrill complaints are likely to be counterproductive. Critics of the Church will think Catholics are trying to shift attention elsewhere.
Better to leave the comparisons to priestly abuse on one side and deal with the core problem — which, in both cases, is essentially the same. Because of the invention of the contraceptive pill and the sexual revolution of the Sixties, members of our society regard sex as an activity for recreation, not procreation.
Educators, doctors, psychologists, and humanists consider it healthy and wholesome for young people to be sexually active pretty much as soon as they are physically able. Sex education is taught in a values-free environment, where the only negative thing is a sexually transmitted disease. Even an unwanted pregnancy is not considered a setback; the girl can simply have the pregnancy “terminated.” In such an environment, anything goes; and where anything goes, anyone is fair game.
We have gotten used to the idea that college campuses are a sexual playground, but the same is true of our high schools. A local public high school in our town recently stopped giving out hall passes during study periods because boys and girls were meeting up to engage in sexual activity. Stories are flying that in another local school district they have decided to put closed circuit televisions on their school busses, due to the rampant sexual activity going on while other teenage passengers watch and cheer on the act.
If this is the real situation for young people in our society today, is it any wonder that novice high school teachers fall in with their teen students? If sex education is taught in a values-free environment, and from puberty onward young people are told by parents, teachers, teen magazines, the media, and their peers that sex is just a healthy past time, why should we suddenly expect girls and guys fresh out of college to instantly develop some sort of sexual morality?
For a decade of their lives, the young people who are now teachers have lived in an environment where everyone was a legitimate sexual partner. When the teachers were in high school, most of the teens were sexually active. Now, when they return as young teachers, it seems virtually everyone is.
Where were they supposed to find scruples about going out with a desirable 16-, 15-, 14-, or 13- year-old boy or girl? For that matter, why should members of our society (who have insisted on the sexual free-for-all) suddenly tell them that there are some boundaries, and that they can be arrested and go to jail for what they regard as no more harmful than a good game of tennis?
You understand I am not condoning such behavior. I am simply observing that secular, sexually promiscuous people who have been taught a recreational view of sex in a totally amoral context have no real reason for disciplining their sexual behavior. They just don’t have the tools in their toolbox.
Furthermore, given the relativistic atheistic education most college students have received, they have no philosophical or moral groundwork on which to construct a coherent sexual code of behavior. The authorities tell a new teacher that he or she is not to have a sexual relationship with a student. However, the authorities dare not (and cannot) tell the new teacher why such a relationship is forbidden.
Is it forbidden simply because the person is below a certain age? There is no logic for such an arbitrary decision. If the student consents and is already sexually active anyway, why would a certain age limit in itself provide a prohibition?
Is the relationship forbidden because it is assumed that the older person is exploiting the younger? The reverse may be the case. A sexually precocious teenager can be more predatory than a teacher. Indeed, some teachers have reported sexual harassment from students.
Is the sexual liaison forbidden because the teacher and student are in a professional relationship? The libertine will argue that, so long as the relationship takes place outside the professional context, there is nothing wrong with it. What the student and teacher do in their free time is beyond question.
Lawmakers and judges may, for the time being, enforce age limits for sexual activity, but without an underlying philosophical and moral foundation, those limits will seem increasingly arbitrary and absurd, and we should not be surprised when rules governing ages for sexual behavior are challenged.
The volcano of human sexuality can only be controlled for a deeper reason. Erotic desire, sexual instinct, and sentimentality are not enough. It is only by a thoroughgoing philosophical and theological explication of the human person that the mystery of human sexuality can be understood.
Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body offers us the only way out of the present moral chaos. There we find that the dignity of human sexuality is grounded in the intrinsic dignity of each human being. The sexuality of that innate dignity is exalted and glorified within the sacrament of marriage, which in turn produces the fruit of new human life. Any behavior, therefore, that cheapens or destroys marriage cheapens and destroys human dignity.
This is why high school teachers having sex with students is wrong — because it cheapens and destroys the one thing that makes human sexuality sacred, and therefore cheapens and destroys the integrity of the human person. Only when our society recognizes a deeper reason for sexuality will we have the grounds to properly control sexual misbehavior.
Until then, be prepared for the assault of that debauched hoyden Sexual Anarchy, and her terrible sister Despair.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Father Dwight Longenecker is the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author, most recently, of Immortal Combat: Confronting the Heart of Darkness (Sophia Institute Press, 2020). Read more at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

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