Should student-teacher sex always be illegal?

A Washington court rules that it's not against the law if the student is 18.


Sarah Hepola
January 15, 2009 12:23AM (UTC)

The ongoing "Dateline" melodrama that is student-teacher sex gets another interesting chapter: A Washington court recently ruled that state law does not bar a teacher from having consensual sex with a student who is 18.

The ruling came as the appeals court dismissed a case against former choir teacher Matthew Hirschfelder, who, in 2006, was accused of you-know-what with a then-18-year-old student (Hirschfelder was 33 at the time and by the way, claims the allegations are false).

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Now, is sleeping with an 18-year-old student a bad idea? You betcha. Should a teacher be fired for it? Sure. But in the state of Washington, where the pertinent law only criminalizes sex between teachers and students under 18, it is not illegal.

As Hirschfelder's attorney told the press, "The name of the statute is 'sexual misconduct with a minor.'"

So what seems, at first blush, like a rather shocking transgression of social norms -- MSNBC's grabby headline read, "Court OKs sex between teachers, 18-year-olds", as if the court were also handing out condoms and lube with a knowing wink -- turns out to be more of a semantic issue. To complicate matters, however, several teachers have previously been prosecuted under the same law for sleeping with 18-year-old students. So, in other words: I smell an appeal coming!

In the meantime, the question arises: Should that law be changed? Should it always be illegal for a teacher to sleep with a student -- regardless of that student's age? And does anyone know how other states fall on this issue?

"Dateline," I await your next installment.


Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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