It’s disingenuous to assess a relationship – of any kind, sexual or otherwise – between two parties on the premise that said parties have equal agency when common sense and evidence declaim that this is manifestly not the case, as with teachers and students; adults and children; men and women…
This is a persistent fault in liberal thinking: some humans are more equal than others.
It’s precisely the disparity in agency that makes many such relationships immoral, if not criminal. Certainly, many men don’t see – or wilfully ignore – the immorality and don’t believe that criminalization is fair or necessary, for example this recent case in the UK.
From the Independent coverage of the same story:
“I could have been that 13-year-old girl”. She added that child victims of abuse often do not see themselves as victims at all because of the grooming process they have been put through.
Angela (not her real name), 37, said that was the way she felt during six years of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather as a child. She said that, because of the abuse, she believed love to simply be a sexual act from an early age. “He told me that it happens in every family. I believed him because he was in a position of trust.”
“As a result of the abuse, I adopted some behaviour that could have been described as sexually predatory; in the same way as this girl’s was described. My understanding, as a young child, was that affection and being close to people was about doing sexual acts.”
When, as an adult, she said was raped again, she did not report it because she said she did not think she would be believed.
The attitude that victims, particularly children, are complicit in their own abuse means that there will be more and more stories like hers, Angela said.
“…I believed him because he was in a position of trust….” (My italics)
One of the features of moral outrage that makes it so hard for many to stomach is the hypocrisy that too often underlies it. Those who protest the loudest and abusers are too often one and the same. That teenage – and younger – victims of abuse who are popularly perceived to seek sexual relations with adults in positions of responsibility frequently masks this darker truth. Outrage, on closer inspection proves to be incredulity that the darker truth has been illuminated; that those not granted agency might have the audacity to illuminate it.
We live in a hierarchical society, for better or worse. As such, those permitted greater agency are obliged – if we wish to claim to be truly moral – to shoulder the greater responsibility. At present, as historically, we see the reverse presented as much the norm: promiscuous men projecting their abdicated responsibility onto women and girls when we label them ‘sluts’ or ‘predators’. This is a conspiracy in plain sight.
I don’t believe Betsy Karasik is a bad person; I believe in her good intentions both as a human being and as a lawyer. But the latter is significant. Lawyers – and the law – serve the state; uphold the status quo; because she has the agency over her clients that teachers have over students; that whites have over non-whites; that adults have over children; that men have over women. We have a responsibility to discharge that agency wisely and kindly, or disavow it: disputing it will not do.
p.s. Mic Wright‘s piece re bullying – a very personal subject for me, link via Telegraph article (above) – is also well worth a read