Opinion: When can a 14-year-old meaningfully consent to sex? Never, L.A. Unified.
Perhaps the victim in the sexual-abuse lawsuit against Los Angeles Unified School District had experienced too much about sex by the time she turned 14. Maybe she went along with sexual contact with a teacher willingly, or even eagerly.
It doesn’t matter, because the brain of a 14-year-old is not developed enough to make mature decisions about her sexuality. It is left to adults, legally and morally, to protect such young people, even when those young people have to be protected from themselves. In fact, if, as lawyers for the district contend, she was already sexually experienced, that’s simply more evidence that this girl already had suffered from too much sexual exploitation at too early an age, not that she had somehow reached a stage of consenting maturity.
The student is suing the district, saying she suffered emotional trauma after her five-month sexual relationship with math teacher Elkis Hermida while she was a student at Edison Middle School. The teacher has since been convicted in a criminal trial for the molestation that occurred four years ago. In the civil case, the district’s lawyer is contending that the girl bears liability for her injuries, rather than the district, because she consented. The lawyer also said it would be necessary to bring into court evidence of the girl’s prior sexual contacts.
Though in criminal cases, it is impossible for a minor to have legally consented to sex, the issue is not fully settled in civil court. Where it is increasingly settled is in the world of science, where we have learned a great deal more about brain development than we knew a few decades ago. Teenagers might look like adults, and they might act as though they are oh-so-sophisticated, but they do not have adult brains or adult emotional development.
And where it should be absolutely settled is in our schools and at that behemoth building on Beaudry Avenue downtown where the school district’s administrative offices are located. No amount of money that L.A. Unified could possibly save on damages from this lawsuit is worth the price of having a message delivered on your behalf that youngsters will be judged on their past sexual behavior and that adolescents years away from legal or emotional adulthood will be considered liable for a sexual relationship with an adult predator.
That’s not to say the district necessarily bears liability. If it had no way to know the teacher was a child molester, and no way to know that this relationship was going on, it’s difficult to say it should take responsibility for what happened. Not everything that employees do is the employers’ fault.
But that has nothing to do with this student’s sexual history or what she might have told the teacher. And it doesn’t begin to excuse the district’s lawyer’s statement to KPCC:
“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” Keith Wyatt told KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”
Minors, unless they have committed a crime, are not liable for their behavior. That’s why their parents have to sign consent forms for them. It’s why they can’t form their own contracts. My question would be, why is the district hiring a lawyer who doesn’t know what a child is? This wasn’t some girl on the brink of adulthood; she was a middle-school student.
My other question: Where are the Los Angeles school leaders brave enough to stand up and speak for victimized teenagers when there’s money on the table?
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