A Washington Post Fail

On August 30, 2013, Betsy Karasik, a former attorney-turned painter, wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece about the 30 day sentence given to a former high school teacher who raped a 14 year-old girl.  This is the girl who later committed suicide.

Karasik, who says she’s troubled by the reaction to the lenient sentence, defends the teacher saying “Many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature. Pretending that this kind of thing won’t happen if we simply punish it severely enough is delusional. If anything, to return to Louis C.K., the indiscriminate criminalization of such situations may deter students struggling with sexual issues from seeking advice from a parent or counselor.”

My friends and colleagues asked the Post to please print a response to Karasik’s letter.   The Post agreed, but not wholeheartedly.  They printed a portion of the letter which you can read here without also naming all of the signatories.   They were kind enough to attribute the letter to my friend Christopher Anderson, Executive Director of MaleSurvivor, but being journalists the Posts is remiss in even mentioning that the letter was co-signed by a number of prominent voices in the field.

So in the spirit of fair play, what follows is the unedited, proper letter which the Post refused to run in full.

Feel free to repost, tweet, and circulate in its entirety.

September 6, 2013

We, the undersigned, emphatically disagree with Betsy Karasik that student/teacher sex should be decriminalized. We also express in the strongest measure our disappointment with the Washington Post for giving her a national platform – remarkably, just one day after issuing an editorial strongly rebuking a Montana judge for his unacceptable comments and inappropriately lenient sentencing of a then 49-year-old teacher convicted of raping a 14 year old student.

Sexual activity between teachers and students is a profound ethical violation. The authority placed in teachers, coaches, counselors, or other instructors creates an inescapable responsibility to maintain appropriate behavioral boundaries. When that line is crossed, the power differential between teacher and student creates an abusive betrayal of the trust placed in the teacher by the student and the community. A student’s willingness to engage in a sexual liaison with a teacher cannot eradicate this truth. As Dr. Richard Gartner, a pioneer in the treatment of men sexually abused as boys, has written, “Even seemingly consensual situations may turn out to have long term negative effects…. There’s no way for an adult to know whether a particular child–even if he seems happy to participate–will be affected negatively by taking part in sex acts.  And the very last person we can expect to be objective about the needs and best interests of a child is the adult who sexually desires that child.”

The high levels of sexual abuse of children and teens in our society are further evidence for the need for stronger prohibitions, not weaker ones. Decades of research indicate that at least 10%, and perhaps more than 20% of all persons under the age 18 are sexually abused. In addition, overwhelming evidence makes clear that many victims suffer significant long-term emotional harm in these cases. Suggesting that legal sanctions are unwarranted based upon a small sample of self-selected anecdotes is both intellectually irresponsible and a needlessly cruel insult to millions of people who were sexually abused as children.

Criminalizing sexual activity between age-appropriate, truly consenting people is not a good idea. Yet the prevalence of abuse and the significant risk to students’ long-term health and well being necessitates that clear legal boundaries be drawn and enforced between teachers and students. Stronger enforcement of professional and legal sanctions against teachers who violate these boundaries is required. Importantly, better enforcement does not imply that draconian punishments are required for all offenders.

A great deal of evidence indicates that decriminalization would lead to more students being sexually exploited, abused and harmed. Decriminalization would wrongly signal to many, including potential abusive teachers and student victims, that teacher/student sexual encounters are not harmful. It would also effectively empower perpetrators of sexual abuse, and make it more difficult for many victims to get support. Ms. Karasik is right to be concerned about the stigma and pressures victims face in the legal system, but decriminalization is not a solution to those problems, and certainly would not provide the support that all victims of sexual exploitation and violence deserve.


Christopher M. AndersonExecutive DirectorMaleSurvivor Lois BeekmanFormer Advisory Board Chair,Darkness to Light Omar BellVice-PresidentMaleSurvivor Julie Brand, M.SCaper Consulting Elissa Brown, Ph.D.Founder and Executive DirectorChild HELP PartnershipProfessor of PsychologySt. John’s University Jim Campbell, PhDCoordinator, University of Wisconsin-Madison Conference on Child Sexual Abuse Roger Canaff, JDFormer Prosecutor, Child Protection Expert David Clohessy
Executive Director, SNAPSurvivors Network of those Abused by Priests  Norris J. Chumley, Ph.D.Author, Executive Producer, Professor James T. ClementeRetired FBI Supervisory Special AgentChild Sex Crimes Expert Witness Joanna Colrain, LPC, CGPFacilitator,MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery Mark CrawfordNJ Sate Director, SNAPSurvivors Network of those Abused by PriestMichael Deninger, Ph.D.Secretary,MaleSurvivor Andy Dishman; MDiv; LPCFacilitator;MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery Vincent J. Felitti, MDKaiser Permanente Medical Care ProgramClinical Professor of Medicine, University of California Beth FinkelsteinExecutive Director,New York Center for Children Kenneth FollowellPresident, MaleSurvivor Howard Fradkin, Ph.D.Co-Chair,MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery Sandi Forti, Ph.DFacilitator,MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery Donna Fox, MSSW, CAPSWExecutive Director,Canopy Center Richard Gartner, Ph.D.Training and Supervising Analyst, Faculty, and Founding Director of Sexual Abuse Service,William Alanson White Institute for Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology Michael W GillumLicensed PsychologistDirector, Let Go, Let Peace Come InSilent No More Group Marilyn GrundySymposium CoordinatorNational Children’s Advocacy Center Marci A. HamiltonVerkuil Chair in Public LawBenjamin N. Cardozo Law SchoolYeshiva University Robert Hoatson, Ph.D.President,Road to Recovery, IncJames W. Hopper, Ph.D.Independent Consultant and Clinical Instructor of PsychologyHarvard Medical School Mic Hunter, Ph.D. LMFTAuthor, Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims Of Sexual Abuse 
Todd Kostrub

William C. Kellibrew, IV
Trauma SurvivorDavid O. McCall, Ph.D.Private Practice, Washington, D.C. Thomas McMahon, Ph.D.Yale University School of Medicine Sandi Capuano MorrisonExecutive Director,Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma at Alliant International University Ernesto Mujica, PhD
Psychologist/PsychoanalystAdjunct Faculty, TC-Columbia University The National Center for Victims of Crime National Sexual Violence Resource Center Chris Newlin, MS LPCExecutive Director,National Children’s Advocacy Center Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape Matt PaknisBoard Member,MaleSurvivor Scott PittsCEO, Scott Pitts ConsultingOwner, Event Merchandise GroupMaleSurvivor Advisory Board David PittmanExecutive Director,Together We HealSupport Group Leader, South FL Area, SNAP Angela RosePAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment Mikele Rauch, LMFTFacilitator,MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery Amy RussellDeputy Director,Gundersen’s National Child Protection Training Center Joanna SchroederSenior Editor,The Good Men Project Jim Struve, LCSWCo-Chair,MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery Murray Schane, M.D. Charol Shakeshaft, Ph.DProfessor,Virginia Commonwealth University Michael Skinner,Director,The Surviving Spirit Stephanie M. SmithSouthern Regional Director,Gundersen’s National Child Protection Training Center Carol SmolenskiExecutive Director,ECPAT-USA C.J. SumnerBoard Member,MaleSurvivor Basyle J. Tchividjian, J.D.Executive Director, GRACEAssociate Professor of Law,Liberty University School of Law Viola Vaughan-Eden, PhD, MJ, LCSWPresident,American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children Victor Vieth, J.D.Executive Director,Gundersen’s National Child Protection Training Center John L. Walker, Ph.DSurvivor and Board Member,MaleSurvivor Debra Warner, Psy.D.Forensic Psychologist Beverly Whipple, Phd, RN, FAANProfessor Emerita,Rutgers University