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ISSUE: Sexual contact between teachers and students
OUR VIEW: Law should clearly call it sexual abuse
After hearing testimony, reviewing evidence and deliberating several hours, a Hardin County jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of Steven Gray, who faced two counts of first-degree sexual abuse. He was accused of having sexual contact with two students while he was teaching at Central Hardin High School.
A mistrial was declared.
In question was not a consent issue, but whether Gray subjected minors, with whom he came in contact as a result of being a teacher, to sexual contact.
It seems the meaning of the word “subject,” as used in KRS 510.110, was unclear to the jury. They asked for a definition.
The word is unclear. A reasonable person would consider subjecting someone to something synonymous with making someone do something or doing something to them. Those translations are a little too close to forced sexual contact.
The spirit of the law is to protect children between ages 16 and 18. While they are of an age to legally consent to sex, the law intends to shield them from the bad decision to have sex with an adult in a position of authority or special trust.
The law is meant to hold the adults we must trust the most — adults who mold our children’s formative years and, indirectly, their futures — to a higher standard.
At times, the judgment or insight of a child is a fragile thing. When they are doing wrong, they need to be told. The last thing they need is the cooperation of a trusted adult, affirming their actions are at least somewhat acceptable.
Those in a position of authority, as defined by state law, include parents, stepparents, foster parent, relatives, household members, youth leaders, recreational staff volunteers, athletic managers, coaches, teachers, classified and certified school employees and more. A person in a position of special trust is someone who, by reason of their position of authority, is able to exercise undue influence over a minor.
People in such positions should not be barred from “subjecting” these teens to sexual contact. They should be barred from having sex with them, period.
Parents ought to feel confident they can send their daughters and sons to school and know every adult in the building has a responsibility to the well being of their children. It’s not that much to ask.
Of course, the majority of adults called to work with children act appropriately, even honorably. But for those teachers too weak or too foolish to resist an intimate relationship with a student, the law ought to call it criminal behavior no matter the circumstances.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.