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EDITIONS
Monday, 27 September, 1999, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Should teacher-pupil relationships be a crime?
Should teacher-pupil relationships be a crime?
To bring new legislation into this field is to bring the state into the bedroom - a part of life which is no business of the government what so ever.
Kaye E, UK

Sexual relations between pupil and teacher is a total breach of professional ethics. One cannot effectively teach a pupil whose mind is preoccupied with the last sexual episode with the teacher.
Jackson Maison, United States

Just two of the comments Talking Point has received so far. Take part below.

Background ¦ Your reaction

The Background:

Legislation is being considered by the government that would make it a criminal offence for teachers or professional youth workers to have a sexual relationship with a pupil or teenager in their care.

Child protection campaigners back the proposal saying that the legislation is necessary to protect teenagers over the age of consent who may be vulnerable to adults who might abuse their positions of power.

One school leaver in 20 claims to have had a sexual relationship with one of their teachers and 50% of pupils fantasise about their teachers, according to a recent survey.

But the proposals have angered the teaching profession which argues that a change in the law would be unnecessary, dangerous and risks labelling teachers as criminals.

The National Association of Head Teachers calls the criminal sanction "a sledgehammer to crack a nut" and warns of the dangers of creating a 'blanket' criminal offence to cover a whole variety of situations.

Should a teacher face prison for a romantic involvement with a pupil, even if that teenager is legally over the age of consent?

Is it an abuse of trust or should teenagers have the right to choose? Tell us what you think

Background ¦ Your reaction

Your Reaction:

Once a teacher has developed intimate relationship with a pupil, He no longer qualifies to be their teacher. This pupil would cease to be on the same level ground with the rest of her class.
Livingstone, Rwanda

The 16yr olds who have commented so far have put forward their opposing arguement perfectly for me. I quote, "I am 16 years old. I can make my own decisions and don't need others to make them for me." A typically teenage response, which shows guidelines really do need to be put in place.

A teacher could grossly misuse their power over a pupil attracted to figures of authority - a characteristic found in the majority of school-age girls. I know, because I was one! If the love is so great that it is not possible to ignore, then both mature, willing parties should be able to wait the few years until the child has left secondary education at 18.

Prison seems a little over the top, but certainly something needs to be put in place to protect our children. How can anyone possibly argue against that?
Rebecca White, UK

Why is the first reaction to anything, 'It should be banned'? Do we have no faith in individual responsibility and good sense? Clearly it is a difficult question, but yet another law? Who needs the dead hand of the law in their lives? Guidelines for professional behaviour, yes, internal disciplinary procedures in schools and colleges, yes, but let's leave out the law.
Gwyn Jones, France

Aren't there enough sexual crimes? The governmnet should not get criminally involved in a situation already handled by internal procedures at most schools and universities. Dragging this into the criminal court will waste the court's time by creating a another class of consenting "victim".
William Bull, USA

Such relationships are certainly unethical, but the government has no right to interfere with what goes on between consenting adults. People have a moral and social obligation to stay out of relationships that are detrimental to themselves and others, but beyond that, teachers and students should be free to have any kind of relationship they want.
Tom Eason, Canada

It may be unethical, but not criminal. Ethics and moral behaviour are the domain of the individual, not the state.
Shiran, Canada

A teacher/student relationship should be placed on the same professional level as the doctor/patient relationship. It is OK to have a mature relationship with a teacher/student provided both parties are over the age of consent and it is not your teacher/pupil. Otherwise raise the age of consent to 18 or 21.
Andy Trigg, England

If both parties are of legal age and the relationship is strictly out of class.Why be punished because of your job?
Clive Turnbull, UK

Yes, it should be criminalised. My teacher at school constantly pestered me for 3 years and when I tried to complain to the school authorities he made out it was down to me. Perhaps if I had been able to threaten him with some law he would have left me alone. That was ten years ago now and it has ruined my life.
Valerie, US

It's not called the age of consent for nothing.
CF, Canada

The obvious power imbalance in any "relationship" between a teacher and student makes the whole idea of "consent" absurd. To allow teachers to prey on their students in this way is reprehensible. It reminds me of the legendary ancient "rights" of your nobility with peasant women.
Peter Nuttall, USA

Teacher/student relationships in this country have always been a crime and I hope it stays that way.
Norris Butler, Australia

No not at all. As long as the pupil is of a decent age and the teacher is known not to be taking advantage than they should be left to get on with it. If a pupil is say 18 and the teacher is 26 then who has any right in saying that they can't be together. As long as the relationship doesn't affect the career and education of the two then who has a right to interfere. I do believe though that if the pupil is below the age of consent it should be taken more seriously.
Natalie, UK

How is such a relationship different to one between young school leaver and their older employer?
Nick, The Netherlands

Ridiculous. As long as the student is over the age of consent then there shouldn't be a problem. I am currently taking a night school class where my husband is the teacher, should he be prosecuted?!
AnnaLouise, England

As long as what was happening was not illegal outside a school setting, ie. a relationship with a minor, then there is not much wrong. Although a national schools policy that teachers could not have a relationship with a pupil at a school in which they taught should apply. There is definite conflict of interest in a teacher-pupil relationship. If such a relationship should develop then either the pupil or teacher should be compelled to move schools or the relationship ended, under penalty of suspension and ultimately sacking/exclusion. This sought of policy is common practice in many businesses where conflict of interests may occur.
Graeme, England

The problem here is the confusion between sexual exploitation, which should be prohibited, and the arbitrary practical interpretation of it in the particular case of a teenager over the general age of consent and their teacher. As others have pointed out, there is a *potential* risk of exploitation, but such relationships are *not inevitably* exploitative. Any legislation must therefore distinguish between these cases, eg by making it an offence ONLY for the couple to perform sexual acts that would not have occurred if one partner were not the other's teacher.
Alan Reekie, UK expat

Not everything stupid should be a crime.
Blaine Waterman, California

Teacher-pupil affairs should be a crime. Parents to not send their children to school to have them preyed upon by their instructors. At that age, children are very impressionable and would easily be swayed by someone in authority over them. Teachers who breach the role of trust which they are given should be sacked and legal action taken.
J Ormsby, USA

I think it is totally wrong for teachers to have a relationship with their students. Teachers are held up high in the eyes of students and can easily abuse their position and influence students. At the end of the day it is the student that suffers emotionally and educationally through such an experience. The teacher knows what he or she is doing. They should know better. It should be a crime.
Miss Maisy, England

Sexual relationships are none of the government's business, Britain is becoming too much of a 'nanny state' as it is. As long as we're not talking about under age sex or sexual abuse, but sex between a consenting teacher and a consenting pupil of the right age then there should not be a problem. The government has no right to make these laws - if the teenager doesn't want sex then they can just say 'No', something New Labour seems to be forgetting.
Michael Amherst, England

My opinion is that age difference plays a major part in such decision. But age difference such a difficult thing to demarcate. I strongly have a bias towards the Indian philosophy of Guru Sishya tradition. Pupil is going to a teacher (Guru ) with lot of respect and as a guidance from a knowledgeable person. In such case I find it hard to see sexual relation between them. Guru has a lot of responsibility of looking after his pupil and even teaching moral lessons. I think this question is a morally wrong thing but not a crime.
Srinadh, India

There are all sorts of problems here. It will be a crime if the pupil is at the same school as the teacher but not if he/she is at another school or college. Also, what about relationships between employers and 16-18 year-old employees? Should these be illegal, too? Remember, a teacher may be as little as 24 years old and a sixth-former almost 19 - should the law really get involved in cases like these? Finally, it will be almost impossible to get convictions, as juries will be loathe to convict if the younger person appears in court to testify on behalf of the accused, as might often happen if the relationship was based on love. Regardless of what the law says, the jury would tend to say 'not guilty'.
Neil Tonks, UK

A teacher is in a position of authority and trust. That position must be maintained at all times to provide decent standards within the educational system.
Ursula Mitchell, UK

Teachers in question must face disciplinary action. However the act cannot be criminalised since this would make teachers subject to laws not applying to those in other professions. It strikes me as ridiculous to even consider criminalising the act, especially when so many politicians have compromised themselves for a sexual encounter.
Sean Taylor, USA (Brit. expat)

The problem is not so much about the Teacher/Pupil relationship- but that this pupil is either marginalised or prejudiced in favour or against all the other students. Quite clearly it brings into question the issue of impartiality and therefore can not be condoned, at a School, or even university level. It might not be expressly legal, but as in the workplace constitutes an area of inappropriate relationships.
Paul Rushworth, Uk

What is more worse....a teacher with a 16 year old or a Politician (who is supposed to respectable) with rent boys or prostitutes? Why is the government hell bent on pushing moral issues when they have no morals themselves? Relationships between teacher and pupils are inevitable. It is only a few instances where the relationship has gone beyond professional and entered personal. Well expect cameras and secret agents in your schools, teachers - it seems the government can't trust you anymore!
JasonB, UK

The general disapproval and moral indignation of society is sufficient deterrent for teacher/student relationships to be, and remain, fairly rare. Where they do occur, however, they should be judged on their merits and, at the very least, the teacher should not be in the same school as the pupil. Apart from that, I see no reason to make a new law.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

No. The Labour Party has now turned into the Conservative Party. What next? A lot of sex is already banned in Britain and now it seems that all sex will be banned by degrees. Rhetoric from Jack Straw and David Blunkett already suggests that this is the idea. Wait till they ban camcorders and digital/Polaroid cameras.
Andrew Wright, USA

Until teachers are taught during their training that the teacher/ pupil relationship is a minefield of emotional problems, and are willing to act responsibly, no laws or prosecutions will have any effect
Allison. WM>, UK

Absolutely not. I feel that as long as they keep their relationship out of the classroom where it is potentially distracting to others, I see no problem with teacher-pupil relationships.
Peter Crawford-Bolton(16), UK in US

I have no problem with the sexual aspect of the argument, if someone is of age to consent then there is no crime. However, there is sufficient unmerited ascent up the career ladder already in the workplace, do we really have to extend this practice to schools and tertiary institutions.
Tom, Australia

I'm pretty sure that most teachers and pupils realise that these kinds of relationships are not appropriate and an abuse of a trusted position. The key here is trusted position. What are we saying about our opinion of teachers if we legislate for this? I am very uncomfortable with a government trying to legislate for this for another reason also. I do not want to live in a world where the extent and nature of legislation discourages the population from taking responsibility for there own actions.
Sarah, UK

We have sufficient legislation already to cover such teacher/pupil relationships. Firstly, the age of consent, and the issue of consent itself. If we add legislation into the specific teacher/pupil relationship where do we draw the line elsewhere? An office manager has as much, if not more, power over a young employee - surely as good a case for busybody legislation. I feel the issue is not what new laws should be made, but the extent to which our existing law is enforced. It would be dangerous to imply that a pupil over the age of consent is incapable of giving that consent, such a precedent could not help but spill over into other areas of life.
Elaine, England

Why not? There are a few professors that I wouldn't mind sleeping with and if I could have in high school, my gym teacher would have been on top of the list! Let people decide for THEMSELVES. It would be a learning experience and it will be fun for all involved.
Ian McClosky, United States

I don't think that pupils and teachers should have sexual relations at all. However, if the persons are of age (in my view, at least 18) involved have found that their feelings to be true and mature, there should be no harm in waiting until school days are over to see if the love they feel for each other is true and can genuinely last. Perhaps a few years! If the teacher is responsible and takes his/her trusted position seriously, there should be no problem.
Lorna, Ireland

Who out there didn't meet their "other half" through work, school or some social event that put them in close proximity together and allowed them to see each other's strengths and weaknesses? How many people have dated a co-worker or boss? Isn't that the same ethical issue? We come to love those we come to know, it's always been that way and no law will change it. If they're of legal age, I say let them be free to choose on their own. Besides, who would you rather have your kid date, someone educated, involved in the community and already checked out by the government as trustworthy, capable and deserving!
Landon , USA

No, it is absolutely none of our business (the public or the government) what goes on in the teacher's or the student's bed. It is their business and absolutely no one else's.
John Moser, United States

When I was about 14, I always used to dream of my English teacher, Miss Coles, having an affair with me. I don't think it would have done me any harm at all.
Graham Bell, Brazil

The people who are demanding that this law be changed, because they have a romantic fantasy of a "love" affair between equals who just happen to be teacher and pupil, will be the same people who will demand that the law "do something" when they find a relationship that they would consider predatory. Opponents of this law are not asking for consistency, they are asking for the law to pander to their idea of romantic love, but forbid what they would consider improper.

The only consistent position is to ban all such unequal sexual relationships.
Jon Livesey, USA

For a teacher or other professional to have lawful sex with someone for whom they are, to some extent, responsible, remains gross professional misconduct and will be treated as such. It is not a crime and our already statute ridden society should not attempt to make it so.
Martin Barnes, UK

As a 17 year old student, I find it utterly ridiculous that many feel that student/teacher relationships are appropriate. In many ways teenagers are attracted to authority figures as they see them as having power and if relationships were allowed then many young people may be taken advantage of.

School is supposed to be a safe place, how can it be safe when these other pressures are introduced??
Joanna Fisher, Ireland

A teacher is a guide and a mentor. He/she is there to impart qualitative knowledge as well as ethics. Indulging in a relationship would only destroy what they set out to impart. It is unethical as well as wrong for a teacher to indulge in an affair with his/her student.
Divya Sharma, Zambia

Whatever the definition of sexual relationship, this is just paving the way for harmful false accusations against teachers.
Jackie, USA

Teachers hold a lot of power over students. There is no reason why a teacher could not wait a few years to have a relationship with a former student if he or she really wanted to.
Elizabeth Geho, USA

A sexual relationship between a pupil and a teacher, or other child and a someone with caring responsibilities is in the least downright unprofessional and damaging to the work which is supposed to be being done. An immediate dismissal offence, no question about that.

However, the point about criminality should not be automatic. There is a difference between professional incompetence and active abuse. However, any element of manipulation or control by the adult should certainly be viewed as criminal abuse.
Andrew Witham, UK

Whenever a older man/women goes out and victimises or "takes advantage" of the vulnerability of a minor, we all raise a hue and cry. Why should this case be any different?

Yes, it is a teacher, the person who guides us to what we will become in the future. That's why it is even more important in this case to guard against sexual relationships between teacher and student. It clearly would destablise the child at such a tender age. Saying that, asking passing a leglisation of this effect does seem a bit harsh.

The number of such cases are extremely rare, and certainly do not warrant an actual bill being passed. This would make teachers feel extremely insecure. To imagine a scenario, what if the a student has a crush on his/her teacher, and goes to the extent of pressurising the teacher in this regard. The teacher will be put under too much pressure, consciously aware of the legislation, and in some cases may even be framed.
Ajay Arora, India

Teachers, lecturers etc are in a position of trust and not every young person has developed sufficient judgment to know whether someone is taking advantage of them.

When any relationship is discovered maybe the sacking of the teacher/lecturer would be enough. They really should have more sense.
Ailsa, UK

Teacher/pupil relationships are almost invariably abusive in some degree - even if the teacher may not be aware of such at the time. The nature of the relationship is not one of two equal parties - one has to ask in each case - would the relationship have occurred or prospered if it were not between pupil and teacher.

However the ambivalence of such relationships and the apparently tiny incidence means that to use leglislation appears to be an extreme reaction which may bring about more insecurity, anxiety and tension than is ever created by affairs between 16 and 17 year olds and their teachers. A regime whereby teachers stand to lose their livelihoods if such a relationship is proved is surely much more appropriate - at least then all parties have an opportunity to make choices and understand clear outcomes.
Mick Nagle, UK

Sounds like more irrelevant legislation from a government that wont be satisfied until we are back in the Victorian age. Why bother having an age of consent of 16 when 16 year-olds are not allowed to give their consent in this situation?
Peter, Japan

If a teacher has an affair with a pupil aged 16-18, it should be a disciplinary offence - but to make it a crime punishable by a prison sentence is way over the top.
Peter Edwardson, UK

NO! I was involved with a teacher when I was at school, we had met over the holidays when I moved into the area and had started a relationship then. It was a case of love at first sight! We both only discovered he was at my school on my first day. We managed to keep our relationship a secret all year. That was 13yrs ago and we have been happily married for 10yrs and have a wonderful 3yr old son. I was 17 and he was 24 but under these proposals he could have been prosecuted! Surely if both are consenting adults then their private lives should be private! It is no different from having a relationship with your boss. Everyone is entitled to a private life without interference from governments ,media or any Tom Dick or Harry that thinks they have a say in the matter!
CJ, UK

Let us not mix matters when it comes to sexual intimacies, for that's what these student/teacher relations really come down to. Without our mentioning it, a teacher's role is as a seer, the wise, sobering guide for our young people as they seek to find themselves and adjust to raging hormones, which have them in a constant state of flux. I am reminded by my own youthful indiscretions during that period of my life when I scarcely knew what I wanted, or what I was doing, let alone how to build responsible liaisons of the sexual kind. Another important survey might be conducted to measure whether and how many of these sexual encounters survive beyond the classroom, and furthermore, how many result in healthy, lasting, productive relationships - the kinds that we all wish for or sons and daughters. Criminalising the issue, I think is too harsh, though. Instead, the Ministry of Education should be given the latitude to craft a strict code of ethics. We simply should not sort to criminalize every natural human act.
Philson Victor, USA

Of course not. Obviously it's morally and ethically wrong because it reeks of abuse of power. So many teenage girls have crushes on older men and as a teacher they have access to a lot of these girls and can tell which ones have crushes on them. Therefore their opportunities are many. (In any other job access to 16 year olds is limited). The teacher should be fired and have their teachers certificate/licence revoked, suspended or at least marked in a way that they can't teach anywhere but college. But to make it a criminal offence when it wouldn't be for anyone else is ridiculous. What about a (young) teacher from one school meeting a 6th former from another at say a party. Would that be grounds for prosecution too? Fire the guy, ruin his career that's punishment enough. By the way I specified the teacher as a he all the way through because I'm sure that, that is the majority of cases. But just for the record I had an affair with my (female) English teacher when I was 16. She was right out off college and was 22.
Neil, USA

Background ¦ Your reaction <

The final vote:

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See also:

25 Jan 99 | Education
18 May 99 | Education
17 Sep 99 | Education
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