Trigger Warning for rape apologism and discussion of victim grooming.
Last year, a teacher from Northern Territory, Australia was arrested for engaging in sexual contact with a 13-year-old student. He was arrested because this contact, which he had willfully and knowingly engaged in, is illegal. It is illegal precisely because it has been determined in NT that minors under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex. And “sex” without consent is … what exactly? Rape. Yes, yes, rape is the proper word.
I outline all of his very carefully because it is apparently not intuitive, even to those who are highly familiar with the law — so familiar, in fact, as to be on the NT Supreme Court. You see, this week, the teacher pleaded guilty. And when a newspaper printed a headline calling the teacher a “rapist” — I would imagine because they followed the logic used above — Justice Dean Mildren chastised that newspaper, not only for using language different to that found in the law, but also because he thought the act committed by the teacher could in no way be defined as rape. According to Justice Mildren, it was “consensual.”
Justice Dean Mildren this week sentenced the teacher to a minimum two years in prison for the four-month relationship with his student.
The physical relationship started after the girl confided to the teacher that she was the victim of a sexual abuse.
Justice Mildren attacked the Northern Territory News for a headline calling the teacher a “rapist”.
“He is not charged with rape. There is no suggestion in the Crown case that the sexual intercourse in this case was without the consent of the child.”
In addition to being appalled at this outright defense of the teacher — by the way, Mildren said in sentencing that he was “unlikely to reoffend and was remorseful,” something I will get to in a minute — I find it especially regretful that such a statement was made so soon after this excellent piece was published in Philadelphia Weekly, urging reporters to do exactly what NTN did, and call rape what it is. To attempt to shame media outlets for using proper language and supporting rape survivors is atrocious, and the fact that Justice Mildren is far from the only person who will engage in such behavior is one of the many reasons why the battle for proper language in rape reporting is going to be such a long one.
The good news is that both major Australian political parties have come out in opposition to Mildren’s statement and denounced it as the rape apologism and denialism that it is. Both have stated that a 13-year-old cannot consent to sex with an adult, and at least one has gone so far as to explain that the purpose of the law is to make that clear. Good for them.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this case is one that isn’t being discussed at length: the teacher started his “relationship” (read: “grooming for sexual assault”) after the student disclosed to him that she was being sexually abused.
A 13-year-old cannot consent to sex with an adult. But in the highly unlikely event that there was ever any doubt, this is especially true in a case where the adult is the minor’s teacher, and thus in a particular position of power. And it is yet again especially true when the teacher begins his assaults after the victim has disclosed prior assaults to him.
No, this is not because victims/survivors of sexual abuse do not know what is good for them, and are uniquely unable to make sexual decisions. Far from it. It’s because victims/survivors of sexual abuse are uniquely vulnerable to future abuse. This is because those who have already been assaulted are vulnerable to beliefs that abuse is “normal,” to beliefs that they are to blame for abuse, and to being unable to voice meaningful boundaries, all as a result of the abuse perpetrated against them. I do not believe for a second that it’s a coincidence that this abuse began after the student disclosed prior abuse to her teacher. The teacher didn’t magically form an “attraction” to her while he was “counseling” her. He saw someone as vulnerable, and chose to abuse her trust.
We should be appalled in all cases of sexual abuse by teachers against students, no matter what the genders of each party and no matter what the circumstances. But we should be especially appalled at a teacher who has chosen to abuse one of the most sacred forms of trust of all, in using an abuse survivor’s history as a weapon against her.
Along with his remarks regarding “consent,” that Justice Mildren has chosen to mark this perpetrator, of all perpetrators, as remorseful and unlikely to reoffend, only emphasizes his dire misunderstanding (or willful obfuscation) of sexual violence. His continued presence on the court would seem to be a very real danger.