“Holy shitsnacks,” is more or less what you’ll say after reading “writer and former lawyer” Betsy Karasik’s opinion piece about the “vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students” that the Washington Post didn’t so much publish as release from the double-locked cellar in a haunted house it rents for its occasional opinion writers to use at their scribbling leisure. Karasik was writing about the “hysteria” and outraged protests over the lenient verdict in the rape trial of Stacey Dean Rambold, a former Montana high school teacher who was sentenced to a mere 30 days in jail after being convicted of raping a 14-year-old student named Cherice Morales (who killed herself while the case was pending) when he was 49. And yet, somehow mildly apologizing for rape is not the worst part about Karasik’s article.
Karasik wants to jump right in, give us some relatable pop culture analogy, because that’s the first lesson you learn in persuasive writing — gotta hook the reader. How best to do this, when mildly apologizing for a 49-year-old man exploiting his position of academic authority to have sex with a 14-year-old girl? It’s tricky, no doubt, but there must be something that we can all...wait a minute! You guys know that comedian, Louis C.K.? Okay, well he has this bit on pedophiles, and, um, well, Betsy isn’t a stand-up comedian or anything, and repeating jokes secondhand almost never goes well, but it’s really funny AND insightful.
This is what Karasik writes, in lieu of at least providing a transcript:
There is a painfully uncomfortable episode of “Louie” in which the comedian Louis C.K. muses that maybe child molesters wouldn’t kill their victims if the penalty weren’t so severe. Everyone I know who watches the show vividly recalls that scene from 2010 because it conjures such a witches’ cauldron of taboo, disgust and moral outrage, all wrapped around a disturbing kernel of truth. I have similar ambivalence about the case involving former Montana high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold. Louie concluded his riff with a comment to the effect of “I don’t know what to do with that information.” That may be the case for many of us, but with our legal and moral codes failing us, our society needs to have an uncensored dialogue about the reality of sex in schools.
Karasik goes on to first qualify her stance on the Rambold case: she completely gets that people like Rambold should be punished, and punished severely. She insists,
I do think that teachers who engage in sex with students, no matter how consensual, should be removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation.
Wait for it...
But the utter hysteria with which society responds to these situations does less to protect children than to assuage society’s need to feel that we are protecting them.
Her point seems to be that the relationship between teacher and student is far more complicated than the one between your garden-variety “dark alley” rapist and victim. It’s, like, complicated. There’s a “nuanced continuum” of sexual interactions between teachers and students, “ranging from flirtation to mutual lust to harassment to predatory behavior.” The Louis C.K. bit helps illustrate how our witch-hunt mentality in regards to pedophiles is what compounds the seriousness of cases like Rambold’s. Maybe, if we weren’t so outraged and hysterical about a 49-year-old teacher using his position of authority to sexually exploit a 14-year-old student, Morales wouldn’t have killed herself. Karasik actually articulates this, but don’t take my word for it. We have evidence!
I don’t know what triggered Morales’s suicide, but I find it tragic and deeply troubling that this occurred as the case against Rambold wound its way through the criminal justice system. One has to wonder whether the extreme pressure she must have felt from those circumstances played a role.
Perhaps Karasik felt compelled to make this point about the “nuanced” (fuck that adjective, by the way — it’s just a lazy way of saying, “Too daunting for me to actually articulate!”) nature of relationships between students and teachers. Fine, but is this really something that must be said? Rambold only got 30 days in jail. Why does he merit lenient treatment from the opinion page of the Washington Post, too? It’s not like he received a 20-year prison sentence and everyone was like, “Not good enough — BURN HIM!” in which case Karasik’s call for rhetorical moderation might make at least a shred of sense.
But he didn’t and it doesn’t and the result is that Betsy Karasik wrote a clumsy opinion in which her best scrap of supporting evidence is a stand-up routine about pedophiles that, rather than simply repeating, she rephrases while feigning discomfort by describing the bit with phrases like “painfully uncomfortable” and “witches’ cauldron of taboo.” This is the most disingenuous, cynical sort of moralizing, all the more so because Karasik seems to entirely misunderstand the context of the joke she doesn’t even deign repeat. Once you lift a joke like this out of context — a joke, by the way, that really has nothing at all to do with Karasik’s point — only terrible misunderstandings can occur. Fortunately, the rest of Karasik’s article makes it pretty clear that we’re not misunderstanding her — she really is trying to shift the onus of a rape conviction onto the public’s justified outrage.
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