The Los Angeles Unified School District has received sharp and righteous criticism after arguing that a 14-year-old consented to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher and should bear some of the responsibility of her own sexual abuse. The district has since parted ways with their heinous trial attorney, but it's clear that the damage has been done.
In December of 2010, Elkis Hermida a math teacher at Thomas Edison Middle School in Los Angeles began a six-month sexual relationship with a student. Hermida was convicted of lewd acts against a child and in July of 2011 he was given three years in prison. The victim's family has filed a civil lawsuit against the school district, claiming, via 89.3 KPCC:
[T]he district was negligent and the experience had emotionally damaged the girl, endangering any future romantic relationships she might have.
While 14-year-olds obviously cannot legally consent to sex, the school district cited a federal court decision that stated a minor "may be capable of giving legal consent to sexual relations," which is apparently applicable in non-criminal cases, highlighting a massive dissonance between criminal and non-criminal cases.
The jury sided with LAUSD's argument that it had "no knowledge of the relationship and could not be held liable," but not before LAUSD's lawyer argued that the student knew exactly what she was doing when she "chose" to have sex with the teacher. The district had even gone so far as to present the 14-year-old's sexual history to discredit her. Under California's rape shield laws, the sexual history of a sex abuse victim is barred in criminal cases and generally excluded in non-criminal cases, but LA County Superior Court Judge Lawrence Cho allowed the child's sexual history to justify her sexual abuse.
Brace yourselves for the LA Unified School District's appalling take-down of the victim's character, which would be completely inadmissible in a criminal case:
"She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher," said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified's trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. "She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn't she be responsible for that?"
Because she's a 14-year-old who was groomed for months by a trusted adult man of authority at what should be a safe place for kids to grow and learn.
"Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that's a much more dangerous decision than to decide, 'Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,'" Wyatt told KPCC.
"She wants to be paid for doing something that she knew was wrong, that she acknowledged was wrong, that she knew was from the beginning," Wyatt argued, adding, "She doesn't want therapy, she wants money. That's what they are asking you for."
This demonizing of a child is absolutely outrageous and disgusting. Using a 14-year-old's sexual past and portraying her as a completely independent agent in her own sexual abuse is downright pathological. Wyatt has since issued an apology for his abhorrent comments:
"Upon reflection, I realize how insensitive the comments I made to KPCC were, and I am truly sorry to this young woman and her family. My statements were ill thought out and poorly articulated and by no means reflect the opinions of the school district or its leadership. It is regrettable that my remarks have taken away from the respectful manner in which this case was tried."
Holly Boyer, the attorney of the victim's family will be appealing the decision, saying:
"I was shocked. I've done sexual abuse cases against school districts before and I've never seen the persistence of this argument. I've never seen this at all that the victim willingly participated in this and that they should bear some responsibility in their injuries."
The LA Unified School District has cut ties with Wyatt, but will continue using the firm to which he belongs.
Screenshot via CBSLA.