Salem-Keizer School District’s decision to enforce a standing Oregon law is causing quite a stir. The law the district is instructing its teachers and staff to follow is Oregon statute 163.315, which says a person under the age of 18 is incapable of consenting to a sexual act.
The child abuse mandatory reporting guideline requires teachers and other school employees to report if they believe two students under the age of 18 are having sex, even if one of their own children is involved.
The renewed focus on this issue came after a member of the community asked for clarification of the statute.
Every story has two sides. The school district responded to a question and decided that the existing state law needed to be heeded. Teachers were informed by the school district that they would need to take additional mandatory reporting training.
The response from teachers and students alike was swift and generally opposed to the school district’s focus.
Rightly, some teachers expressed that many students turn to them or school counselors to discuss intimate details of their lives including sex. That’s because some households do not welcome discussions of sex, especially discussions of gender identification.
Teachers invite and welcome discussions with students because they understand how home life can be for some kids. Some parents think the schools should take the lead on sex education; others think that sex education should stay at home. The point is moot: what some think should happen is not happening and everyone needs to adjust accordingly.
Many students feel that their teachers, coaches or counselors are the only adults they can discuss topics such as sex with. That trust should not be shunted aside so the school district can tell the community they are following the letter of the law.
What would a reasonable person think? Kids shouldn’t be having sex? That train left the station centuries ago—heck, even Romeo and Juliet were in their early teens, you can bet no medieval adult was reporting them to the throne.
Underage people having sex with each other is not new. The parents of every generation dating back 75 years have lamented their children’s lascivious ways. For a reasonable person who is concerned about teen pregnancy, statistics show that rates are down sharply over the past decade. Research also shows that the Millenial Generation is putting off many things that define a person as an adult, and includes sex.
Mandatory reporting laws are good when it concerns victims. An underage person having consensual or non-consensual sex with an adult is illegal and should be reported and prosecuted.
The truth is that in 2017 our kids are facing more deadly issues, especially the nation’s current opioid/heroin problem. We can ask our teachers to report when they hear of kids having consensual sex, but we would rather our teachers report on drug use.
Oregonians may not be dying at the hands of heroin and opioids at the rate of some other hard hit states, but the danger is very real here. It is not just opioids and heroin on which we must remain vigilant—still, too many kids help themselves to prescriptive drugs they find in their home.
We don’t think underage sex is harmless. There are sexually transmitted diseases to be concerned about. There is the shaming and bullying that girls are subject to when words gets around that they are active. There are gender identification issues as well as body issues that can be negative. Those can create long-term, low self-esteem issues that can last for years. No, underage sex is not harmless, but it needs to be put in perspective.
The message, like don’t do drugs, is don’t have sex. We should work very hard to keep our kids away from and off of drugs. Parents and our schools should work in tandem to talk to their kids and their students. That will work best if our kids feel comfortable talking to their parents or an adult, otherwise the whole issue is shoved underground where we can’t get at it.