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Professor/Student Sexual Assault

"Teachers are in a position of authority and trust to foster the intellectual development of their students. When they engage in sexual relations with a student, they violate that trust implicit in a professional teacher-student relationship."
(Martin, 1993)

A New World

When students arrive at college to begin their academic journey the relationship between teacher and student shifts from the high school model. Faculty and staff have a code of conduct that they must adhere to. Here is a look at the landscape of sexual relations in college as they apply to faculty, staff, and students.

College Sexual Harassment Policy for Faculty and Staff

Every college has a sexual harassment policy in place that makes it clear to faculty that sexual harassment, misconduct, and/or abuse clearly violates the expected standards of campus conduct. In addition, many schools have policies that ban undergraduate student-faculty relationships, even when both parties consent, for a number of different reasons:

  • Conflict of Interest: As advisers, teachers, and men­tors, faculty members may be among the most trusted adults in a student’s life. Often a student will invest a deep and respectful trust in a faculty member and if that faculty member responds in a sexually inappropriate way, it violates that trust, it is confusing, and it can often be traumatic to the student. 
  • Power Play: A faculty member automatically holds a position of power over his/her students. Grades are the measuring rod of academia. A faculty member who uses the enticement of a raised grade or the threat of a lowered grade to make a sexual advance is abusing his/her power and violating college sexual harassment policy.
  • Mutual Consent: The most commonly expressed concern is over whether "mutual consent" can exist in a student-faculty relationship where there is such a disparity in power between the people involved. Remember that consent should be an enthusiastic and informed yes.

When sexual relationships between professors and students are permitted, it can sometimes be more difficult to recognize or report sexual harassment. Unwanted sexual advances by anyone, particularly someone in a position of power, can be intimidating or even frightening, which may impact whether or not a survivor feels comfortable reporting what has happened. (Martin, 1993)

Social media also plays a complex role. Because professors often communicate with their classes and/or individual students via digital assignments, cell phone, e-mail, Blackboard, and GoogleDrive, it is easy to communicate directly with professors outside of class. Even so, these communications should remain professional.

If a faculty member says or does something that is unwanted, unwelcome, and/or uncomfortable, it can be reported. The chain of command begins with the student's faculty advisor and department chair.  They should be trained in how to follow the college policy in sexual harassment and assaults. Students can also connect with additional resources both on and off campus that can explain student rights and what options are available moving forward.

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