About 100 U.S. teachers, mostly women, are charged with sex crimes each year, although many others go unreported. Affairs between teachers and students are becoming more common in both the U.S. and Europe, probably because the rise of social media has made communication easier and more private. In most of Europe, the age of consent is 14, while in American states it’s 16, 17 or 18. But regardless of students’ ages, teachers may be considered predators because their authority implies a potential for duress. No coercion may have been used and the student may even have bragged about the experience to his friends. Yet punishments for sex offenders are draconian, commonly far out of proportion to the crime.

Recently, a 23-year-old Minnesota teacher had an affair with a 15-year-old boy and now faces seven charges, including sexual assault of a child, use of a computer in a sex crime, child enticement, causing a child to view pictures of sexual activity, two counts of exposing genitals, and subjecting a child to harmful materials. The woman has also been charged with “brutality,” even though the boy had a second encounter with her and even denied the affair in order to protect her. Fired from her job, the woman is now subject to a sentence of 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted of all charges. She could also be branded a sex offender for many years, if not for life. Her career is likely ruined.

An article in “Reason” magazine says that “when people hear the term ‘sex offender’ they just panic.” The result is that laws governing such affairs are commonly chaotic, cruel and even unconstitutional. Some states impose severe penalties for non-threatening behavior, such as urinating in public, to be kept on a registry for life. Some registrants are as young as 9 years old.

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