Throughout the past decade and a half there has been an explosion of media reportage suggesting a rise of epidemic proportions in cases of female secondary schoolteachers in relationships with underage male pupils. At the center of this sex panic is the widespread disquiet over the abuse of power these relationships are presumed to involve. Precisely this assumption of inherent power differentials between teachers and students inherited from 1970s and 1980s child sexual abuse feminism provides the rationale for positions of authority legislation operative in many Western countries. This chapter interrogates this sexual offense legislation that automatically criminalizes sex between teachers and students where the latter are over the general age of consent. Examining an Australian criminal case as a window onto this broader anglophone phenomenon, it critiques the model of power informing such legislation. The chapter argues that this model of power misrecognizes the teacher–student relationships under scrutiny and often creates far greater harm than do the sexual relationships themselves. An alternative model of multidimensional intersubjective power relations is proposed as a way of rethinking power, analyzing interpersonal relationships, giving due weight to adolescent agency and difference, encouraging responsible sexual citizenship, and preventing unnecessary prosecutions and collateral damage.
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