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Wrong to blame victim in sex assault case

The trial of James Whalen came to a close Monday, but not before Whalen and his attorney committed one more inappropriate act. When Whalen was a Grand Forks Central teacher, he had sex multiple times with a student who was 16 and 17 at the time. ...

The trial of James Whalen came to a close Monday, but not before Whalen and his attorney committed one more inappropriate act.

When Whalen was a Grand Forks Central teacher, he had sex multiple times with a student who was 16 and 17 at the time. The encounters allegedly occurred in both Minnesota and North Dakota and in Central High School itself. He engaged in text conversations with the girl and even was seen on video purchasing a Plan B pill - used to prevent an unwanted pregnancy - for her.

Whalen pleaded guilty earlier this year and was sentenced Monday to almost two years in jail.

Whalen's final defense?

He suggests the girl was "asking for it."

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It's hard to believe, but those words were used in court Monday by Whalen's attorney, Robert Hoy.

"I agree ... that he is the adult and she is incapable of consent by statute, and he is at fault for that," Hoy told Judge John Thelen during sentencing. "The law does not say that she is incapable of facilitating it or encouraging it or asking for it."

Hoy used that argument in hopes of reducing Whalen's sentence to simple probation. Instead, Thelen rightly sentenced Whalen to nearly two years in jail, sending a message that there is no defense whatsoever for a teacher engaging in a sexual relationship with a student.

Whalen committed a serious crime. He could have spent up to 25 years in prison but received a lighter sentence after pleading guilty to three Class C felonies - two corruption or solicitation of a minor charges and one sexual assault charge.

Remember that it's a crime in North Dakota for an adult older than 22 to have sex with a 16-year-old. Doing so also is against policy spelled out in the Code of Professional Conduct for Educators, which states that teachers "shall not engage in physical abuse of a student or sexual conduct with a student."

Those are laws and codes. Morally, student-teacher relationships are contrary to common sense and decency.

Prosecutor Haley Wamstad said Hoy tried to put part of the blame on the media. Strong media coverage on these issues isn't sensationalizing, but something that can help sway some inappropriate decision or act in the future. We'll play our role. If only teachers like Whalen would play theirs.

Teachers are powerful figures in the life of a child, and they must be held to a high standard around their students. Because of the way adolescent brains are wired, teens cannot always be trusted to always make logical, reasonable decisions. That means there really is no such thing as true consent by a teen, and it's why teachers, coaches and administrators are charged with the great responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the children they oversee.

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No matter what led to his sexual encounters with a student, Whalen should have remembered that. If he hasn't been trained to protect children - and we assume he has been - he should have refrained out of simple decency and societal protocol.

Whalen's attorney bemoaned there are "no protections for the adult pursued by a precocious and sexually experienced" teen.

Actually, it starts with one word: "No." Then, the incident should be reported to administrators.

Using the phrase "asking for it" is a startling defense that sets back where we have come as a civilization. No victim in a sexual assault - and that is exactly what this is, according to the law - is ever "asking for it."

Those parting words are not only shocking, but show Whalen didn't learn this lesson.

 

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