Zero-tolerance for Teacher-Student Sexual Relations

Laws on sexual harassment in the education setting should prohibit all sexual relationships between teachers and students in the same educational institution. Amendments to South Africa’s education laws in 2000 stated that an “educator must be dismissed if he or she is found guilty of…having a sexual relationship with a learner of the school where he or she is employed.” The dismissal is mandatory whether or not there was “consent.” See: Education Laws Amendment Act, sec. 10. Also, such zero-tolerance policies are consistent with many laws that criminalize adults’ sexual relationships with minors generally.

Because sexual harassment in the educational setting affects victims who often are minors and perpetrators are in a position of particular authority and trust, consensual sexual relationships should not be protected. This highlights the fact that legislative language addressing harassment in the workplace, where consensual relationships are protected, cannot simply be transposed into the educational setting.

There is consensus that zero-tolerance for sexual relationships between students and teachers is a best practice for sexual harassment law and policies in educational settings. Education International, an organization of teachers unions from around the world, has encouraged its affiliates “to condemn such breaches of ethical standards clearly and publicly,” noting that zero-tolerance of these relationships is the only workable policy solution. See: Education Int’l, Combating Sexual Harassment in Schools, 2005.