A Florida teacher jailed last week for alleged criminal sexual conduct involving one of her students now faces 20 new charges out of Polk County, Florida involving a different student. The allegations are that Jennifer Fichter (29) engaged in sexual relations with the students while she was a teacher. She would have been 26 at the time of the new allegations, and the students were 17 in both cases. Fichter has said she became pregnant during the most recent incident and had an abortion. In addition to the instant cases, Fichter had been investigated concerning her inappropriate attraction directed at an 8th grader before both of the present allegations at a different facility. No charges came out of that matter.
COMMENT: Criminal sexual conduct laws generally focus on whether both parties consented to the act. The age of consent has always been a significant factor; some states require a person to be 16 to lawfully consent to a sexual act; others use 18. In situations where one party is in a position of authority such as a teacher, the consenting party must be 18. Classic examples seem to involve teachers-mainly because of the daily and close contact between students and teachers. Employers have the same rules. When therapists are involved, the issue of vulnerability is focused on, and laws often prohibit all sexual contact between the therapist and the patient; the same principle applies to the clergy. In such situations, age is not the guiding factor; instead, any consent given is deemed invalid owing to the unique relationship.
UPDATE: Fichter was sentenced to 22 years in prison and a separate concurrent sentence of three years in a related case in Tampa, Florida.
OUR FREE OPINION
The sentences imposed are harsh. We think Fichter should have received a lesser term in jail (not prison) coupled with an intense treatment program. Lengthy prison sentences in these types of cases are about retribution and poorly serve the public’s interest.