Originally posted on May 23, 2013
Teachers sexually abusing students has unfortunately become a normal news item in the last twenty years. Female teachers abusing male students garners the most media attention. That coverage may lead some to believe that women who abuse students face harsher sentences when convicted. However, it appears the opposite is true. According to a Star-Ledger investigation of 97 cases in New Jersey, male teachers are more often convicted and face longer sentences:
The data about 72 men and 25 women also shows:
- Male defendants went to prison in 54 percent of cases compared with 44 percent of cases for female defendants;
- Men averaged 2.4 years in prison compared with 1.6 years in prison for women, or 50 percent more time;
- Ninety-three of the 97 cases ended in plea deals;
- Forty-seven cases ended in noncustodial sentences, which typically involved pre-trial intervention programs or probation.
This comes as no surprise to anyone following the media coverage of these cases. As the paper noted:
The newspaper’s analysis included several high-profile cases, including a female Hammonton High gym teacher accused of having sexual contact with multiple students who wound up being fined and losing her teaching license and a Sussex County case in which the 15-year-old female victim wrote a letter to the judge pleading for leniency for her former Kittatinny Regional High School teacher, a man, who received a three-year term. Of the 97 cases in the past 10 years, the longest sentence was seven years for a female and 10 for a man, though the male case involved multiple relationships.
This double standard is not limited to teachers. In general, when women commit sex offenses they are more likely to walk out of the courtroom regardless of how abusive or violent their actions. The surprising aspect is that this continues to happen even though there is a greater awareness of women’s violence. While we may see some women face longer sentences, many more women simply plead out to abuse and only get probation. Sometimes they do not have even have to register as a sex offender.
One element making the situation more complicated is the age of consent. In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16. If a teacher engages in sexual activity with a 16-year-old, it technically only becomes a crime if the child is a student of the teacher at the time the sex occurs. If it happens over the summer or with the child attending another school, there may be no violation.
However, that only explains some of the cases. Other cases involving younger students also show the same sentencing discrepancy: women tend to receive lighter sentences and less or no jail time.
The solution to this problem is quite simple on its face but hard to enact. The courts must take these cases seriously, and treat women accused of sexual abuse with the same sternness they would a man accused of that act. People must stop excusing women’s violence as a desirable act for teen boys if the woman is pretty. Whether teen boys find the act (initially) enjoyable does not change the exploitative nature of the abuse. That is easy to write, but harder to get people to do because people inclined to treat this as a joke.