Former teacher of the year gets 38-year sentence

In a rather surprising decision, a Florida judge sentenced Ethel Anderson to 38 years in prison for sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy:

Calling her “a parent’s worst nightmare,” a judge sentenced former Hillsborough County schoolteacher Ethel Anderson to 38 years in prison Monday for performing oral sex and other lewd acts on a 12-year-old boy she tutored on weekends.

Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe’s severe punishment of Anderson seemed designed to send a message in a county that has attracted disproportionate attention for sex scandals involving female educators. The most notorious of them, Debra Lafave, managed to avoid incarceration completely after pleading guilty to sex with a 14-year-old boy.

“There are those that believe that nothing’s wrong if the defendant is a woman and the victim is a male,” Tharpe said Monday. “This court does not recognize gender. If it’s proven, as an adult, that you had sex with a child, you can expect to go to prison.”

Finally there is a judge who gets it. There should not be a double standard. Women who prey on children should not get a pass. They should be treated as any man who preyed on a child would be treated.

Anderson’s sentence may seem stiff (the prosecutor had offered her a 15-year sentence followed by 15 years on probation plea deal, but she turned it down). However, given Anderson’s actions, the sentence is fair. According to court reports, Anderson groomed the boy for months, sending over 200 sexually explicit text messages to him, which she explained away as “sexual therapy”:

She told the court: ‘At the time, with him struggling with school and having behavioral issues and anger issues, acting out at home and not being able to connect with his family, the way that he and his parents felt, that was my purpose. To gain his attention and, yes, I did it in an inappropriate way.’

The victim also testified, stating that at one point he thought of Anderson as his girlfriend, but did not want to lose his virginity to her:

At one point, the victim, who was 12 years old at the time, tried to end it because he was tired of lying and hiding it from his mother.

He told the court: ‘I felt like she was a girlfriend, I loved her and she said that I was her boyfriend and she loved me. She would rub on my legs, kiss on my ears, neck and stuff like that…We would tongue kiss.’

“I didn’t want to lose my virginity to a teacher,” the boy testified.

Anderson stated in court that she does not think of herself as a sexual predator. I suspect many people who prey on children, women in particular, do not view themselves that way. Anderson’s denialist comment about her actions being “sexual therapy” reminds me of other cases in which people try to indirectly blame the victim. These people say that they are really trying to help the child, but the underlying implication is that if the child was not damaged or troubled the adult would never have acted as they did. The child essentially made them do it.

The boy’s response is also an eye-opener because many people think that boys always want and welcome sex. Yet this boy knew there was something wrong and wanted no part of it. That did not stop him, however, from developing feelings for Anderson. When people hear about abuse, they tend to think there is force involved. Most cases do not involve that. There may be threats, but most often the child is simply led on by the adult.

Anderson’s attorney plans to appeal. It is doubtful that the sentence will be overturned. My understanding of Florida sentencing is that Anderson must serve at least one third of the sentence before she can be considered for parole, which means she is not going anywhere for at least the next ten years.

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