Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Call For Equality For Women

Is there still enough of a belief in the nurturing, maternal instincts of women that courts are less inclined to jail them for crimes against children?

This is what I’m left wondering, as I try to understand a recent court ruling in Scotland.

Primary school headteacher Catherine Taylor, 47, who dragged the ten-year-old girl across a school canteen to "shock and humiliate" her for not eating her lunch, was fined £750 at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.
She was found guilty of that assault and of an "unnatural" attack on an eight-year-old boy when she grabbed his private parts in front of other pupils in the canteen. She has been placed on the sex offenders' register for five years, effectively ending her teaching career.

But Ms. Taylor has not been sentenced to time in jail, and I have to ask why the hell not?**

Now, this is not the first time I’ve chimed in on my concerns about a potential double standard with the law, a previous example during a discussion over the Mary Kay Letourneau case over on Crime Rant. Specifically, I said:

Okay, okay, people have the right to make their own choices, but there are laws out there, ones to protect children. And not all children are in good situations, so there’s an age that someone legally has to be before they can consent to sex and get into a certain kind of relationship.
As someone who spent years working with children ages 3-15 at different times, I appreciate the law and how it works to protect both kids and the people who work with kids. What bothers me about stories like this is that it erodes the inherent credibility of all people who work with children, regardless of their age. One place I worked at, I worked exclusively with what I called my “pack of boys” but I was the staff willing to do floor hockey and construction and the kinds of things boys were interested in. Since I was often alone with my group, an allegation of wrong-doing could have sunk me, professionally. You work hard to keep those boundaries and to present yourself as a professional, then cases like this come along and it doesn’t matter that you’ve never done anything questionable, ever. Parents are looking at you funny.

Now, in case you’re missing part of the background here, Mary Kay Letourneau was a teacher who had a sexual relationship with a twelve-year-old student.

I wonder about the perception in this case. If a man is a bit affectionate with a female student, he’s a perv, maybe a pedophile. But if an older woman hits on a boy it’s all wink wink, nudge nudge, score. Okay, so there is a belief in our society that boys want sex sooner than the average girl. I’m not arguing for or against that belief… What I’m prepared to ask is, do we really want young boys to be vulnerable to letches like this? Do we want to say that it’s okay for women in their thirties to initiate sexual relationships with twelve-year-olds?

I find that to be the most serious breach of trust. Not just of the adult-child dynamics, but also of the teacher-student relationship. A considerably older woman has a lot more experience and has had full guidance in assessing what is right, wrong and how to make personal choices that she can be happy with (I’m not saying she’s got common sense, but she’s had a lot more time to have a chance to figure things out). A boy who’s twelve has not had that. If he’s eighteen it’s a different ballpark, but twelve. And a student.

At least she went to jail.

But a female teacher can be convicted for grabbing an eight-year-old’s private parts in public, plus the assault of another student and she doesn’t get jail time for that?

I’m sorry, but I don’t consider the conviction, fine and end of her career sufficient.

The loss of her career goes with the territory of being a criminal. It isn’t a court-ordered punishment. Ask anyone who’s ever been convicted of a crime. Do we say that the nurse who is convicted of trying to kill infants at a hospital has suffered enough since she won’t be able to practice medicine again? Hell no! Or should we expect business owners to employ people convicted of robbery and theft? Uh, hello people, unless you’re a career criminal being convicted tends to mean you’ve considerably narrowed your career options. I mean, if you use the reasoning that losing her career is punishment enough then we should unlock the prisons and let a lot of people out. Poor poor criminals, it’s so much harder for them to find jobs.

Okay, I’m not meaning to do a full-scale mock of criminals. I’m not saying there aren’t those who reform in jail, and there are always those wrongly convicted, and there are those who were young and showed bad judgment and clean up. One of my youth group leaders when I was in high school was on probation for conspiring to murder his (then) wife. I know people who’ve done time and come out to be responsible, gainfully employed citizens… but after they did their time.

I’m not the first person to think about this stuff, and I’m not even the first person to say it. A female high-school substitute teacher in Utah will serve no time behind bars for performing oral sex on a 17-year-old male student, despite comments from the judge that a man would have likely gone to prison.
"If this was a 29-year-old male and a 17-year-old female, I would be inclined to order some incarceration," noted 3rd District Judge Mark Kouris during sentencing...

There is still sexual discrimination in our society. Typically, we hear people complain when they don’t feel they’ve been given equal opportunity at a job, or when they aren’t getting equal pay just because they’re a woman.

I’d like to see the women’s rights activists get out there and lobby that these women should get equal treatment, and get locked up.

Look, it isn’t a newsflash that I’m not exactly a feminist. I believe in equality. (One of the issues I have with some advocacy groups is that they start off with the best of intentions, and they are born out of necessity. But somehow, over time, some of them become more about dominance. Not about getting equal treatment but getting better treatment. I’m not knocking all of them in one fell swoop here because some are great and necessary and do important work... I’m just saying that there is a tendency with some to cross the lines, the oppressed becoming the oppressor, and that bothers me. Here, the debate has been raging over women wearing veils, with reporters asserting that wearing a veil isn’t a choice a feminist can make.

If we go back into the history and context of the obligation to wear any particular item of clothing I think we could present a compelling argument that feminists should never wear skirts or dresses.

Hell, it would be anti-feminist to wear white at your wedding, wouldn’t it? Damn, do we really not have anything better to do than to argue over whether or not someone is allowed to cover their face? I’m sorry, but I believe in balancing religious freedom with reasonable expectations involving doing your job or providing safety. By this, I mean that if someone is wearing something and they have to be asked to remove it for screening purposes at an airport, then provide them a place that affords the greatest amount of dignity involved in consideration and do only what needs to be done. I’m sorry, but if a nun needs to be searched, she needs to be searched. Same for a Muslim cleric.)*

Equal treatment. Tempered with respect. Trust me, when I went to Tunisia I went through my own experience in security. A female security officer frisked me front and back, in front of Kevin. It’s what they do, it wasn’t sexual or personal and I can’t say I enjoyed it because I didn’t, but it was only a few weeks after 9/11 and I respect that these people were doing a job and taking pains to ensure the safety of everyone in the airport and on my plane. If it had been a guy I might have felt differently, but that’s what I mean by affording the person the greatest amount of dignity possible and then moving on.

I’ll always draw the lines a bit tighter for those less able to protect themselves. We need greater measures in place to deter people from picking on the most vulnerable members of our society. The elderly. The infirm. The handicapped.


And I believe this sentence sends the wrong message. It says that crimes against children aren’t as serious. A teacher touching a boy is grounds for a criminal charge, never mind grabbing him. I don’t care if she’s lost her job and been placed on the sex offender’s registry. You’ve got her solicitor saying, “She is very happy with the great support she has had since the conviction, both from former colleagues and members of staff and pupils.
"She appreciates she will not be able to teach again. She found herself in a very difficult school in a difficult situation and she did a lot of good over the years."

Well la-de-frickin’-da for her. She found herself in a difficult situation.

She found herself in the kind of situation hundreds of thousands of educational professionals find themselves in on a regular basis. An incident between students that resulted in her needing to intervene an provide a reasoned, adult response with explanations and fair consequences, if warranted.

In short, she found herself in the position where she needed to do what she was paid to do. And that was not dragging a student across a room and over a garbage can because she wasn’t eating her lunch.

Good lord – when did not eating your lunch become a punishable offense in a school? Come over here lady and I'll show you schools with real problems.

I say this as someone who has had to physically intervene with children in order to ensure the safety of others. I required medical attention myself after being assaulted by a five-year-old. I know what it is to work with tough kids. I actually know what it is to be afraid of kids I’ve worked with.

And this woman wasn’t in that kind of situation. She dealt with situations in a manner that was grossly inappropriate and criminal.

And when people commit crimes against children they should go to jail.

These children do not have the same level of emotional maturity as the average adult. They are young, and by definition vulnerable. Whether they realize it or not, children rely on their teachers to provide a safe environment.

Not to bully and abuse them.

If this had been a male teacher, would he be in jail today? I think so, and that concerns me, because these are crimes where jail time should have been mandatory. Ms. Taylor grabbed a boy’s privates publicly and dragged another child from a room…for not eating her lunch…

And all she got was a slap on the wrist.

I think that if it had been a male teacher who’d done the same things, he would have been branded as a pedophile and locked up. And the fact that I think that bothers me.

When we lobby for equality, let’s go after the equality to not only earn the same wage but pay the same price. You do the crime, you do the time, regardless of gender.

Accepting anything less would be a setback for the rights of women everywhere.

** Now, bear in mind, if I was reporting on this as a journalist it would be my responsibility to look up more of the history and alternate sources, etc. I’m strictly commentating on what I feel about this after reading the news accounts. There may be variables that would make me change my mind about any one specific case, but the point here is actually that there is a pattern of behaviour involving cases with female teachers and students where the teachers seem to be let off with next to no suitable punishment, while a man in the same position would likely have been given a harsher sentence, a judge even going on the record and saying so. And that's wrong.

* I know, I know. A bit of a tangent. Happens when I rant sometimes.


anne frasier said...

wow. this was truly a flashback to catholic school. i remember nuns pulling some serious shit like that. and it was just accepted as normal. working for god and all.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. We had a court case where a female teacher was given probation for having a sexual relationship with a male grade 8 student!! Love letters were given in evidence. The school board took away her licence. Two years later, after her probation was over, parents discovered she was working as a "volunteer" in a classroom in a different school. No matter how many letters were written to the newspaper or the school board - she wasn't removed from that school as a volunteer. It was disgusting. And if she'd been a male teacher with a female grade 8 student I firmly believe she would've done jail time too. If we want equality (and I've been a cop and done a "man's" job) then we should be willing to do the time if we do the crime.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Some courts are sicker than the people they entertain.

JamesO said...

Most of the staff of the school I attended between the ages of seven and twelve would be locked up by these criteria - the joys of a private education...

I agree totally with you Sandra that there should be no discrimination in terms of sex when it comes to sentencing - if a man convicted of these charges would be sent to jail, then so should a woman. What I'm not so sure of is whether sending anyone to jail in the circumstances of this particular case would help.

This is, of course, a different rant - what purpose incarceration serves and when non-custodial sentences make more sense. It's right that a woman (or man) who abuses children should forfeit the right to work with them, and it's right too that they should have some form of punishment for their actions. Prison is not necessarily the best form of punishment, however.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anne, I didn't go to catholic school, but I remember kids getting struck with a ruler. But never in public, always in the office in a controlled manner. Not saying it was right but still.

Laurie, that's an even bigger concern to me. These people can end up regaining access to children. There's nothing to stop this criminal from working with children as a nanny, tutor, care provider. I fail to understand why an additional restraining order to keep her away from children wasn't put in place. As part of the probation here, sex offenders are required to keep a certain distance from schools, playgrounds, etc. That truly concerns me. And there are those people naive enough to think that because she didn't go to jail it must not really have been serious... that worries me.

Bonnie, too true. Sad.

James, a different debate indeed. Personally, a man who rapes children is an excellent candidate for castration in my book. Maybe there is a place for female circumcision as well.

See, I'm not very forgiving about that kind of stuff.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anne, I didn't go to catholic school, but I remember kids getting struck with a ruler. But never in public, always in the office in a controlled manner. Not saying it was right but still.

Laurie, that's an even bigger concern to me. These people can end up regaining access to children. There's nothing to stop this criminal from working with children as a nanny, tutor, care provider. I fail to understand why an additional restraining order to keep her away from children wasn't put in place. As part of the probation here, sex offenders are required to keep a certain distance from schools, playgrounds, etc. That truly concerns me. And there are those people naive enough to think that because she didn't go to jail it must not really have been serious... that worries me.

Bonnie, too true. Sad.

James, a different debate indeed. Personally, a man who rapes children is an excellent candidate for castration in my book. Maybe there is a place for female circumcision as well.

See, I'm not very forgiving about that kind of stuff.

Megan said...

circumcision != castration

JamesO said...

Off with their Goolies!

Actually, I think there is a very good argument for surgical or chemical de-sexing of sex offenders, though what method would actually work is not an easy question to answer. Such a punishment would, however, need a careful reappraisal of what constituted a sex offender. The teacher who set you off on your rant has been put on the UK sex offenders register for five years, because she grabbed the child by his privates (presumably through his trousers, though the news reports are not detailed on that point), but there's no suggestion that she did it because she was unable to control her own sexual urges. To 'castrate' her for that act would not in my mind serve justice.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Megan, James... Maybe a bit harsh. I don't know. But I don't mean to treat female circumcision lightly - that's no joke. Well, neither is castration. But sexually abusing children isn't a joke either.

James, in a way the inference that this woman was in control (and not unable to help herself) is more disturbing. It suggests she didn't see anything wrong with grabbing a boy in that manner. The fact that she also voices no remorse, the "put in a difficult situation" line... that all suggests to me that she'd do it again. Not because she can't control herself but specifically because she doesn't think she did anything wrong.

Beyond that argument, the thing that gets to me is that these children will have issues they will have to address. What kind of lasting repercussions this abuse has on them psychologically is anyone's guess.

Maybe what would have been an acceptable punishment is for this teacher to pay for their therapy and compensate them financially. The justice system isn't perfect, and things that linger for me are the issues around the fact that nothing is really done for the victims. They don't get 'fixed' even if a person is sent to jail.

And of course, it's a concern in my mind that particularly sex offenders and those who abuse children be stopped from repeating their offenses. How do we stop them? I'm raising the question, but I don't have all the answers.

Trace said...

What a weird thing, too. Suddenly these female sex offenders are coming out of the woodwork. Many of them teachers. I agree about the punishment. And Mary Kay was given a chance by the judge at first after she apologized and she was set free. Shortly after she was found in her vehicle with the twelve year old. *Shaking head*

And I'm sorry, I don't think it's okay. It's NOT a love story to me, like many people would like to believe. It's a horrible abuse of authority and anyone who is attracted to a kid has serious issues.

mai wen said...

Anyone watch South Park? I saw this South Park episode recently on this very topic, it was hilrious because it rung true (as always with South Park). This kindergarten teacher was having an affair with one of her Kindergarten students!! And his older brother was appalled and so tried to report her to the police and the police were like, "Wait, you're telling me your brother's sleeping with the hot kindergarten teacher? Nice!" and they wouldn't do anything about it.

There is definitely a double standard here that I think really hurts and does a diservice to the boys of our society. As if we aren't hurting them enough with this "boys don't cry" macho bullshit, but now we're saying it's okay and even admirable to be abused by an older woman. Boys aren't anymore ready to deal with sexual contact from an adult as girls are and it needs to be recognized and the more we sweept our boys' feelings aside the more they will learn to sweep their own feelings aside and in turn we're breeding our future abusers. It's an absolute mess.

Sorry, I took a lot of Gender and Trauma classes in college as this intrigues me.

I told my father-in-law once (when he was talking about how he can't wait to have a grandson to watch play baseball like my hubby did as a boy) that I will not force my boy to do anyone particular activity, and that if his favorite thing to do was wear mommy's clothes and put on mommy's make up (which I don't really use anyways) then I'd totally support him. You should have seen his mouth drop. He has never mentioned my future children again. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm probably going to ramble a little here. I had an algebra teacher in high school that taught me more about math than any other teacher I'd ever had. I also learned one of the first days of school that if you stood too close to his desk his hand would wander to the back of your knee or who knows where else. Years later, when telling me that this teacher has quit his job because a female student had accused him of improper touching (I believe it involved touching her shoulder), a friend and I agreed that most girls in the school had seemed to know this, but if you stayed out of arm's reach, everything was cool.

It's always been considered more serious for a male teacher to take advantage of his female student because of course young girls must be protected and shielded. And until recently, teachers were unquestionably respected, not to mention old and matronly, so no one expected that they may be seducing young boys.

I've always believed that the only reason Mary Kay LeT. went to jail is because she was so unremorseful in court. She kept saying she was in love with Vili, that she would continue to see him, etc, etc... If she had tried to deny things, claimed some sort of mental illness, anything else, she probably would have met the same fate as every other woman who is accused of these crimes, despite the fact that they are the ones who should be treated differently, not her.

What amazes me is how prevalent these incidents have become. Here in Michigan within a month there were two reports of female teachers taking advantage of students. It seems that if you searched the web on a weekly basis you could most likely find a teacher (male or female) somewhere being tried or accepting pleas in these matters. What the hell? Was this stuff always going on before and no one knew, or are this many perverts just getting by the background checks schools are supposedly doing now? norby

Sandra Ruttan said...

Trace, I agree with you. It isn't a love story in my opinion either.

Mai Wen, LOL! You really have to wonder about all the macho BS and how that affects boys. I think it's an interesting topic, by all means. I would tend to say from my experience, working with boys and girls, in general they're just wired different. You can see a lot of typical behaviours very young that cut to gender stereotypes. But the idea that kids have to be into certain things isn't healthy and forcing that on them isn't good for them, IMHO.

Norby, considering how much the schools pay, maybe the bar has just been lowered. I really don't know. Back in the days when I ran with my pack of boys, we had one male staff member. He was a first-class jerk in my opinion. One day he was working with the five-year-olds. The group had a high number of girls in it. I was completely on the opposite side of the second floor of the building and could hear him shouting at those kids. Upon investigation, some of them were in tears. Whatever had actually happened, he took it out on the whole class of kids, but there was no evidence of extreme disorder. Kids in clusters playing with different things. And our boss never investigated it because she liked having a man on staff. Then again, she'd also slept with one of her staff on a previous group camping trip with the kids. I wasn't there. The kids told me.

I told my sister any daycare that wouldn't let me go in for a day and observe the staff at my leisure in all activities wasn't a place she wanted to put Dashiell in for care. And you'd be surprised how many places won't allow open access. Cameras in daycares are the staff's greatest ally, I kid you not. Protects you from false accusations and if you're a good worker, you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain by protecting your name.

S. W. Vaughn said...


I'm with the girl's mother. Something like that really can change your life for the worse.

And she's lost her job. Boo-freakin'-hoo, call the wambulance.

And the courts are "satisfied that justice has been served?" Christ.

Sandra Ruttan said...

You said it SW!