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.