Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Male Bias in School Sexual Abuse Cases

Reason contributing editor Cathy Young, writes about the "double standard" for male victims of sexual abuse by teachers.

The latest chapter in the infamous saga of Mary Kay Letourneau, the seattle schoolteacher who had a sexual relationship with her student, Vili Fualaau, when she was 34 and he was 12, ended last month when Fualaau and his mother, Soona Vili, lost their civil case against the school district and the local police. The jury refused to award them damages, deciding that the school and the police bore no responsibility for allowing the sexual abuse to happen. Commentators who followed the case said that Fualaau and Vili undermined their own case. He gave contradictory testimony at different times; she was easily painted by lawyers for the defense as a greedy and negligent parent. Yet one has to wonder if there is a gender angle here as well. Do many people, including jurors, still find it difficult to see a male victim in such a case as a true victim?

A few days after the verdict in Fualaau's lawsuit, a controversy in New Jersey provided a shocking illustration of this bias. Pamela Diehl-Moore, a former teacher who repeatedly had sexual relations with a male student when she was 40 and he was 13, was sentenced to probation by Judge Bruce Gaeta. What drew public attention was not the light sentence but the comments made by the judge in explaining it. "It's just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship," Judge Gaeta said. "I really don't see the harm that was done, and certainly society doesn't need to be worried."

It's almost pointless to add that such a reaction would be unthinkable if the sexes were reversed. In 1993 in Virginia, a male teacher who had sex with three teenage female students was sentenced to 26 years in prison - while the next day, a female swimming coach who had an "affair" with an 11-year-old boy and sexual encounters with two others got 30 days.

No comments: