Today I read an article about a case which raises questions about equality of treatment between men and women. Ms Bennett, who was 28 years old at the time, had sexual intercourse with a 15 year old boy with whom she had been friends for 6 months previously. Ms Bennett had a serious drinking problem and was inebriated at the time she committed the offence.
Judge Pilgrim of the Victorian County Court sentenced Ms Bennett to 12 months in gaol, fully suspended for 18 months. This means she will not spend any time in gaol. This has created controversy, and the Court has been accused of having double standards for men and women.
Would it be different if the perpetrator had been male and the victim had been female? My head says it shouldn’t be any different, but my gut feeling says that it is totally different.
A similar case involved a female adult school teacher, Karen Ellis, who seduced a male student. Rather than being traumatised by the experience, the boy boasted of it and did not want her to be gaoled. The mother of the boy insisted that she be prosecuted. Ms Ellis was initially given a suspended sentence, but later gaoled for 6 months after an appeal to the Victorian Court of Appeal.
I love the daily cartoon series, For Better or For Worse, by Lynn Johnston, which is published in The Age. In a recent strip, April, the 16 year old daughter of the Patterson family, had an argument with her boyfriend Gerald when he told friends about staying over at her house when she was babysitting. April is cross with Gerald, and says, “To us [girls] it’s a secret, to you [boys] it’s a score!”
April’s words sum up the reason for my gut feeling. Girls and boys may often perceive such things differently (although not always). Is it relevant to consider whether a victim was traumatised or not by the experience? In the Ellis case, the “victim” did not regard himself as such. In the present case, the victim seems to have been wholly disinterested in the prosecution of Ms Bennett, and did not present a victim impact statement. I suspect that a female victim would be more likely to say that she had been traumatised by the experience. But then if the level of trauma becomes a consideration, some judges or juries may be tempted to write off female distress as “hysteria” or “emotional manipulation”.
Perhaps it makes a difference what position a person holds. If a person is employed in a position which requires them to have responsibility towards teenagers in their charge, the argument towards gaoling them is strengthened. Obviously, society wants to deter teachers and others in a position of authority to abuse their power over young teenagers are in a vulnerable position. I do not understand how any teacher could be foolish enough to do such a thing.
It is not an easy question. I do not know what the answer is. At the end of this post, my heart and my gut are still in disagreement (which is quite uncomfortable, I can tell you).
In the context of criminal sentencing, I also read that a father was gaoled for shaking his one month old son, which resulted in the child’s death. Justice Harper found that Tomas Klamo should be gaoled for five years, with an unusually short parole period of two years (judgment here). Klamo’s partner and family supported him during the trial and afterwards.
Again, a very difficult case. It reminds me yet again of why I avoid criminal law with a 10 foot barge pole.