Stolen innocenceDespite public perceptions to the contrary, boys are harmed when abused by older women, reports Caroline Overington
July 29, 2006
WHEN a male teacher sexually penetrates a 15-year-old femalestudent, most people agree that the girl has been abused. But when afemale teacher performs oral sex on a 15-year-old boy in the back seatof her car, well, that can quickly become the basis of very bad jokes.
On 3AW's breakfast program last Wednesday, a couple of comedians toldthe audience there were "three of four callers" on the line, desperateto return to high school.
"I don't know whether it's related to the four-month jailsentence for a high school teacher who performed sex acts with a malestudent," one of the comedians chortled.
"But, yeah, any number of people have rung up and expressed a desire to return to school and extend their education."
The comedians were referring to a case in which a Victorian teacher,Natalina D'Addario, 36, had performed oral sex on a 15-year-oldstudent. The boy told his mates about it and they declared him alegend.
In court, Judge Roland Williams said the boy was a willingparticipant in the sexual relationship and saw the affair as "a bit offun and games". D'Addario was sentenced to 18 months jail, although allbut four months was suspended.
Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr Gregg, who was listening to the3AW breakfast radio program at home, could hardly believe his ears whenhe heard the comedians guffawing at each other.
"I was just shocked, really shocked (at what the judge said) andthat people thought it was quite OK to joke about child abuse," hesays.
A few hours later, Carr Gregg went into 3AW's studio for his regularspot with talkback host Neil Mitchell. He tried to explain to theaudience that while some boys might come over all boastful about asexual affair with a much older woman, they would in reality be"confused, hurt and quite damaged".
But not everybody agreed. "Peter", a listener, called the program tosay he had two teenage sons and a daughter and he would be far moreconcerned if the girl was molested by a teacher at school.
"I don't think there's a father out there who could say it's the same thing," he said.
"Why?" asked Mitchell.
"It's totally different," Peter said.
"Why?" Mitchell persisted.
"Because most males - maybe not at 14, but 15 - if a 30-year-oldteacher is coming on to them, and she's a fair piece, they are doinghigh fives about it."
Carr Gregg could hardly believe what he was hearing and he couldn'thelp himself. "You're a nong," he said to the caller. "They are notbloody allowed to do what they are doing."
Carr Gregg says there appears to be a clear double standard. "Withgirls, everybody understands it is wrong to molest them, even if theylook mature, even if they are supposedly willing," he says. "With boys,some people have this idea that there is no harm done."
Carr Gregg believes the law treats female sex offenders differently,too. "Does anybody really believe that a male teacher who sexuallypenetrated a 15-year-old student would serve four months?" he asks.
The D'Addario case is the latest in a short but extremelyhigh-profile list of court cases involving female teachers. In Adelaidelast year, Bridget Nolan, 24, pleaded guilty to having sex with astudent. In 2004, physical education teacher Karen Ellis, 36, pleadedguilty to six counts of sexual penetration of a child under 16. Her22-month jail sentence was suspended, at least until the VictorianCourt of Appeal stepped in and jailed Ellis for two years and eightmonths, with a six-month minimum.
These cases received a great deal of attention, and the interest issurely in part lascivious. But there haven't been enough cases to knowwhether women are getting off more lightly than men and, crucially, thecircumstances are often very different.
When women abuse boys, the victims are usually adolescents, close tothe age of consent (as opposed to infants, or small children) andviolence is rarely a factor. As a result, many people, including theboys themselves, often believe that no harm has been done.
In an interview with 60 Minutes last year, Ellis said she did notbelieve she was a pedophile, despite sending 499 text messages to theboy and repeatedly having sex with him.
Reporter Liz Hayes asked: "You came out of prison a pedophile."
Ellis: "I did come out a pedophile. I mean, I don't think I am. But the law says I am."
Hayes: "You are a pedophile. That's a fact."
Ellis: "That's the law."
The victim - X - also tried to say that he was the predator.
"I mean, I went after her," he said.
Hayes: "But you know that that's impossible. You can never be the predator."
X: "Well, apparently I'm the victim."
Hayes: "Not 'apparently'. You are."
X: "By the law, yeah."
At one point, even the experienced Hayes became confused about whohad done what to whom. In the introduction to the story, she said Ellis"and her lover" wanted to tell their story.
He wasn't her lover; the law is quite clear about it. He was thevictim. And yet, when a website put up a survey, asking people: "IsKaren Ellis a pedophile?", 65 per cent said no.
"You watch, she'll get the hardest time from bitchy, jealous women,"one anonymous respondent said. "Blokes will have a bit of a chuckleabout it and proclaim the young guy a lucky bastard." Another said:"The kid is probably thinking: 'You bloody beauty."'
Deakin University psychology professor Marita McCabe says young boysare unquestionably damaged when they are abused by older women, even ifthey are already sexually active. "If this boy was 15 and had an18-year-old girlfriend, that's a completely different scenario," shesays. "This teacher has violated a position of trust and there is areal power imbalance. The boy might try to cover it up with bravado,but boys are slower to mature than girls, they reach puberty moreslowly, and this can really affect him."
She believes the teacher has also stolen something precious from theboy: his right to discover and explore the beauty of human sexuality onhis own terms.
"He's a very vulnerable person, not emotionally developed, and thismyth, that it's fine to be educated by an older woman, well, maybe ifyou are 20, but not 15," she says.
Carr Gregg says the damage done to abused boys may not immediatelybe obvious. But he points out that X did not finish school after theabuse by Ellis was made public, and his relationship with his mothercompletely broke down after she reported Ellis to the police.
Of the boy in the D'Addario case, Carr Gregg says: "He's obviouslystepped outside his peer group. I mean, he's having oral sex with histeacher in the back seat of a car. That's not supposed to affect hiseducation?"
The father of the boy in the D'Addario case says his son is not coping.
"He's psychologically not very good," he says. "He's very upset."
The court was told the boy was "sad and depressed" and worried hemight have caught a disease from his teacher. The father wants thedirector of public prosecutions to appeal the sentence, saying theteacher should spend "no less than two years" in jail.
There is no doubt that the waters are muddied by the notoriousAmerican case, involving a high-profile, decade-long liaison between ayoung Samoan boy, Vili Fualaau, and his teacher Mary Kay Letourneau.
The boy was 12 when she started having sex with him. By the time he was 13, she was expecting his child.
By his account, Vili was thrilled and bewildered. Letourneauultimately bore him two children and served seven years in prison. Onrelease, the couple married. The boy says his now wife was not a sexfiend or a pervert. But if she were a man, those labels would certainlyapply.
In Australia, the law says children under 16 are not mature enoughto decide to have sex and people who take advantage of their emotionalimmaturity are punished.
Carr Gregg acknowledges that most teenage boys, especially thoseclose to the age of consent, are randy as hell and they may desperatelywant a sexual experience.
"Of course they are," he says. "And I think all teen boys developcrushes on their teacher. But it's the responsibility of the teacher todirect that crush away, not to act on it, or to encourage it."
The evidence in the D'Addario case suggests the teacher activelypursued the boy. When he said she was sexy, she told him "the feelingis mutual". She also sent him 24 text messages, including one thatsaid: "Hey sweetie, just wanted to let you know you have gorgeous eyes.Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. XOXO. Natalie."
Barrister Robert Richter told the court that there was a time "notthat long ago" when it would have been "considered part of one'seducation". His own adolescent reading material included a book calledIn Praise of Older Women.
"Those times are long gone and it is considered a crime, to be dealt with as a serious crime," Richter said.
McCabe says: "I would ask: What kind of woman would do this to ayoung boy? She's got her own problems, obviously: a lack of boundaries,a need for reassurance, a need to be desirable. But she's violating ayoung person's emerging sexuality for her own needs."
Carr Gregg knows some people will argue the boy was only 15, justmonths away from the age of consent. But that's precisely the point, hesays. When it comes to sex with adolescents, the community draws a linein the sand and it's drawn at the age of 16.
"Step over that line," he says, "and it's abuse, pure and simple."
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