Different sentences suggest double standard
Earlier this month, a lengthy court case involving a Grade 6 teacher at a school in Nova Scotia finally wound up, with the teacher sentenced for a series of offences involving two former students.
The two teens, G. and L., had been Amy Hood’s students, but the teacher’s offences occurred three years (in L.’s case) and five years (in G.’s case) after they had left her classroom.
Here’s a snapshot of the allegations: Hood sent sexually charged, and then explicit, texts and photos to the two teens over several months, and in one instance, performed oral sex on 15-year-old L. Hood was convicted of four of six charges, including luring the two teens for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and sexual touching.
Wednesday, Judge Del Atwood decided to forego a legislated mandatory minimum sentence of a year in prison, and instead sentenced Hood 15 months’ conditional sentence, which includes 12 months of house arrest. (The prosecution had asked for four years in jail.)
It’s a case where even the judge is already suggesting an appeal may be beneficial. When he convicted Hood, Atwood wrote, “I am certainly alive to the fact that this court might not have the last word on this case. Judicial review is a reality, and it is a value added, as my judgment is not infallible …”
The question in the case wasn’t whether the events had occurred, but whether Hood was mentally capable of understanding that what she was doing was wrong.
The defence, in a nutshell, was that Hood had become bi- polar, and that, in a prolonged manic state lasting months, she actually felt and behaved as if she was a teenager — even though she was, at the time, a 37-year-old teacher, and married with three children.
The prosecution argued that a series of her actions, like telling others to delete her texts, suggested she knew what she was doing.
In the end, the judge did not accept either of the two defence experts’ analyses of Hood’s mental condition. Strangely, in an addendum to his verdict, he wrote that he was also unsatisfied with the prosecution’s expert evidence.
The case raises an interesting question: if it had been a male teacher offending against female students, would the defence have even dared to argue that the offender was mentally an adolescent? And, more importantly, following a conviction, would the sentence have been the same?
At sentencing, Judge Atwood said Hood’s offences were “more crimes of spontaneous opportunity rather than calculation,” even though the offences went on for months.
Now consider a 2014 case, with the same judge, where a 37-year-old man, Terry Leonard George Fitzgerald (not in a position of trust over the victim, and who pleaded guilty at the first opportunity), had sex with a 14-year-old girl, A.B. According to the facts of the case, “A.B. said that she had not been forced into it, and that it was the first time she and the offender had ever had intercourse.”
In sentencing Fitzgerald, Judge Atwood said, “I recognize that Mr. Fitzgerald’s actions were opportunistic, rather than planned and calculated,” and then sentenced him to two years in prison.
Fitzgerald was convicted of one count of violating section 151 of the Criminal Code; Hood, also one count of violat- ing section 151 and three other charges of luring and sexual exploitation over a period of months.
Atwood also wrote, in the Fitzgerald case, “there is no appreciable difference in the risk presented to the protection and safety of the public between, on the one hand, a sexual predator who stalks and plans his attacks, and, on the other, the predator who seizes the moment and victimizes a child sexually when the opportunity presents itself.”
So, what does that say about the way we consider sex cases, depending on whether offenders or victims are male or female?
And what does that say about how we view human sexuality overall?
I’m not sure. Discuss.