Dif­fer­ent sen­tences sug­gest dou­ble stan­dard

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL -

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 bipo­lar, 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-yearold 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 vi­o­lat­ing 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.

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