Yawning Bread. 10 February 2009

Female teacher admits to sex with boy aged 15


    

 

 

I see in the sidebar to the Straits Times story [1] on a woman pleading guilty to having sex with a boy under 16, a special mention that Section 376A of the Penal Code, under which she was charged, is a relatively new law. "Before the new law was adopted, the accused would have been charged under the Children and Young Persons Act, which subscribes lesser penalties," said the newspaper.

This statement only aggravates the question posed by my article Six men charged for sex with boy aged 15.

That article centred on the upcoming prosecution of six men accused of sexual contact with another boy aged 15, The incidents took place prior to the enactment of 376A. Yet, they were not charged under the Children and Young Persons Act. Instead, they were charged under the old Section 377 and the current Section 377A. Why?

Let me present the legal situation graphically. In this first illustration, for various types of offences, I show you what laws are/were available. Which, do you think, would be best to use, to ensure equal treatment across all gender combinations?

 
(For the full text of the laws mentioned here, see Singapore laws pertaining to sex with minors)

Clearly, Section 7 of the Children and Young Persons Act (indicated by the blue blobs) would be best. It is gender-neutral and can cover all situations. It was available before the Penal Code changes and remains available today.

Yet, the six men who were recently are alleged to have had sex with a 15-year-old boy are charged under Section 377 and Section 377A.

 
I can understand the use of Section 377 if the prosecutor felt that Section 7's maximum penalty (2 year's jail) is too light for penetrative sex (though it is not clear if in this particular case, whether it was oral or anal, and if it is only oral sex, is there a need to go for Section 377 and a possible life term?).

In the case of the female teacher, I can also understand resorting to Section 376A if the prosecution thinks penetrative sex warrants it.

But I cannot agree with using Section 377A for lesser sexual contact when Section 7 is and was available.

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The Straits Times also said that "The new provision, Section 376A, was introduced to make oral and anal sex, whether consensual or non-consensual, with a minor under 16 an offence. It carries a jail term of up to 10 years, or a fine, or both."

This is not accurate. Section 376A is not restricted to anal and oral sex. It includes vaginal sex. It includes penetration by other body parts, not just the penis, and with the use of objects.

 

In the present case of the woman having sex with the teenaged boy, she was a 32-year-old married teacher who led a field trip to China in 2007. He was a 14-year-old Primary 6 student on that trip. They met there and remained in contact following the trip.

In 2008, he left the primary school to go to Secondary 1 in another, but they continued to meet, going shopping and to the movies. On 10 March 2008, she booked a "chalet" (Singapore-speak for a holiday apartment in an urban pseudo resort) where she had sex with him.

In all, she had sex with him six times, in the "chalet" and in her matrimonial flat.

At some point, according to newspaper reports of court proceedings, she wanted to end the affair, but he turned possessive and threatened to kill her and her family. Fearing that he would carry out those threats, she confided in her school counsellor, who referred the matter to the school principal on 15 May last year. The following day, she made a police report. It is not clear whether she only reported the threat to her life, or whether she surrendered herself over the illicit love affair.

We do not yet know the sentence, which is scheduled for the next court date of 23 February 2009. [10 months. See Addendum 1]

However, as the Straits Times reported, there have been two cases since the new Section 376A came into effect. Both involved adult males having sex with underaged females; they were sentenced to 16 and 15 months' jail respectively.

* * * * *

 
Quite often, in other jurisdictions, when similar cases of adult women having sex with teenaged boys come up, complaints arise that sentences are far too lenient.

[This paragraph added on 11 Feb 2009] I am going to cite three cases. My intention is not to claim that the court decisions are wrong, or that the sentences were too lenient; from my little understanding of the facts of these cases, I do think they were fair. My intent is to show how varied such cases can be, and also how, there can be social pressure to throw the book at offenders, pressure which should be resisted if we want our justice system to act soberly and proportionately. [end Add]


   

There was a case in Australia last year involving a 36-year-old American woman and a 15-year-old boy. Barbara Renee Case of Virginia, USA, (left) a mother of three, met the boy through an online game called Runescape, and in May 2008, flew all the way to Melbourne to be with him.

She rented a holiday park cabin near Bendigo where she spent 10 days with the boy before being arrested. The pair had intercourse on eight occasions and engaged in oral sex three times, according to court documents. The police tracked them down when the boy's parents reported him missing.

The judge sentenced her to 16 months in jail, suspended for two years on condition she does not commit a similar offence. He then told her to fly back to the US, as she had already spent 112 days incarcerated. Any further prison time, said the judge, would be too harsh: "No useful purpose is served by delaying your return." 

 

 

The Herald Sun newspaper reported [2] on 17 September 2008, "Fury as woman molester Barbara Renee Case walks free":

Hetty Johnston, founder of child sexual assault prevention group Bravehearts, said Case was a sexual predator who should be behind bars.

"The system is bloody crazy, absolutely crazy. If that was a man, that wouldn't have happened," she said.

Ms Johnston said the boy's refusal to make a victim impact statement and his statement that he had consented to the sex did not matter.

"That child won't know how much this has harmed him until he is much, much older.

"He is a child, she is an adult. She has gone to enormous lengths to travel around the globe to sexually assault this boy and she walks out in four months. They are hanging our kids out to dry," she said.

* * * * *

 
I found from a websearch another case in which the woman also didn't get jail time. Kristen Buffington, 20, and a mother of a 4-year-old boy, was convicted in 2006 by a seven-woman, five-man jury in Urbana, Illinois, for having sex with a 14-year-old boy at her house in September 2005, but the judge sentenced her to probation. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find out more about the facts of the case.

* * * * * 


   

More recently, another jury acquitted a woman altogether, in Pennsylvania, USA.

Angela Honeycutt, 38, (right) was helping her neighbour Lynne Long-Higham, 45, supervise a sleepover party by up to 20 kids, aged 14 to 16, in Long-Higham's house.

When all but six boys remained, the prosecution witness Long-Higham said that Honeycutt danced a "kind of a striptease", then asked "if anyone wanted to touch her."

"One of the kids said 'I do,' and she took him into the bathroom."

And then, as reported by Philly.com [3],

After about a minute, Honeycutt returned and gave a "passionate" kiss to another boy, Long-Higham said.

She said she and Honeycutt consumed a large bottle of red wine, and were intoxicated.

Sometime after midnight, she said, she discovered Honeycutt in the shower with a 15-year-old boy.

That boy testified yesterday that Honeycutt had stripped to her waist and asked if anyone wanted to shower with her. "I said, 'I will,' " he said.

While washing themselves, the boy said, he asked Honeycutt if he should get a condom from one of the other boys. "She said, 'Yes, go get it.' " He said they then had sex in the shower.

According to Long-Higham, the boy came out in a towel.

"I said, 'What happened?' He said, 'I had sex with her.' "

 
How did this case come to light?

The 15-year-old, meanwhile, testified that he was teased in school that Monday by girls who had heard he had kissed Honeycutt at the party.

"I got home feeling really destroyed," the boy said. He told his mother about the teasing and the kissing.

When she asked if anything else had happened, he said, "I just started crying. She asked if we had sex, and I said 'Yes.' . . . I was an emotional mess." His mother contacted police.

 
Honeycutt however denied these accusations. She told the court that she never touched either boy sexually, despite showering naked with each. Her lawyer called no defense witnesses.

The six-men and six-women jury believed her and found her not guilty of felony sexual assault charges.

She however pleaded guilty to "corrupting the morals of minors", a misdemeanour, for admitting to dancing naked in front of them. For that, the judge sentenced her to 8-and-a-half to 17 months in prison, after taking into account a previous drug offence.

* * * * *

 

Beware the crusaders

In a comment, reader Thomask pointed out that Hetty Johnston is a controversial figure and we should treat her comments with care.

She has been described as an "anti-child abuse hysteric" on a blog I came across.

Indeed, Australia is well known for having a number of such vigilantes obsessed with hunting down those they perceive as paedophiles, on the slightest and flimsiest of evidence.

There was a case of a man who married a Thai woman and adopted her son from her previous marriage, taking them to live with him in Australia. The son, a darker-skinned boy with Asian features, was getting into his teens.

The father reported that whenever he took his son anywhere, there was a high risk of total strangers hurling abuse at him, calling him a child sex pervert.

This not only distressed him, and unfairly too, but how would it affect the boy?

 

On the one hand, there is the possibility of moral panic, with the public baying for blood (e.g. Hetty Johnston and the like); on the other, there is also a risk that sexism distorts how people see such cases, with expectations that courts should be lenient to female offenders. 

Traditionally, in male-centred cultures, men are seen as initiators and even as aggressors, in matters sexual. Women are assumed to be more passive, and therefore, relatively blameless.

Given this bias, in any incident involving an adult woman and a boy, people find it hard to shake off the feeling that the boy should bear some responsibility, when in similar cases involving adult males and teenaged girls, they see the girls as innocent victims unless otherwise proven.

Sexism is related to homophobia. On top of seeing males as initiators and aggressors, male-centred societies are also easily upset by the thought of males being "victims" of other males. The symbolic emasculation of the other male is treated as an outrage.

So, the flip side of being lenient with women who have sex with boys, is being extra-harsh with men who have sex with boys. We need to be acutely conscious of this potential bias in the justice system, and that is why the above-mentioned cases in Singapore are worth watching.

Yawning Bread 


 

  
The blog Where Bears Roam Free has already pointed out a bias. 

In the blogpost Is the law protecting boy victims or women sex offenders?, the blog author pointed out that in this case of the female teacher, the court has ordered her name and identity to be kept private, even though she had no family relationship with the victim.

The William Ding case also involved a teacher and his male students, yet the court permitted Ding's name and photograph to be splashed all over the papers, subjecting him to trial by the media. In the end, Ding's conviction was overturned on appeal with the appeal judge having harsh words for the trial judge's behaviour.

 

 

 

Footnotes

  1. Straits Times, 10 February 2009, Married woman teacher had sex with boy 
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  2. Link to the Herald Sun's story.
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  3. 4 December 2008, Emotional testimony in trial of Honeycutt. Link
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Addenda

  1. The Straits Times reported in its Breaking News on 23 Feb 2009 that the teacher was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment under Section 376A of the Penal Code which has a maximum penalty of 10 years. The newspaper reported: "District Judge Sarjit Singh on Monday said this case involved a serious breach of trust. When a person abused the authority and trust that had been placed on him or her, the punishment would be significant whatever the gender of the victim or the offender." I wonder why he felt it necessary to stress the court's gender-blindness. Isn't that something that is only to be expected? Or are they only now becoming aware that the justice system's reputation for this has been suspect all these years?
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