Abuse Victims Viewed Differently

The Associated Press
Sunday, October 21, 2007; 12:35 PM

-- A 17-year-old girl in upstate New York is forced into sex by a male teacher. Instead of sympathy, the student gets harassed for causing trouble for a popular teacher, threatened and pushed around by other girls. Just six weeks before graduation, she quits school.

A 17-year-old boy in Colorado is seduced by his attractive female teacher. A neighbor tells the teen's mom it was a sexual conquest like "climbing Mt. Everest." He has to hide from the crush of media attention.

They are crimes and abuses, but often they're treated as entertainment. Girls are pressed into the role of seducer or naive victim. Boys are seen as studs.

Sexual misconduct by teachers is remarkably common in American schools, an Associated Press investigation found. But how Americans react to it is deeply split depending on the victim's gender.

"Hollywood, they think it's such a hot thing when a guy gets laid at a young age. I tell you, it's not a hot thing," said Jeff Pickthorn, who speaks from experience. He was 12 when he began having sex with his seventh-grade teacher, who was 24. "They say that guy's lucky. I say, no, he's not lucky at all."

At the time, Pickthorn might have agreed with them. For several months, he had sex with his teacher until his parents found out and the teacher was pressured to resign. It left him "with no boundaries," he says now at 54, his life marred by affairs, gambling, and ruined marriages.

The AP's survey of five years of state disciplinary actions against teachers found 2,570 educators were punished for sexual misconduct.

In the cases where the victim's gender was clear, the large proportion were female. Almost nine out of 10 of the offenders were male.

But the boys who are drawn into sexual relationships with their female teachers get an overwhelming amount of attention, especially when the woman is attractive. They're the subject of heavy news coverage, jokes from late-night TV comics, Web sites with photos, videos and more.

What's more likely to be described as rape or sexual abuse when the victim is female turns into a "tryst" or a "sexual liaison" when the perpetrator is female and the victim is male.

"Prosecutors try hard not to treat these cases differently and not to apply any kind of double standard. But there are some very real double-standards in society that affect how these cases will be accepted by jurors and judges," said Michael Sinacore, an assistant state attorney in Tampa, Fla.

He prosecuted Debra Lafave, a former Florida middle school teacher who admitted to having sex with a 14-year-old male student. Public attention paid to the 25-year-old blond newlywed quickly went "off the charts," Sinacore said, after photos surfaced on the Internet of her on a motorcycle in a bikini.

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