There have been a handful of cases over the past few years in the U.S. involving women teachers who have slept with adolescent male students who were below the age of consent. The most famous offender is probably Mary Kay Letourneau. Debra Lafave is another, more recent offender.
It appears as though the criminal charges against Debra Lafave have been resolved. For multiple acts of sexual intercourse with her fourteen year old male student, she will serve three years of house arrest, four years of probation, register as a sex offender, and undergo sex offender counseling. Prosecutors in two different counties were originally insistent that Lafave serve prison time but backed down, apparently due to pressure from the victim and his family. At the most recent court hearing, a psychologist testified that having to testify would be detrimental to the victim, particularly given the glare of the media spotlight in this case.
Boy, can I feel the prosecutors' and victim's pain on this one. In some of my cases when I was a prosecutor, I had young children who simply could not bring themselves to mouth the words of what happened to them. I had teenaged victims flat out refuse to testify. I had parents beg me to drop charges because the prospect of trial was destroying their child. In such circumstances, the prosecutor's choices are: (a) retraumatize a reluctant victim by forcing a trial; (b) drop the charges in the hope that the victim will be come back to pursue charges again when he or she is older; or (c) take whatever plea bargain you can get, on the theory that it is preferable to get sex offender registration, counseling and supervision of the offender in place in order to reduce th risk that the offender will re-offend. Faced with situations where the victim desperately wants to avoid testifying, I generally went for option c. But it was always frustrating and painful to do so.
I don't get the sense that Lafave's gender played into the result, except in a roundabout way. The prosecutors were originally insistent upon jail time and changed their tune only at the request of the victim's family. The judge in the second set of charges refused to endorse a no-time deal, stating that letting Lafave off without prison time "shocked the conscience of the court." It appears that both the prosecutors and the judge would have pushed for prison time, but for the victim's desire to avoid trial.
The way that Lafave's gender played into this, however, was in terms of the intense media attention to this case. This was due to the fact that reported instances of female-on-male statutory rape are very rare, and the fact that Lafave was so good looking. The media attention in turn increased the pressure on the victim, which in turn led to the plea bargain.
Imagine how this boy felt with sayings like this all over the internet: "Stop saying that teenage boys who have sex with their hot, blonde teachers are permanently damaged. I have a better description for these kids: lucky bastards." (Hat tip: Chalice Chick for the quotation.) A young boy who has been victimized is thus the object of derision; he may question his masculinity if he feels damaged when he supposedly he should be feeling "lucky."
Stereotypes about how a young boy should react to sex with an adult woman are the direct result of old-fashioned patriarchal views regarding gender relations. At one time , all 50 states had laws against seduction but only women could be victims of seduction. The crime of seduction was the act of using artful persuasion to influence a woman of previously chaste character to depart from virtue. The assumptions underlying these laws were that (1) women did not have sufficient decision making and moral capacity to consent to sex, (2) men, rather than women, always initiate sex, and (3) women, but not men, are damaged by premarital sex. We encounter some of those same anti-feminist attitudes today when people assume, based on gender, that a female offender is less at fault or that any young boy worth his salt should be happy to have had the opportunity for sex with an adult woman, particularly if she is considered attractive. Thus, we see how patriarchal attitudes can hurt men as well as women.
The fact that Lafave is being held responsible to any extent is due to the rise of feminist mores in our culture. Under our criminal laws, she is considered to be just as morally responsible for her actions as a man, and the statutory rape of a boy by a woman is considered just as reprehensible as any other form of statutory rape. I should note that, although Lafave received a more lenient deal than prosecutors wanted, her sentence isn't exactly a cake walk. Her freedom on house arrest will be very limited. She will have a number of requirements to fulfill on probation and if she screws them up, she could be sent to prison for the maximum sentence allowed for the crime she to which she plead guilty. She can never teach again and she is notorious throughout the country as a sex offender.
There is no question that female-on-male statutory rape needs to be taken seriously. Fortunately, due to feminist attitudes, we are much farther on our way to an appropriate response to these cases than we were in the bad old days.