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Gender bias underscored in teacher sex scandals

   The notorious Mary Kay Letourneau seemed to be the first teacher whose misconduct with a student grabbed the attention of the public and the national media.

   Today, tabloids, TV news programs and -- increasingly -- the Internet are filled with reports of teachers who engage in inappropriate relationships with their students.

   In Western New York alone, former South Buffalo Charter School teacher Cara Dickey, former Buffalo Seminary teacher Malcolm Watson and former Sacred Heart Academy teacher James Van Valkinburgh all have been accused in recent years of having sex with students.

   "It surprises me when they do act in this manner, because they risk a lot, and their chance of getting caught is high," said David T. Cantaffa, associate director of the University at Buffalo Teacher Education Institute.

   What's interesting to note is the difference in the reaction to the cases based on the gender of the accused teacher.

   If it's a case involving a male teacher and an underage female student, the teacher is most often considered a predator, and the student is most often considered a victim.

   If the genders are reversed, the student is considered "lucky," at least by many heterosexual men.

   This attitude comes out frequently in online comments and on Web sites devoted to these cases, where entries are accompanied by smarmy headlines and panting commentary on the accusations against the female teachers.

   Beyond the disparate reaction, some lawyers and psychologists say that women in these and
similar cases are viewed as more sympathetic defendants.

   State crime data show that women in general receive shorter sentences for felony crimes,
including non-violent sexual crimes.

   These cases raise a lot of questions. It seems there are more teacher-student sex scandals being reported today. Do you agree? Why do you think this is, and why do these cases draw such intense coverage?

   Do you think the apparent double standard in how we view -- and treat --  male and female teachers is fair?

-- Stephen T. Watson



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