Monday, October 03, 2005NOTE: this post contains discussion of some sensitive subject matter; if you're offended by discussion of child sexual abuse's legal and societal aspects, please click a sidebar link or "Next Blog." Bon voyage.
Last week, 30-year old Tammy Imre plead guilty to charges of "risk of injury to a minor" in connection with her months-long history of sexual contact with an 8-year old boy, reported to be a playmate of her young daughter. This news story from Connecticut raises a number of uncomfortable questions about gender disparity in prosecuting those who sexually abuse children. If convicted she stands to serve considerably less than 10 years, the mandatory minimum for first-degree sex charges. Imre's attorney, Donald Papczy, allegedly told reporters outside the Fairfield (CT) Superior Court "[s]he should be out of jail in a relatively short period of time...[s]he'll be a young woman still and hopefully will be able to assimilate back into society."
From the Connecticut Post:
BRIDGEPORT — Tammy Imre had made a lot of excuses about why she had sex with an 8-year-old boy, including that she thought of him as "a 30-year-old midget." But the excuses were gone Monday, along with most of the blond dye in her hair, as she pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of risk of injury to a minor.I can't help thinking that if the genders of the defendant and victim were reversed, the public would be outraged at the mild penalty to be meted out. What is the court's justification for this? Is the sexual abuse of a prepubescent male child by an adult woman less damaging than if the perpetrator were a male - if "yes," why do we think so? What if the perpetrator were a man and the child was female?
Reporters and spectators craned their heads as the Stratford woman, her hands clasped behind her back, whispered "guilty" to the first count. Urged to speak up by Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano, the 30-year-old Imre repeated "guilty" and then "guilty" to the second charge in a steady voice.
She faces six years in prison when she is sentenced Nov. 4. She will serve the term at the York Correctional Center in Niantic. Asked by the judge if the accusations against her were accurate, Imre nodded her head and said, "Yes, accurate."
The disturbing problem here is the subtext, which appears to state that as long as the sexual abuse is "heterosexual" (that is, the perpetrator and victim are of opposite genders) the courts feel less harm is done. In addition, if the offender is a woman, the crime is less severe still - echoing the popular myth about the "do-er" versus "do-ee" that holds "males can't be raped" - especially by a woman.
While individual opinions vary, the hierarchy of moral outrage against child sexual abuse seems to fall in this order: adult males abusing boys > adult males abusing girls > adult women abusing children of either gender, but the adult-woman-with-an-underage-boy scenario sometimes receives a tacit "you go, kiddo" wink, especially if the boy is anywhere near puberty.
Attorney Donald Papczy explained the defense's reasoning further, stating "[o]ur position was always that it wasn't a sex case...we proved that to the state with psychiatric reports that backed our defense of mental deficiency." "Wasn't a sex case"? Nonsense. The silent meaning here suggests that what women do to others sexually doesn't really count as "sex."
While it's true that women are statistically far less likely to be pedophile sexual offenders, the harm done by a woman pedophile is just as long-lasting to the child regardless of gender. The issue here isn't 'who's penetrating who,' it's the profound breach of adult responsibility, and the violation of a child's physical and psychological well-being the pedophile offender creates.
Imre may indeed be guilty of having some form of "psychological or mental defect," as the court contends, but we could argue this is true of anyone who sexually abuses children. The gender of the defendant or the victim shouldn't be a factor in deciding the severity of punishment given to sex abusers. If it is, our Constitutional promise of "equal justice under law" fails to be served.