Patrick Newman was a teacher and assistant football coach at Louisville’s prestigious Trinity High School. In 2015, Newman was accused of trading sexually explicit photos and videos with several teenage boys, ranging from 13 to 17 years old. Newman pled guilty to several child pornography charges and in 2016 was sentenced to 43 years imprisonment.
The Courier Journal reported the story on their Facebook page, garnering comments from readers. Regarding Newman, one male reader commented that “his sentence was minimal considering the damage he did to so many young boys and their families.” Another commenter stated that Newman would get what he deserved in prison as “prisoners love child molesters.” And yet another echoed Newman’s punishment wasn’t enough, stating the sentence “should be the death penalty.”
Several years later, Owensboro’s Ramsey BethAnn Bearse made headlines of her own. In December 2018, Bearse was arrested for sending at least four topless photos to a 15-year-old male student of hers when she worked as a teacher at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. Bearse pled guilty in December 2019 to one felony count of possession of material depicting minors in sexually explicit conduct. In July 2020, Bearse was sentenced to two years in prison as well as 10 years of supervised release and a lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Perhaps due to Ramsey’s status as a former Miss Kentucky, her story was widely reported. USA Today reported the story on its Facebook page, however the comments from male readers differed from the ones the Newman story received. One male reader commented “all young men appreciate some mature trim. It’s a natural thing.” Several male readers dubbed the student as “a lucky kid,” while another called Bearse the “best teacher in the world.” Several male commenters responded to Bearse’s sexual crime by professing their “love for America.” And numerous commenters expressed their desire to see the pics. Others simply commented, “nice.”
Society’s Double Standard
Newman and Bearse’s stories highlight a societal double standard when it comes to male and female teachers committing sex crimes. Lua’s story shows that men understand that sexual misconduct with underage pupils is morally and legally wrong. Bearse’s story on the other hand, shows that same morality and legal understanding is easily set aside when the sexual offender is an attractive woman.
The Comedy Central animated series, “South Park,” perfectly addressed this double standard in the tenth episode of their tenth season entitled, “Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy.” In the episode, a Kindergarten teacher is having a sexual relationship with one of her students. When the student’s older brother, Kyle, reports the misconduct to the police, the officers mistakenly assume Kyle is referencing a male teacher having sex with a female student. As the officers spring into action, ready to arrest the teacher, Kyle clarifies that it is actually a female teacher having sex with a boy. Once the officers confirm that the teacher “isn’t ugly,” their attitudes instantly change, referring to the situation as “nice.” An officer jokes that the only crime here is that the teacher is not having sex with him, while the ranking officer states they should track Kyle’s brother down to give him his “luckiest boy in America” medal.
“South Park” is satire, and the episode accurately displays the double standard held in popular cultural toward sex crimes in education where the defendant is female. To be clear, most perpetrators in reported sex crimes are men. Female offenders account for approximately 10% of all sex crimes reported to authorities. When measuring sex crimes involving teachers and students however, women are far more active. Over 30% of all teacher/student misconduct include women as the offenders. While male offenders still outnumber females, the number of female offenders being charged is on the rise because they are finally being reported to police instead of just being whispered about in locker rooms.
But despite being apprehended, there are clear differences in the way male offenders are being treated in the judicial system in contrast to their female counterparts who are deemed attractive. Female teachers quite often receive “sweetheart deals” that are far from equitable to those male teachers receive. And if we start with analyzing the media sources that craft our societal view of sex crimes committed by attractive female educators, we have a good starting point to understand the advantage some of these women have in the courtroom.
In July 2020, another Kentucky teacher would make national headlines. Mollie Verkamp taught high school in Walton-Verona High School where she admitted to sending sexually charged messages and having sex with one of her 17-year-old students. Like clockwork, commentators would flock to the story, making comments like “why did I never get lucky like that in high school?” and “dad is probably high-fiving, saying that’s my boy.” One of the most telling comments states:
“This is so stupid. She didn’t rape anyone. And what if the age of the boy and her were reversed and she was 17. I bet his parents wouldn’t be putting him behind bars, but I’m guessing that they are going to stick it to her though. That’s BS.”
While this comment shows a general misunderstanding of the law, it also shows the minimization of a sex crime. To understand this minimization, we must look at its roots.
The Fetishization of Sex Crimes
It does not take too much effort to find websites that fetishize sex crimes committed by women deemed attractive. Since 2009, Barstool Sports has produced its “Sex Scandal Starting Lineup.” The lists rank female teachers who have been involved in some sort of sexual misconduct with their students in the calendar year. The lists boast “teachers from around the world, of every color,” ranked by their attractiveness and entertaining nature of their story. In response to potential criticism the site may receive from “someone who thinks the idea of a hot older woman throwing her life away to bone a teenager is no laughing matter,” column writer Jerry Thornton directs detractors to a scene from the popular coming of age movie, American Pie. Of the scene, Thornton says, “so when Stifler’s mom told Finch she likes her scotch aged 18 years and then banged him on a pool table, I take it you ran out of the theater? Riiighttt.” (This statement fails to defend the list however, as the character of Finch was aged at 18 and Stifler’s mom was not an authority figure to him).
Meanwhile, the website Boredazzle boasts its own list. Titled “10 Hottest Teachers Caught Sleeping with Their Students,” the website equates acts of sexual misconduct between female teachers and students with the joy of finishing a difficult video game. At Boredazzle, a male student being sexually assaulted by an attractive teacher is like “beating the last level of Tetris when the pieces are moving insanely fast.” To the site’s credit, they do touch on the criminal charges these women picked up, but they still view these stories of sexual assault as “the perfect storm” of lucky students meeting sexually willing teachers.
Pornography is another outlet that continues the female teacher-male student fantasy. Adult website, RedTube, reports that the term “sexy teacher” is one of their most common searched terms. Surprisingly, their statistics show that women are 17% more likely to search for pornography featuring teachers. Men, however, tend to get more specific in their searches with the terms “MILF teacher” and “Japanese teacher” being the two most searched sub-categories. Regarding age ranges, the college aged 18-to-24 demographic logs in the most searches. But the statistics clearly show that the teacher/student fantasy is popular with all age groups and, apparently, sexes.
Even law and crime-based outlets are guilty of the fetishization of female sexual predators. True Crime Daily is an investigative website that reports true crime news. Their video entitled “Iowa Teacher Fired for Sex with Student Turns to Stripping, Pornography” tells the story of Mary Beth Haglin. Haglin was a substitute teacher engaged in a sexual relationship with one of her 17-year-old students. The narrator of the video makes sure to remind the audience of Haglin’s attractiveness. In the 18-minute video, the convicted sex offender is referred to as “pretty” twice, “saucy” three times and “beautiful” once. Haglin’s crime, sexual exploitation by a school employee, is downplayed throughout the video, being referred to as “naughty after school activities,” a “steamy affair,” and a “naughty romance.” Also troubling is the way the boy is characterized. The narrator refers to him as a “boy toy” twice, “teenage lover” twice as well as “underage lover,” “student lover,” “young lover,” and “teen dream boy” throughout the video. Only once is he referred to as a “victim of a sex crime.” While most videos on the site are presented as serious crime stories, Haglin’s is presented as something more at home on the Jerry Springer or Maury show.
The lighthearted and flattering coverage that female offenders receive in the media bathes them in the light of pop culture sensations instead of being categorized as the vile sexual predators their male counterparts are. This fetishization minimizes the victimization of young boys, oftentimes leading to them being less likely to come forward for fear of embarrassment. The fetishization and double standard carries into the judicial system as well. After all, our attorneys, judges, and jury members are all a part of this society that diminishes the harm done to male victims, while making pop culture stars of their female abusers.
Not only are there differences in the way sexual assault cases are viewed in popular media, there is also a difference in the way female defendants are treated judicially, in comparison to their male counterparts. Although the potential criminal penalties are the same regardless of gender and the alleged actions are similar, in many cases female teacher offenders face lighter criminal penalties than their male counterparts. There is no shortage of cases that highlight the leniency attractive female teachers receive for their crimes.
Take, for instance, Kentucky teacher Lindsey Banta Jarvis. Jarvis made headlines in 2018 when she was convicted of third-degree rape and third-degree sodomy of a student younger than 16. In 2016, the Woodford and Fayette County educator had sex with a 15-year-old student. Jarvis received the light sentence of only 18 months incarceration for her crimes. The smirk that Jarvis wore in her mugshot suggests she knew her fate would not be too severe.
One could certainly understand a smirk of confidence from a female defendant as other examples of light sentencing have set the precedent that the attractive fare better in court. For instance, in October 2011 Andrea Conners, a teacher at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, carried on a two-month sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student. Conners faced five years imprisonment but only served 90 days. Similarly, in 2015, Madison Southern High School teacher, Brandi Lynn Vaughn had sex with a 16-year-old student — once in the teacher’s home and once in a state park. Vaughn faced two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, two counts of third-degree sodomy, one count each of third-degree rape, and evidence tampering. Those charges were dropped with Vaughn pleading guilty to the lesser charge of using an electronic device to induce a minor to engage in sexual activities. As with Andrea Conners, Vaughn faced a five year sentence, but only received 90 days imprisonment. Clearly, while the media does their part in advancing the idea that these crimes committed by female teachers are not as serious as those committed by males, light sentences like these continue to advance the idea, judicially.
While the sentencing of these crimes make a loud statement, the actual words from judges contribute to their diminishment as well. In 2014, Pennsylvania teacher Erica Ann Ginnetti sent photos and videos of herself — clad in bikinis and thongs — to a 17-year-old student. She later had sex with the student. Ginnetti pled guilty to sexual assault and disseminating sexual materials, charges that carry a maximum of seven to 14 years incarceration. Ginnetti received a sentence of 30 days of jail time. At her sentencing, Judge Garett Page referred to the sexual material she sent to the student as “dangling candy.”
These reduced sentences don’t just diminish the importance of the crime for the offenders. They can send a troubling message to the victims. Judges also invalidate the depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties that boys may face as consequences of sexual abuse. Again, examples of this effect abound. In 2005, Sandra “Beth” Geisel, a high school teacher from Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, New York, was charged with the statutory rape of a 16-year-old student. In 2004, Geisel raped the student in her home as well as in the press box of the school’s football field. After initially claiming she was forced into sexual acts by the student, she eventually admitted to the crime, receiving a sentence of only 6 months in jail and 10 years’ probation. After handing down that light sentence, Judge Stephen Herrick sympathized with Geisel, claiming she was a victim, too. The judge then proceeded to downplay the effect the rape had on the student, stating:
“The 16-year-old is a victim in the statutory sense only. He certainly was not victimized by you in any sense of the word … You misunderstood attention as affection and failed to realize you were being manipulated and sexually abused, and you became a playmate.”
Obviously, the 16-year-old’s parents were furious with this response from a judicial official, elected to serve justice. But Judge Herrick’s statement is no different than the typical utterances of “luckiest boy in the world,” and “I wish that were me” found in social media comment sections, their similarities a byproduct of the same fetishizing society.
Judges are not the only ones displaying fetishization in court, as attorneys have exploited double standards for their female clients’ advantage during hearings. In 2004, Tampa teacher Debra Lafave was accused of and arrested for having sex numerous times with one of her students. The student in question was 14 years old. Lafave was charged with four felony counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition. Lafave’s attorney, John Fitzgibbons, called the court to take his client’s “platinum blond hair and ice blue eyes” into consideration stating:
“To place Debbie into a Florida state women’s penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman in that kind of hellhole, is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions.”
Fitzgibbon’s argument was successful; Lafave ultimately received three years of house arrest and seven years of probation. Once again, society’s admiration for the attractive female diminished the seriousness of the crime, proven by LaFave’s obscenely light punishment.
It is true that there are exceptions to the double standard. Joseph Ruggieri from Pennsylvania’s Plum High School only received two to five years for having sex with a 16-year-old student in his car in 2016. In contrast, Brittany Zamora, a teacher from Las Brisas Academy in Arizona, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for having sex multiple times with a 13-year-old boy in 2019. However, despite the instances where the double standard is reversed, the above cases highlight the advantage female offenders may have when facing justice. When one looks at how normalized the fantasy of the “lusty teacher hook up” has become, it is easy to understand how legal officers may be tempted to show leniency to female offenders. Officers of the law are not exempt from a culture that fetishizes attractive female offenders. Rather, they too are members of that culture, which views female sexual offenses as “rites of passage” into manhood for the male victim, instead of the crimes they truly are.
If you Google Ramsey Bearse, one of the first pictures that pops up is a composite image. On the left side is a tearful mugshot and on the right is Bearse, clad in a pink bikini at one of her beauty pageants. In my research for this essay, I was unable to locate any similar photos of male offenders; a teary mugshot juxtaposed with a picture of the predator running shirtless on the beach, ala David Hasselhoff from Baywatch. And try as I might, I was unable to find any “Top 10 Hottest Male Sex Offenders” lists; with male child molesters who have been entrusted with the wellbeing of children, staring back lustfully at the camera. Given the societal double standard, it is not hard to understand why. In our society, male sexual offender are monsters and female sex offenders are intriguing. And in a media driven world where sex sells, headlines that taout “sex romps with hot teachers” are ones that garner clicks and attract traffic to the websites that bear them. Though the headlines are salacious and attention-grabbing, they play a significant role in devaluing not only the trauma that male survivors endure, but also the justice they deserve. In no criminal law textbook are pouty lips and bewitching eyes defenses for sexual assault, nor should they be. There is a reason why Lady Justice wears a blindfold.
James J. Wilkerson, J.D., is the director of Staff Diversity and Equity and the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at IU Southeast. This was first published by “I Taught the Law” at medium.com/i-taught-the-law, “untold stories of the rules, institutions, and people that govern our lives (without too much legalese),” as written by lawyers, law professors, students and other legal professionals.