Is There A Double Standard In Statutory Rape Cases

By: Rob Pratt
By: Rob Pratt

Knoxville (WVLT) -- With a former Knoxville Catholic High School female teacher likely to avoid any jail time after admitting to statutory rape, some say if a male teacher had sex with a female student, the punishment would be tougher.

But is there really a double standard?

We talked to some University of Tennessee Law professors about the issue.

They say the law in Tennessee makes no distinction between a man and a woman where statutory rape is concerned.

However the UT law professors say whatever the law says, the reality is very different.

Diane Dieterich, a former teacher and track coach walked out of court with her lawyer Thursday morning, avoiding jail for statutory rape if she can stay out of trouble for the next four years.

Would a man charged with the same crime be able to walk away so easily?

The Associate Dean of the U.T. College of Law says maybe not.

"I don't think there's a double standard from the prosecutorial standpoint or even the judicial standpoint,” said Doug Blaze. “I do think they are dealt with differently on occasion, reflecting more just societal norms in terms of how we think about children by gender and by age."

Associate Professor Jennifer Hendricks agrees that society’s views play a big role.

"When the case involves an underage male and an adult woman, a lot of people react to that as 'oh, good for him'”, said the UT Law professor. “Where as when it's an underage girl they feel that she's a victim and the law has actually reflected that in a number of cases."

As an associate professor of law, Jennifer Hendricks can point to the last time the United States Supreme Court dealt with this issue which was a quarter century ago.

The court was dealing with a different state's law, which actually said at the time that only males could be prosecuted for statutory rape.

You might think the U.S. Supreme Court would never let that law stand, but Hendricks says you'd be wrong.

"It was O.K to make this distinction in part because girls would be deterred from having sex because of the risk of pregnancy,” said Hendricks, “so it was OK for the law to then only focus on punishing the male."
Statutory rape laws are also supposed to protect society, particularly other potential victims.

But unlike most crimes, statutory rape victims and their families don't always want to push for prosecution.


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