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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Sex With Students: Sentencing Double Standards

     Meredith Powell began teaching math at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington in September 2012. In January 2014, the unmarried 25-year-old started sending sexually explicit text messages and erotic videos to one of her 15-year-old male students. She followed this up with sexual encounters (oral sex) with this boy and another 15-year-old student. The sexual activity took place in her classroom.

     In February 2014, the police got involved after Meredith Powell wrote a letter to the girlfriend of one of the boys. In that letter she apologized for her "unprofessional" and "drunken" text messages.

     Following a brief investigation, Tacoma police officers arrested Meredith Powell for having sex with two of her students. A Pierce County prosecutor charged the teacher with two counts of child rape and several lesser offenses. After her release from the county jail on bond, the superintendent of the Tacoma School District placed the accused teacher on unpaid leave pending the outcome of her case.

     In July 2014, Meredith Powell pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree child rape and one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

     At Powell's sentencing hearing on August 29, 2014 before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson, Shannon McMinimee, the attorney for the school district, urged the judge to impose a tough sentence. McMinimee reminded the judge that this teacher had committed child rape. (No doubt the school district wanted the judge to send a message to other teachers in the system that having sex with a student was a serious crime.)

     The defendant's attorney, Wayne Fricke, in arguing for a light sentence, called his client "an upstanding individual who went through a rough patch last fall. She didn't handle the situation well and got herself into this situation," he said. (Had the defense attorney said this in reference to a male client who'd had sex with a female student, he would have been laughed out of court.)

     The defendant rose to her feet, and speaking to the judge, said, "I feel like words can't even express how sorry I am. I wish I could take back what happened to the students I failed. Sorry doesn't take away anything that happened, but I hope they [her victims] can move forward with as little impact as possible. I pray every day for the two boys. I'm heartbroken over the suffering I caused them and their families."

     When it came time to hand down his sentence, Judge Cuthbertson said, "This is difficult, this is different, this is not what we usually see. Everything suggests this is out of character for you. But again, you need to understand the severe impact this case has had not only on the victims but on their families."

     The judge sentenced the former teacher to five years. However, he suspended all but six months of that penalty. As part of the sentence the judge ordered Powell to enroll in a program for first-time sex offenders.

     Upon hearing the sentence, the victims' parents could be heard cursing as they stormed out of the courtroom. The attorney for the school district told reporters that she had hoped for a longer period of incarceration. She said the state had revoked Powell's license to teach.

     When a male teacher has consensual sex with a 15-year-old female student, he will almost always be sentenced to at least two years in prison, often longer. This sentencing double standard suggests that some judges, in cases where the defendant is a woman and the student is male, believe that boys are crime victims in name only. Girls, on the other hand, are victims of adult male dominance.

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