Female perpetrators shatter social stereotypes of sexual assault, expert says
'We shouldn't be dismissive, and we shouldn't laugh and joke about it'
When women are charged with sexual assault it flies in the face of society's expectations about aggressors and victims, according to an Ottawa law professor.
- Teacher Kyla Cowan-Wilson charged after alleged sexual conduct with student
- Jessica Beraldin, Ottawa teacher, accused of sexually assaulting student
- Katherine Kitts, educational assistant, pleads guilty to sexual exploitation of student
"We're used to hearing stories about men sexually abusing women or younger men; we're not used to hearing stories about a female teacher and a student. So it's like a train wreck: people are just drawn in, they can't take their eyes away," says Constance Backhouse, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in sexual assault legislation.
Our ingrained "cultural script" often dictates than men gain points for having sex, while women lose points, Backhouse says. As a result, the tendency is to dismiss cases of women sexually assaulting people as somehow less troubling.
"A lot of times people hear about these very isolated cases of an adult woman having sexual activities or conduct with a younger man, and they jump to conclusions and they say, 'Well, what's the harm in that?' And they joke about it," she says.
"We shouldn't be dismissive, and we shouldn't laugh and joke about it."
"Because we hear these stories so rarely, we don't really even understand why that is, but many of them have explained that it distorted their ability to have healthy relationships with other women or men, that it distorted their sense of themselves, that they felt incredibly intruded upon and betrayed, that they couldn't trust anymore, and that it had life-long repercussions," Backhouse says.
"It's surprising to many to hear that, but we ought to be starting to recognize more clearly that these kinds of crossings of boundaries are just wrong."
Const. Chuck Benoit, an Ottawa police spokesperson, agrees.
"There's a sexist kind of a thing behind the male student and a female teacher that might be an old myth, an old thing, that people think it doesn't affect the young child. But it does," he said.
"... It doesn't matter what age or sex you are, it affects your growing. You're still growing at that age, you're still maturing, and at that period in time ... you need some innocence and to not be affected by some criminality like this, and by a person of [authority]."