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'No gender leniency' in school sex case

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday March 22, 2011

Louise Hall COURTS

A FORMER housemistress who sexually abused six boys at an exclusive school should be sentenced on the basis of her crimes, not her gender, a district court heard yesterday.The Crown prosecutor, Kara Shead, told Judge Anthony Garling that his sentencing approach should be the same as if the perpetrator were a man."She took advantage of the situation to form highly inappropriate sexual relationships with multiple child victims over an extensive period of time," Ms Shead said.The woman, 41, who cannot be named, was found guilty in December of 21 charges of aggravated sexual assault of six boys over a five month period in 2009. She was a "house mother" and lived on the school campus at weekends, where she initiated oral sex and sexual intercourse with the boys, who were aged 11 or 12, in her residence, the sick bay and a tent while the boys were camping on school grounds.During the trial, Judge Garling found the woman was suffering from bipolar disorder at the time, but she knew her actions were legally and morally wrong.In sentencing submissions yesterday, Christopher Watson, the woman's lawyer, said while the boys would have suffered harm, "the damage incurred by them is unlikely to be as significant as if it was a male perpetrator on a female because of the actual nature of the act".Her psychiatrist, Mike Richardson, said he did not think she had been operating in a predatory manner. "Rather, it was the environment that allowed her to pursue a promiscuous approach to these boys," he said.However Ms Shead said the woman exploited the victims' age and their vulnerable situation - being away from their parents - and a "significant" jail term was warranted."Aged 11 or 12, these were little boys who were exposed to significant depravity," she said. " ... They and their parents were entitled to expect protection and nurturing from the offender."Even in a case where there is no physical harm suffered by the victim, psychological consequences are likely to be at least as important as physical consequences, Ms Shead said."Child sexual assault offences are apt to produce such consequences, even though they may not manifest themselves until some time in the future."The woman's family cried as she was taken into custody. Judge Garling will hand down his sentence on Thursday.

© 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

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