Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Female Sex Offenders

Down Under

Bridget Mary Nolan
Bridget Mary Nolan

Three female teachers in Australia got involved recently in sexual relationships with 15-year-old students. Bridget Mary Nolan, Sarah Jane Vercoe, and Karen Louise Ellis all had unlawful sex with a minor.

Nolan was convicted in December 2005 in South Australia on three counts. In this case, there was a victim impact statement from the boy and his family to the effect that as a result of the encounter, the boy had been mercilessly teased at school and the family had undergone an extensive and difficult ordeal. The relationship began with a kiss on a school bus, which then turned into a full-blown affair. Nolan supposedly told authorities that she agreed to the sex so the boy wouldn't feel rejected or go to the authorities about the kiss. She received a suspended sentence because Nolan apparently showed "genuine remorse."

Only 18 months of Vercoe's four-year sentence was suspended in 2005 after she pled guilty to 11 counts of having sexual intercourse with a person under 17. Once a science and math teacher at Rose Bay High School in Tasmania, she lost her teaching privileges as well, and parents of two of the victims spoke publicly about the impact of her crimes. They said the boys had not been willing participants, contrary to the stereotype about what boys want, and these parents were outraged that some people discounted them as victims. Vercoe, they said, had acted against the boys' wills.

Karen Louise Ellis
Karen Louise Ellis

Married a short time, she said she had experienced stress in the relationship, so she'd sought other sexual encounters, according to The Australian (which reported on all of these cases). The person she picked was a boy she was supervising at a school camp in 2004. She called him and left text messages, then invited him home when her husband was away, having him lie to his mother so he could spend the night. After a few weeks, it was the boy who decided it was wrong and ended it. When Vercoe wrote him a letter to persuade him to protect her, he went to the police.

Then Vercoe took four students, ages 14-16, to a party, drank with them, and engaged in sexual activities. She apparently threatened them if they told, but she was finally arrested a month later, in May 2005. She pled guilty to eleven charges. The judge called her a predator and the education minister in Tasmania instituted a new code of ethics for teachers, which would include prohibitions against such sexual violations.

Married and a mother of three, Karen Ellis taught high school and initiated a relationship by kissing a student in secret meetings on the school premises. She soon invited the boy home, where they engaged in sexual intercourse. In this case, it was the boy's mother who made the discovery, when she found Ellis's text messages on her son's cell phone. Ellis pled guilty in 2004 to six charges of sexual penetration of a child under 16. The boy was upset, stating that the affair had not only been consensual but he'd been the pursuer, yet the court took a dim view of Ellis' authoritative status in relation to him. By Australian law, he could not consent. Despite his public campaign to make the public understand he was not victim, Ellis was sentenced to 22 months in prison. The sentence was then suspended, but her name went on the register for sex offenders and she was prohibited from teaching again.

The prosecutor lodged an appeal, viewing this as unacceptable, which brought Ellis back to court in 2005; this time she received a longer sentence of two years and eight months. The appeal court took note of the fact that had she been a male teacher engaging thus with a female student, she would have served time, so she spent five months in prison before she was released in October 2005.

Let's look in more detail at what experts have to say about the psychology of such offenders. Not everyone agrees with how to view them.

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