Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Female Sex Offenders

What's the Harm?

Diehl-Moore was a schoolteacher from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. She met the victim, a seventh-grader at the Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Clifton where she taught, and they commenced an affair during the summer of 1999. Diehl-Moore took him back to her Lyndhurst home, where they had sex. She claimed it was consensual, but by law, a child that age cannot legally give consent. After her arrest, Diehl-Moore blamed depression for her lapse in judgment. She pled guilty to sexual assault, a second-degree crime punishable by up to ten years in prison. However, prosecutors agreed to treat it as a third-degree crime and seek a minimum three-year sentence. But when the case came to court in Hackensack, New Jersey, they were in for a surprise.

Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney argued that Diehl-Moore had egregiously violated the trust of a teacher-pupil relationship and committed sexual assault. "We need to send a message to these people that this is unacceptable," he insisted, "and you will pay with your liberty.''

But Diehl-Moore made a tearful plea to the judge not to separate her from her two daughters, promising not to ever do such a thing again. She insisted she had been trying to help the boy and it had grown into something more. Her attorney, Richard Galler, entered her history of mental illness: a suicide attempt by medication overdose and two hospitalizations since her arrest. She had a lifelong history of depression and had suffered through a divorce and her mother's recent death.

Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Gaeta was apparently moved by Diehl-Moore's emotional problems, as well as by his own opinion about such cases. "What good is it sending her to state prison, where she's not going to get any help for her problems?'' he asked. "This is an exception where society is best served by having her treated.''

He noted the lack of a victim impact statement, since the boy's father had declined to subject his son to the proceedings, and changed the terms of the deal by sentencing Diehl-Moore to five years' probation, ordering her to continue intensive counseling.

But there was more. Gaeta was quoted as saying, "I really don't see the harm that was done here and certainly society doesn't need to be worried. I do not believe she is a sexual predator. It's just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship, that evidently the help was lacking in his own family."

The judge also noted that he had seen no evidence that the boy suffered any psychological damage from the liaisons. "Maybe it was a way for him, once this happened, to satisfy his sexual needs,'' Gaeta said. "People mature at different ages. We hear of... newspapers and TV reports over the last several months of nine-year-olds admitting having sex.''

He noted that the affair had evolved from mutual consent, although he conceded that, by law, the boy was too young to actually give his consent. To this the judge commented, "Some of the legislators should remember when they were that age. Maybe these ages have to be changed a little bit."

After Gaeta made these statements, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct received a complaint that requested a public reprimand. The committee found that the judge had violated the code of conduct by "making statements expressing a bias that indicated lack of impartiality in the course of a sentencing proceeding in a criminal case." Their published report indicated that the judge's statements expressed stereotypical views regarding the sexual nature of young boys, as if "a young boy's feelings about sex equate with a 'need' that should or must be met; that such needs may acceptably be met through sexual acts with adults; that a young boy has maturity, experience and understanding intelligently to consent to sexual acts with adults; that a young boy is not vulnerable or prone to psychological or emotional harm from sexual experiences with adults, and, further, that an adult participating in sexual activity with a young boy could be behaving naturally and normally." The committee found such a view contrary to the impartiality, open-mindedness and objectivity necessary to determine whether the boy in question had been sexually victimized. Such views were also inconsistent with the meaning and policy of the law that criminalizes sexual activity between adults and children. Gaeta's sentence was thus determined to have been erroneous. While noting that he was attempting to be fair to the defendant, his attitude about the victim was considered an inappropriate basis for a decision.

Young questions whether this judge — or anyone — would adopt the same position if it had been a 40-year-old male teacher with the 13-year-old female student. In fact, she points out, a male teacher in Virginia received a sentence of 26 years for the same acts, while a female coach having sex with an 11-year-old boy, along with two other students, received only 30 days.

Traditional stereotypes are clearly at play in this issue, with a bias against the idea that males can be victims, and Young points out that before the 1970s, seduction by a female of an underage person did not even qualify in most states as statutory rape.

But the question remains: what effect does this behavior have on the boys?

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