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Are Men, Women Treated Differently In Sex Offense Cases?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The judge in the case of a female teacher who had sex with a male student said if a man had sex with a young girl, he probably would have gotten more time in jail, but is there a difference with how men and women are treated in sex offense cases? That depends on who you ask.

Betty Mackie is behind bars for having sex with a middle-school student. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight to 10 months in prison. In handing down the sentence, the judge in the Mackie case said a man who confessed to the same crime would spend more time behind bars.

"If I were a 56-year-old teacher in the public schools (and) engaged in sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old female, I suspect no matter how good of a teacher that I was, I would have been charged with a B-1 felony and I would have been sentenced for at least 12 years," Judge Donald Stephens said.

Joe Cheshire, Mackie's attorney, agreed with the judge's assessment. He said she could have been charged with a felony that carries 10 or 20 years in prison.

"I think there's a big difference between an older man and a small young woman and a well-developed young man and a woman teacher," he said.

Gary Powell, a former Wake County teacher who admitted to having sex with a 10-year-old student, did not go to jail at all. He was sentenced 36 months of house arrest. The Wake County District Attorney's office said it handles 50 to 100 sex abuse cases a year that involve adults and children.

"If you were to look at the rest of those cases and say where does Betty Mackie fit, you'd see there's not a double standard," Cummings said.

Cummings said prosecutors weigh other factors, like the age of the victim, the history of the defendant and the circumstances of the crime.

"Just to say it's between a teacher and a student is not as serious as say a grown man having sex with a 5-year-old child," he said.

Stephens said Mackie's long career as a respected teacher played a role in the sentence she received. Prosecutors said the victim's family also agreed she should be charged with the lesser crime. Prosecutors also said that in general, strangers who abduct and abuse kids get the toughest sentences.

Under state law, it is a felony for any teacher to have sexual relations with a student, but that was not always the case in North Carolina. Back in 1999, the General Assembly passed a law banning teacher sexual relations with a student who is between 16 to 18 years of age. Until then, the law only addressed students 15 years and younger.

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