In 2014 Susan Duursma, a former middle school teacher in Bismarck, was found guilty of having sex with one of her 15 year-old students. Her sentence? She got 60 days in jail for felony child abuse after initially facing three counts of corrupting a minor, and she doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.
In 2015 Sara Joy Wurgler, a “paraprofessional” in the Fargo school system, pleaded guilty to showing nude pictures of herself to a 16 year old student. She got 30 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge and she also doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.
Also in 2015 former Mandan school teacher Amanda Kolosky plead guilty to having sex with a 17 year old student. Her sentence? A one year suspended sentence, two years of probation, and she doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.
Just this week a Bottineau teacher, Marissa Ashley Deslaurier, was sentenced for crimes related to having sex with two teen boys – one 15, the other 17 – and will spend just one and a half months in jail. Her charges were just misdemeanors, and she doesn’t have to register as a sex offender.
Seeing a pattern here?
Now let’s compare these cases to how men accused of similar crimes are treated.
Fargo teacher Aaron Knodel was charged with 5 felony counts, and potentially 35 years in prison, for allegedly having sexual contact with a 17 year old student in 2009. He almost certainly would have had to register as a sex offender once released from prison.
Knodel was ultimately acquitted of some of the charges (and the rest were dismissed after some problems with the jury), but that wasn’t for want of the state trying to put him in prison. The case was prosecuted vigorously, and even after he was unanimously acquitted on 3 of 5 charges (11 of 12 jurors voted to acquit on the last two, but one held out then had a meltdown), the prosecution initially objected to the dismissal of the final two charges.
James Patrick Whalen, a male teacher from Grand Forks, is currently facing multiple felony charges for allegedly having sex with a student older than 15 years old but still a minor. He could get as much as 15 years in prison, and would certainly have to register as a sex offender if convicted. His trial has not yet been completed and so, for now, should have a presumption of innocence.
Charles Soper, an elementary school principal from Sawyer, was convicted earlier this month of multiple felonies related to having sex with 14 and 15 year old boys. He got 35 years in jail and will have to register as a sex offender.
Aside from the fact that there seems to be a disturbing number of incidents involving educators and illicit sex of late, there also seems to be a different standard for men accused and/or convicted of these sort of crimes than the one applied to females.
It’s almost as though our criminal justice system views women having sex with children as, somehow, a less serious crime than men having sex with children. Which shouldn’t be the case, should it?
How is that justice?
I’m not a throw-the-book-at-them, law-and-order type. I think we need some enlightened reforms to our sex offender registry policies, as an example.
But I do think we should treat people equally under the law, and I just don’t think you can say that’s happening in these cases.