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Teacher-pupil sex case is not a gender issue

There are no mixed feelings. Not for this boy's family and friends.

There is no "Hot for Teacher" fantasy. There is no sense that this was a conquest or a rite of passage.

There is only one word, if the charges are true, that describes the 14-year-old boy whom Cara Dickey is accused of having sexual relations with: victim. That is what the boy's family and friends believe. And they are in the best position to know.

Dickey is a 30-year-old married mother of three and since-fired teacher at South Buffalo Charter School. She was charged with unlawful imprisonment in June after a daylong disappearance with a 14-year-old student. Authorities say they drank and entered into a failed suicide pact. She posted bail and was told to stay away from the boy.

Police say that she did not stay away. She now is charged with second-degree rape.

The case raises issues of whether the courts and society judge women accused of having sex with minors the same way they judge men.

Judging from what I heard from the boy's supporters, Cara Dickey should be treated no differently than a man accused of having relations with a 14-year-old girl.

More than a dozen of the boy's family and friends were at Dickey's recent court appearance in West Seneca. They glared at Dickey -- hands cuffed behind her back, her once-light hair cut short and raven black -- as she was led into the closed courtroom.

"We are devastated," said a relative of the boy, who did not want her name used. "This is ruining the whole family, especially [the father]. Definitely, we feel that the boy was taken advantage of."

These cases attract a lot of interest, largely because they rattle the stereotypes of male and female sexuality. Sexually active guys are praised as "studs," while female counterparts are "sluts." So you get -- at least from some guys -- the reflexive locker room mentality of "I wish I had a teacher like that when I was 14."

Having once been 14, I understand the fantasy. I remember an attractive language arts teacher who -- merely by her appearance, she was not flirtatious -- brightened the day for me and my friends. She was easier to look at than some old guy with a pocket protector.

But she was simply an object. There was no question about a "relationship." Heck, at that age, most of us could barely mumble a few words to the girl in the next seat, much less rise to even the conversational level of a mature woman.

Any woman who gets emotionally or sexually entangled with a 14-year-old boy has a problem. Her problem creates problems for the boy. Those problems might range from confusion to emotional damage to clouding his future relationships.

"There is a huge power differential between these two individuals," said Jennifer Hunt, an associate psychology professor at Buffalo State College. "It is not a relationship of equals, like a 14-year-old boy and girl who end up having sex."

That is why there are laws against adults having sex with minors -- to protect young people from emotional damage. That goes even when the young person is a boy -- as much as a stereotypical male fantasy suggests otherwise.

"Outsiders may have a fantasized view of what this sort of relationship is like," Hunt added, "but the family are the ones who see the actual effects."

Members of the boy's family look at Dickey the same way they would if she were a man and the 14-year-old were a girl. Their anger underlines the real nature of this case.

"It is especially bad," the boy's relative told me, "because this is a teacher, who you are supposed to trust."

That is the reality. Not the fantasy.


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