May 5, 2005
SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian female teacher was jailed for six months Thursday for having sex with a teenage student, with a warning from the judge that future offenders could not expect such "lenient" treatment.
Karen Louise Ellis, a 37-year-old physical education teacher, had earlier received a suspended sentence of 22 months after she pleaded guilty to six counts of sexual penetration with a boy aged under 16.
But the Supreme Court of Victoria's Court of Appeal in Melbourne upheld an appeal by prosecutors against the leniency of that sentence, saying that mother-of-three Ellis should have been sentenced to two years' jail on each of the counts.
Justice Frank Callaway instead imposed a new sentence of two years and eight months. He sent Ellis to jail for six months and suspended the balance of the new sentence for three years.
"This was not a foolish lapse on one occasion that was not repeated. There were six counts and two distinct periods of offending," Callaway said in a written judgment.
He said that "a like offender in the future could not expect the same leniency.
"Men and women are to be treated on their merits and not according to their sex and ... the law is concerned to protect all children from abuse, especially from those in a position of power, authority or trust," Callaway said.
Local media reported that Ellis burst into tears as she was led from the court.
"She's pretty devastated, we're all devastated," Ellis's lawyer Chester Metcalfe told reporters outside the court. "She's taking it pretty hard at the moment, as you can expect."
The original trial had heard that Ellis, then 36, began seeing the boy, identified only as Benjamin, in late 2003.
She first had sex with him in her suburban Melbourne home on Oct. 10 of that year, after which she drove Benjamin, then 15, to a nearby railway station.
A similar pattern was repeated another five times in October and November of that year until the boy's mother saw him getting out of Ellis' car on Nov. 23 and became suspicious.
The court heard the boy had failed school that year and had since become estranged from his family.
Teacher Karen Ellis looked pretty pleased with herself last week, walking free from a Melbourne court with her long-suffering husband after being convicted of having sex with her 15-year-old student.
The 37-year-old mother of three was given a 22-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to six counts of sexual penetration with a child under 16.
During her relationship last year with her year 10 student, she bombarded him with about 500 text messages, drove him to her house after school or had him skip school to have sex, after which she would buy him McDonald's.
Most child abuse experts say what complicates prosecutions is that the victim often doesn't recognise the abuse until years later, if at all, mistaking it for love.
He tendered a victim's impact statement to the court: "I am very capable of making my own decisions and I'm very mature for my age." Victorian County Court Judge, John Smallwood, thought Ellis did not deserve to go to jail, as male teachers have, because of "mitigating" factors, such as the boy's consent.
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