Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault and abuse of minors
On this fine Thursday afternoon, I bring you some bleak shit coming out of Texas: On August 2, former Houston-area middle school teacher Marka Bodine was convicted of continuous abuse of a child, after pleading guilty. The child in question was Bodine’s former student, whom she sexually abused from the time he was 13 until he was 16 years old. After Bodine’s divorce, she apparently even moved into the same apartment complex as the student. Police were tipped off to the inappropriate relationship after Bodine told her higher-ups that the student was harassing her. One phone investigation and dozens of sexually explicit pictures later, and Bodine had a lot of explaining to do.
Somehow, Bodine was only sentenced to 60 days in prison, in addition to 10 years of probation and life on the sex offender registry. Given the nature of the crime, the two-month sentence should raise some eyebrows—hell, I’ve been grounded for longer. And while we’re not in the business of wishing 40 years of prison on anyone (which was the prosecutors’ original proposal), we are in the business of questioning why sentencing is so relatively lenient on female sexual predators—especially in a time where conservatives seem to be so concerned with the sexual safety of children in schools and continue to pin grooming accusations on the LGBTQ+ community.
Though her sentence is especially light, Bodine is far from the first female teacher to get off with little more than a slap on the wrist for sexual offenses with students. In Florida, the prosecution once dropped charges for lewd and lascivious battery for Debra Lafave, a teacher who raped her 14-year-old student, after her lawyer successfully convinced the judge that their client was “too pretty for prison.” We’re not sure that those are appropriate grounds, your honor. And just last year, a Pennsylvania middle school teacher was sentenced to “at least five years” in state prison for sexually assaulting her 13-year-old male student.
Now let’s take a look at the men doing similar crimes: A Florida technology teacher received a 40-year sentence, while a North Carolina teacher is slated to serve 50 years for his crimes—that’s half of a century. While our criminal justice system is notoriously unjust and inconsistent, we can also probably chalk this particular gender disparity up to public perception: As a society, we’ve been programmed to think that only men can be sexual predators, despite women making up around five percent of sex offenders and 30 percent of teacher/student misconduct cases, according to Leo Weekly.
The boy who has the hots for his older female teacher and would be lucky to sleep with her is a trope that we still haven’t pronounced dead, and these women are notorious for being fetishized in these situations. The way the media portrays these relationships doesn’t help either: The 2020 Hulu mini-series A Teacher, starring Kate Mara and Nick Robinson, confirms that we still think the moral qualms of “illicit affairs” between high school teachers and their students are worth exploring on screen and even romanticizing.
To be clear, we’re not here to endorse the carceral state, nor do we necessarily believe in the overall effectiveness of the sex offender registry, given the way it can indict people for life over offenses that aren’t exactly sexual in nature, like public urination. On top of that, a disproportionate amount of incarcerated Americans are people of color, many of whom have been wrongfully convicted or given exorbitant sentences for what many would consider to be petty crimes.
But Bodine’s...extremely light sentence suggests that old stereotypes about the harmlessness of women sex abusers persist. The ex-teacher’s jail time has been delayed, because she just gave birth (NOT to her student’s child, good grief), but after her brief stint in jail, Bodine has been advised to “undergo therapy.” Therapy is great! Everyone should do it! But a female teacher having a “sexual relationship” with a 13-year-old boy is every bit as illegal as a male teacher having a “sexual relationship” with a 13-year-old girl, and we should just probably talk more about why the justice system and society, in general, appear to disagree.