This chapter examines the case of Karen Ellis, an Australian schoolteacher who initially received a suspended sentence for sex with one of her male students. The case was held up as a classic example of the judicial system’s more lenient treatment of female offenders, and of the importance of gender-neutral interpretations of sexual offenses. The question posed in this chapter is the extent to which gender ought to be a factor in criminal proceedings. The chapter argues that the Ellis case, and others like it, is indicative not of the need for rigid adherence to the principle of gender neutrality, but the opposite: a paradigmatic example of when to insist on gender difference. This is part of a broader claim that there are serious problems with the notion of gender neutrality as it is currently practiced and understood with regard to teacher-student relationships. First, its application is premised on a false image of the adolescent as neutered of gender (and other differences). Second, the conceptualization of gender neutrality is knotted to scenarios of abuse within which a model of juridical power rules, yet this model is applied inappropriately to nonabusive interactions in which power is much more complex and relational.
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