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Sunday, March 19, 2006

What Do Lesbians Think?

Posted by on March 19 at 11:57 AM

The case of Khalila O’Rielly-Williams is the first time I’ve heard about a woman being arrested for sexual misconduct with a female minor. O’Rielly-Williams is the very-recently-resigned 23-year-old female basketball coach at Seattle Prep charged with having sex with a 16-year-old female student.

It’s definitely a man bites dog story.

It’s unlike other statutory rape stories.

Sadly, “older men taking advantage of girlsā€¯ is a standard story. In fact, the exact same week the O’Rielly-Williams story broke, a sad, but unfortunately mundane story about a 46-year-old Lynnwood male H.S. science teacher, James Lowell Stone, showed up in the papers as well. Stone was arrested for sexual misconduct with a minor—a 17-year-old female student.

Of course, we already have a script for the Lynnwood story. This is what we expect of men. Men are lecherous predators. The court papers imply that he seduced her with marijuana. (Stone has pleaded not guilty.)

Another version of the sexual misconduct with a minor story—once uncommon, but one that seems to show up in the news all the time in recent years—is the Letourneau version: Female teacher having a sexual relationship with a male student. This story is still a bit hard for people to compute. Initially, there is the light-hearted reaction that the boy got lucky (what 16-year-old boy doesn’t dream about sex with his hot female teacher?). Initially, there’s also a weird feminist angle that, hey, it’s kind of cool for an older woman to turn the tables in a society where men date younger women, but women don’t “scoreā€¯ with young guys. You go girl.

There’s also the “male priest or male baseball coach molesting young boysā€¯ stories. Our homophobic society knows how to process these stories too. They play to hateful stereotypes about the depravity of gay men—that is, gay men as pedophiles.

Of course, all these stereotypes—light hearted and/or hateful—complicate our ability to deal with these basic and serious stories about sexual predators.

So, what to make of the Seattle Prep story? I don’t believe I’ve ever read about a case like this. It seems like it should be a big deal—kind of like the Letourneau story when it first hit. Yet, The Seattle Times coverage is flat line. Only by doing a double take on the feminine pronouns does it become clear that we’re even talking about lesbian sex.

I think the reaction to the story will be most similar to the reactions we have to the Letourneau version. That is: It’s harmless. Lesbians tend to be invisible and unimportant (AKA marginalized) in our culture, and so, this case probably doesn’t press many buttons for the larger world. (Similar to the 16-year-old boy getting “lucky,ā€¯ a lot of guys probably fantasize that this story is “hot.ā€¯)

We’re also talking about a 23-year-old and a 16-year-old. That’s not as shocking as the 30 or 40-something male coach and the teenage girl. In fact, in Washington, 16 is considered the age of consent in some circumstances. It’s the fact that O’Rielly-Williams worked at Seattle Prep that led to the charges, I think. It’s illegal for school employees to have sexual contact with students.

Obviously, I’m not saying (if the charges against O’Rielly-Williams are true) that this was a consensual lesbian relationship. The 16-year-old is definitely a victim in a situation like this. There is a serious problem with a supervisor, adult coach having sex with a student.

I guess I just want to hear from lesbians out there. How does this story hit you? Affect you? How does it land politically?

CommentsRSS icon

I'm obviously not a lesbian, but I'm led to wonder if there is some trepidation by the media types at the Seattle Times due to possible homophobia. Given the rampany disagreements between the liberal types here and those at the Times, the writers and reporters for that paper do come from a relatively conservative background.

I'm lesbian and a long time reader, although I'm now living in San Diego. My feeling is that the main concern is the coach-student relationship here. The age difference is certainly questionable, but if it were not for the existing school relationship, I don't think it would be automatically bad. An older woman could be a good partner for a younger woman, either for a time or a lifetime.

Still, I'd have been suspicious of the older woman's motives and intelligence if I had known about it. There would definitely be a concern there about the potential to abuse the younger woman's growing sexuality and need for intimacy.

I am not a lesbian. I am a gay man. But I have some experience to contribute.

When I was 14 and 15 I actively seduced older men as well as boys my own age, mostly while dating girls my own age.

Now that I am much older, I recognize that the men I seduced probably had some emotional irregularities for them to accept sexual advances from a teenager. But they were nice enough and I liked them at the time. We had some good sex. I learned from them, and I guess they got what they wanted, too.

I think it can be tragic to assume that these encounters always involve a "predator" and a "victim." More often I'd bet they involve a horny kid and an emotionally stunted adult.

The story you link is between a 23 year old and a 16 year old. That's seven years' difference. There's a nine year difference between my husband and me, which means he is as old now as I was when we met. Had we met a few years sooner, we would not have developed a relationship because of that same age difference.

A lot of emotional development happens in late adolescence and early adulthood, so these pairings aren't terribly irregular--not with only 7 years' difference.

The power structure of the relationship can be a complicating factor, but it doesn't have to.

Reading this story, it occurs to me that I don't have enough information. That the encounter is criminal by definition seems arbitrary to me.

Why is this new and thought provoking?? Seems to me that the stereotypical "lesbian gym teacher" trying to seduce her students has been around for decades. Regaurdless of the sex of the people involved it still goes against conventional wisdom. People with obvious power structure differences shouldnt be seducing their subordinates at any age.

Nice site

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