Tempting though it might seem, don't shed a tear for Melissa Chase.
She did the crime. Now she has to do the time.
Chase, a former Harlem High School teacher and softball coach, received a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence last week for a single sexual encounter with a then-16-year-old female student.
The sentence is harsh. That's the intent of Georgia's Draconian laws, as drafted by elected representatives pandering to the hang-'em-high electorate. And it is a tremendous shock to Chase's family, her former co-workers and even many of her former athletes.
Perception is somewhat fogged because this is a rare case involving a female sex offender. Columbia County's registry lists 43 sex offenders; just three are female. If Chase were male, seeing her as a sexual "predator" would be easier.
But in this particular case, the age of the victim and the gender of the offender are far less important than their relative status. As a teacher, Chase could do little worse than to have an inappropriate relationship with a student. The state's laws rightly take a dim view of such affairs, likening them to prison guards or police officers having sex with inmates.
Younger victims already are considered less empowered to fend off an adult; it's even worse when the adult is someone charged with official supervision of that minor victim.
That's what is sending Chase to prison for 10 years, followed by five years' probation and the addition of her name to the sex offender registry where the crime will follow her the rest of her life.
Harsh? Absolutely. But as tough as the state's laws are, it's just about impossible to become branded as a sex offender without committing a crime. Chase knew her actions were wrong, and the state has given her 10 years to reflect on it. Fortunately for her, the state during that time will ensure that she isn't likewise victimized by those in whose care she now is entrusted.
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