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When Shannon Ellis became pregnant two years ago, it was a surprise to family members. They had been told her husband had undergone a vasectomy. But Ellis and her husband told friends and family the joyous occasion was the result of him having the procedure reversed. That wasn’t the case. The truth, confirmed by a DNA test, was criminal — and sordid enough for a tabloid TV talk show. It would result in a divorce filing, a custody battle, a family rift and questions about the fairness of the criminal justice system.

The father, the test showed, was a 14-year-old — and a relative of Ellis’ husband. Shannon Ellis, then 34, had coaxed the boy into having sex with her on several occasions in 2007 and 2008. Now Ellis is facing felony charges of sexual misconduct with a minor in Marion County — she already has entered into a plea agreement — while a child custody fight over her young daughter is brewing in Morgan County. “This has damaged him for life,” said the teen’s mother. “She took away so many ‘firsts’ for him: becoming a father, seeing his child get her first tooth and taking her first step. Shannon needs to pay for what she did.”

Ellis will be sentenced next month by a Marion Superior Court judge. The plea agreement caps her jail time at a maximum of 10 years. The prosecutor has not asked for minimum jail time. The boy’s mother fears a Marion Superior Court judge will go easy on the woman “who stole my son’s childhood” because Ellis is a woman. If so, that would be the final indignation for the mother who said she introduced Ellis to her future husband and trusted her to care for her son. She even hosted a baby shower for the excited parents-to-be, who showed their appreciation by using the woman’s middle name as the baby girl’s middle name.

The Star is not naming the boy or his mother because the newspaper does not typically identify victims of sexual crimes.The boy’s mother contends Ellis “used” her son to get pregnant — and court documents in the criminal case appear to back up that belief. Ellis’ attorney, James Lowry, Danville, declined to comment on the case. The prosecutor’s office did not respond to questions from The Star.

The boy told investigators that during a visit to Ellis’ home in the Camby area in the summer of 2007, she approached him “out of the blue and asked him to take a test to see if he could have children.” Ellis told the boy a cousin had taken the same test. Ellis gave the boy a cup and he went him into a bedroom to provide a sample. “When he came out of the bedroom,” a police report stated, “he gave her the cup and she put a stick in it and told him that he had strong sperm and would be able to have children.” During a visit to Ellis’ home about two months later, the boy told investigators, “she asked him to go into her bedroom and she started talking to him about the birds and bees when she suddenly took her clothes off, took his clothes off . . .”

That was the first of what would be many sexual trysts, the boy told police, which continued after Ellis and her husband moved to Indianapolis and later to Bargersville. The boy told investigators he never used a condom because Ellis told him she could not get pregnant. But Ellis did become pregnant. She had a baby girl in April 2008.

Last summer, the boy confided in his father, telling him about the sexual relationship with Ellis, which had continued after she gave birth. Someone called a state child-abuse hotline, prompting investigations by police and the Department of Child Services. Ellis was charged in November with seven felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. In Indiana, a child younger than 16 cannot legally consent to sex with an adult, even if he or she is an otherwise willing participant.

A court-ordered DNA test revealed in January “the probability that (the boy) is the biological father, rather than another man, is 99.9 percent.” The situation has created a huge rift in the family, with the boy’s parents and Ellis’ husband fighting for custody of the child in Morgan County — and other relatives choosing sides. The little girl is currently in the care of Ellis’ husband, who has filed for divorce. He has not been charged in connection with any of the sexual activity.

Tensions could escalate further when Marion Superior Court Judge Grant Hawkins hands down Ellis’ sentence July 12. The boy’s mother said Ellis is telling people she expects to get less than one year in jail. “I think the prosecutors and the courts treat women who do this kind of thing a lot different than they do when it’s a man and a girl,” the boy’s mother said. When it involves a boy, “they wink and say, ‘Now he’s a man! What’s the harm?’ But that’s not right. She needs to pay for what she did just like if it was a 34-year-old man who got a 14-year-old girl pregnant.”

An Indianapolis Star review of eight recent Marion County cases involving similar circumstances — the victim was 14 or 15, the perpetrator was about 20 years older, the two were acquaintances, no physical force or weapon was involved and the victim was a willing participant — indicates the mother might have reason for her concern that Ellis may “get off easy.” Two of those cases involved female perpetrators, including a teacher who had sex with one of her students. The teacher was ordered to serve two years in prison, and the other woman, who had sex with a friend’s 15-year-old son, received 134 days behind bars.

The six men received stiffer sentences, ranging from two to 15 years in prison. The average executed sentence — the portion defendants are ordered to serve — was more than six years. Anita Carpenter, who heads the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she is not surprised by the disparity.

“I do think society and the courts tend to be more lenient on female sex offenders,” she said. “There is not a lot of research on the subject, but what we see anecdotally is that there tends to be the perception that female sex offenders are not as violent or dangerous, that it’s more sexual coercion. I don’t think society sees it as rape, which is what it really is.”

Carpenter said sex offenders must be held accountable and treated the same by the legal system, regardless of gender or the age difference between perpetrator and victim. “What we do know,” she said, “is that child victims are going to suffer lifelong trauma and mental-health issues, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator. “Until we as a society really start holding people accountable — including offenders and our elected officials like prosecutors and judges — we are condoning this behavior in so many ways. It is going to take everyone to step up and say: ‘We need to do something about this.’ ”

This may very well be one of those groundbreaking cases where the “Double Standard” of men and women gets exposed in order for true understanding and justice to be served. What do you think about this whole situation? Do you believe she will get less time because she is a woman that got pregnant by a minor?