In the past 25 years, primarily due to victim's rights advocacy groups, we have come to know more about the male predator who victimizes underage females. Society is now well aware of this phenomenon.
The Nevada Appeal in its Oct. 21 article, pointed out that males also offend against underage males.
While it is important to establish this profile, there is more to the story. Society knows little, and probably wants to know less, about the female sex offender. It is easier for most to direct anger at men who offend. We don't know what to do with the notion that women offend, beyond writing it off as aberrant behavior or a rarity, thereby dismissing any further thought or examination of the topic.
Guy Rocha and I were introduced by a mutual friend who knew of my doctoral research on female sex offenders and Guy's interest in this area of study. From Guy's adverse life experience and his interest in human behavior, paired with his independent study and writing on human behavior, there was recognition that we had common ground. We developed a mutual goal to inform society. Women do sexually offend, and in greater numbers than society recognizes.
In 1997, the case that put the female sex offender on the radar screen was Mary Kay Letourneau, the Shorewood Elementary School teacher who began an affair a few years earlier with her 13-year-old student in a suburb of Seattle. This liaison produced two children. Letourneau was married, had four children, and received a 71Ú2-year prison sentence.
This case does not stand alone. An examination of active sex-related cases around the country was conducted by "Teacher Magazine," a trade publication for educators. It examined newspaper archives and computer data bases and found 244 cases in a six-month period. Nearly one in five involved female employees. The victims were mainly boys in middle or high school, ranging in age from 11 to 17.
n A 32-year-old Minnesota high school teacher pleaded guilty to having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy in her class.
n A Florida teacher, 38, was accused of having a relationship with a 15-year-old student.
n Closer to home, a married Sparks High School teacher, 31, admitted she had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old male student.
Women are far less likely than men to be viewed as sexual predators and are less likely to be convicted of sex offenses. There is a general societal perception that women are inherently victims, not perpetrators, and nurturers, not predators/abusers. These stereotypes interfere with accepting that women can endanger children; therefore, we have unsuspecting victims. We know from clinical studies, as well as from media reports, there are women who offend, have been prosecuted, and are spending time in our country's prisons.
In most cases, men and women do not offend for the same reasons. Men tend to offend for sexual reasons, while women are more directed toward physical intimacy and closeness. A common theme among male sex offenders is the need to maintain independence and personal power in relationships. Conversely, female sex offenders are generally motivated by a desire to establish intimacy to get their own emotional needs met.
As a part of my doctoral work, I interviewed more than 100 incarcerated females in prisons throughout the country. These women were all convicted of sex offenses with underage boys and girls. While I found women offending on their own, I also interviewed women who had co-offended with a male partner.
The "co-offenders" are generally involved in abusive relationships with their partners. Their victims are their biological children or stepchildren. The crimes are generated by the males, with the women trying to "prove love" to their partner via sexually abusing the children.
For example: A 30-year-old Sun Valley, Nev., woman was forced to have sex with her 10-year-old son at the direction of her husband. She received a four-year prison sentence. Barbara Hazel (age 30 at the time of sentencing) received a 33-year sentence in a Kentucky correctional facility for the sexual abuse of her daughter (a birthday gift her husband desired).
What about the male victims of female perpetrators? An Arizona Republic article on Dec. 2, 1999, titled "Women sex offenders increasing," included a statement by a counselor regarding sex offenders he's worked with: "About 30 percent of the men on probation were molested by older females."
Does anyone recall these films: "Summer of '42" (22-year-old woman, 15 year-old boy's first sexual experience), "The Graduate," and Denzel Washington's "Antwone Fisher"? These all illustrate the effects of inappropriate or abusive sexual conduct by a female. In the new release section of video stores currently is "The Unsaid," starring Andy Garcia, another film dealing with the topic.
Underage boys tend to find the experience confusing and generally feel a sense of betrayal. These issues are further compounded by societal myths such as "He should consider himself lucky," "It's a right of passage," "Boys are better for it." These myths are dysfunctional and toxic. Long-term issues that may result from sexual abuse by a female are depression, anxiety, anger and rage, impaired relationships, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, guilt, shame, and/or embarrassment.
We also find examples where the sexual victimization of children results in significant human depredation. Joseph Ferguson, the 20-year-old security guard in Sacramento, Calif., killed five co-workers and shot himself to death two years ago. His mother is serving a 14-year prison sentence in Chowchilla State Prison for molesting him from ages 9 to 13. Arthur Shawcross, the Genesee River serial killer, in Rochester, N.Y., claimed his mother violently molested him.
Sexual offending is about the abuse of power. The vigilance factor must always be there - ANY adult can prey upon your children. Women have, and women will. Our youth must be told that inappropriate touching and sexual overtures are to be reported, whether by males or females.
If you wish to know more about this topic, use computer search engines, and type in Female Sex Offenders. You will see a startling number of sites related to this and a growing body of literature.
Patricia Davin, Ph.D., is in private practice in Carson City. She is the co-author of "Female Sexual Abusers: Three Views" (Safer Society Press, 1999) and was featured in "The Ultimate Betrayal," episode on MSNBC on television in 2000.
Guy Rocha is an historian and American studies scholar. He was featured in the Sante and Kenny Kimes "American Justice" episode on the A&E television channel in 2002.