Double standard seen in sex cases
Jo Ciavaglia, Bucks County Courier Times, June 15, 2008
What makes a grown woman pursue a guy who gets carded at R-rated movies,
lives with his parents who give him his pocket money and, who if your
actions are revealed, would ruin your reputation and possibly land you
Theories abound. Some might surprise you.
Like how mentally, they are about the same age.
Sexual abuse involving older women and teen boys is an underreported
crime, one that experts say has been largely ignored by the public,
legal system and academic researchers for reasons including sexual
double standards and evidence suggesting teen boys often are willing
But that attitude is changing.
Prosecutions of women for sex abuse have risen nationwide in the last
several years, law enforcement experts say.
Locally, last week three women - two from Bucks County and another from
South Jersey - were charged with sexual crimes involving teen-age boys.
Angela Marie Honeycutt, 38, and Lynne Long, 45, both of Lower Makefield,
were charged Wednesday in connection with alleged indecent acts that
took place during a teen boy sleepover in April.
Honeycutt was charged with statutory sexual assault, a second-degree
felony, and several lesser felonies and misdemeanors. She allegedly
engaged in sex acts with two boys, ages 14 and 15. Sleepover host Long
was charged with endangering the welfare of children and corruption of
On Thursday, Donna Goebel, a 44-year-old Burlington County teacher's
aide was charged with second degree sexual assault allegedly against a
16-year-old male student.
In the last decade, high-profile arrests involving inappropriate and
illegal sexual contact between women and boys have captivated the nation.
Among the most infamous cases, both involving middle school teachers,
were Debra LaFave, 23, who had sex with a 14-year-old student, and
Kay LeTourneau, 34, who began a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old
student, later gave birth to two of his children, served jail time for
abusing him and then married him in 2005.
An estimated 1,500 women are in prison for sexual abuse of children. The
National Center for Juvenile Justice 2005 report on statutory rape found
that 5 percent of victims were boys and adult women were overwhelmingly
The report also found among children ages 7 to 11 and 15 to 17, boy
victims outnumbered girls. On average, female molesters were nine years
older than their male victims, compared with a six-year age gap between
male offenders and teen girl victims.
Other research agencies like Child Trends in Washington, D.C., are
starting to collect data that also suggest sexual relationships between
teen boys and older women are more common than many believe.
A 2005 Child Trends research brief on the subject revealed that one in
four males surveyed reported his first sexual experiences were with a
woman usually a few years older.
Of more than 2,000 males, ages 15 to 24, asked, though, half who had a
first sexual experience with an older woman reported an age gap of five
years or more.
The abuse connection
Child molesters share some common features regardless of gender,
according to the Center for Sex Offender Management in Maryland. Many
show evidence of poor coping skills, relationship difficulties,
cognitive distortions and an inability to empathize with victims.
But the center also noted some key differences between men and women
Among them sexual victimization histories are far more common among
female sex offenders than men, and their abuse experiences are often
more longstanding, extensive and severe. Adult women also are more
likely than men to commit sex offenses with a willing participant.
The largest study so far involving female sex offenders found the sexual
abuse connection, according to its author, Susan Strickland, a
University of Georgia professor and social worker who treats sex offenders.
For her research, Strickland surveyed 130 female prisoners, including 60
serving time for sexual offenses.
She found that women who have sex with boys
| lack the mature relationship skills to partner with men their age. |
| They are also motivated by a need for power and control, and |
| they see the boy as a blank slate they can turn into the partner they want.|
|Women sex offenders may never have had a relationship in which they felt |
safe, Strickland added.
Others in the psychological community agree that there is evidence
female sexual abusers who were sexually abused in childhood experience
arrested emotional development, meaning the woman is not much older
psychologically than the teen boy.
Women who seek sex with underage boys are also more likely than men to
focus on one person and to profess love and loyalty and a sense of a
particular and profound bond, psychologists say.
Philadelphia author Alan Soble has written books about sex and love. He
believes it's difficult to generalize what motivates an older woman to
seduce a teen boy, but that their reasons are probably not much
different than a man's.
"Is there any reason to think the motives are different? Then you have
to go with the standard story, but with the genders reversed," said
Soble, a philosophy professor at Penn State University's Abington campus.
Emotions are part of why he believes women pursue teen boys.
"It's not simply why would they do it, but why do it knowing they'll be
ostracized if they get caught, they are in trouble, and will get more
attention than a man would get?" he said. "It's the power the emotions
have to kill our rationality, and women seem to be as susceptible as men
to having their rationality undermined by their emotions and passions."
What also remains unclear is the long-term impact on teen boys.
What evidence is available - gathered through male prisoners and men in
addiction treatment - is the experience disrupts normal adolescent
psychological development, Strickland said.
A teen's immature brain cannot process the adult behavior they are
engaging in, and, as a result, it skews social and sexual outlook,
distorts thinking and hinders the ability to relate to a partner their
own age, she explained.
"It skewed their expectations of what a relationship is all about, about
what sex is all about, and what partnering is all about in a healthy
give-and-take way," Strickland added.
Most teen boys involved in sexual relationships with older women don't
feel they've been violated, a belief that Strickland says is rooted in
society stereotypes, while girls in the same relationships are sent the
message they've been taken advantage of, boys are congratulated and
"Historically, while teen boys have been having sex with adult women,
it's not been reported or we haven't asked the questions of boys," she
said. "We allow the sexuality of boys to be much more; [as if to say]
'that it is a good thing for boys; they are in training, they are being
Characteristics of female sex offenders
Keeping in mind the limitations of the current research and the
diversity of the population, some preliminary findings about adult women
who commit sex offenses suggest the following.
|Histories of childhood maltreatment, including
| sexual victimization; |
| mental health symptoms, |
| personality disorders and |
|substance abuse problems|
|Difficulties in intimate relationships, or an absence of intimate |
|Propensity to primarily victimize children and adolescents (rarely adults) |
|Tendency to commit offenses against persons who are related or |
otherwise well known to them
|An increased likelihood of perpetrating sex offenses in concert |
with a male intimate partner
Source: Center for Sex Offender Management in Silver Spring, Md., 2007
Did you know?
According to a 2002 National Survey of Family Growth involving 2,059
males and 2,513 females between the ages of 15 and 24 ...
| A 2004 U.S. Department of Education study found that women made |
up 40 percent of educators reported for sexual misconduct with students.
| Females account for less than 10 percent of sex crimes involving |
children, according to FBI statistics.
|13 percent of females and 5 percent of males reported a first |
sexual experience at age 15 or younger with an individual who was three
or more years older, according to the National Survey of Family Growth
2002. The typical age gap between young teens and older individuals who
are sexually involved is three to four years.
|Slightly more than one in eight individuals (14 percent for |
males, and 13 percent for females) was eight or more years older than
was the young teen at her or his first sexual experience. None of the
teens in the sample reported sex with an individual who was over the age
|67 percent of young males whose first sexual relationships were |
with older females said they were going out occasionally with these
females at the time of the first sexual encounter, compared with 29
percent of young females involved sexually with older males.
|Males represented 26 percent of teens whose first sexual |
relationship occurred at age 15 or younger with someone three or more
years older. The agency also found that two-thirds of males reported
that they wanted this first sexual experience with an older female.