Female sex offenders reveal cultural double standard
Rebecca Morris, The Seattle Times, September 10, 2007
It all seems so terribly familiar. A trusted, even respected or beloved teacher is accused of having a
sexual relationship with a student. What used to shock us, but is now much too commonplace, is that the
teacher is a woman.
Jennifer Leigh Rice, a 31-year-old former Tacoma teacher, was charged
with having sex with a 10-year-old boy who had been in her fourth-grade class.
Earlier this year, former Tenino math teacher Dawn
Welter, 38, was charged with second-degree sexual misconduct after spending the night at a motel with a 16-year-old
female student. Her lawyer explained her relationship with the student as "horseplay that became
The decade long wave of sexual offenses committed by women - teachers in
particular have exposed a cultural double standard: The public is more willing to accept the
female abuser's claim that she had a "relationship" with the victim. And in cases in which the male is a
teenager, the sexual abuse is more likely to be dismissed as a rite of passage. The questionable, yet
overriding assumption, is that women predators are somehow different from men.
"Men are demonized, women are diagnosed. Men are beasts, but women are
troubled or mentally ill," said media scholar Matthew Felling in an interview with Fox News. In
fact, accounts of women sexual offenders are often more titillating than harsh. Felling calls the news
coverage of young, attractive
teachers involved with their students "part crime drama, part Penthouse
The number of cases of sexual abuse by teachers, male and female, is less than 10 percent of all sex crimes against minors.
The current awareness of women predators began with Mary K. Letourneau,
[... ... ...]
Female predators' crimes are often attributed to
| marital problems, |
| loneliness, |
| immaturity or |
|self-esteem issues. |
Not only do we look at female offenders differently, so do the offenders
themselves. Women predators are more likely to see the abuse as a romantic relationship.
Dr. Leigh Baker, a clinical psychologist in Colorado, interviewed hundreds of male and female
predators for her book "Protecting Your Children From Sexual Predators." All were incarcerated at the
time, and their stories help form her theory that there are four types of predators: inadequate,
narcissistic, anti-social and pedophile.
|An inadequate adult (and predator) has trouble forming attachments with
other adults and is most comfortable with children, she says. |
| A narcissist loves him- or herself to the detriment of others; |
|someone who's anti-social doesn't abide by society's rules; |
| and a pedophile is sexually aroused by children.|
While some women are pedophiles and some men do profess their love for the children they sexually
abuse, women are more likely to "couch it as a relationship," according to Baker. Men are more likely
to be serial pedophiles; women seek that "deep spiritual oneness" that Letourneau says she found.
The traits women predators exhibit
|seeing themselves as a victim, |
| low self-esteem, |
| a sense of inadequacy, |
| needing to be the center of attention, |
| putting their own need for a connection before common sense - |
probably place most women predators into two of Baker's four categories.
"My suspicion is if you took a large enough number of female predators,
they would fall into all four types. But, we know women are less anti-social than men, and there are
fewer female pedophiles, so I think most women are narcissistic or inadequate types of predators."
While a mental illness may produce hyper-sexuality, impulsiveness and poor decision-making, such a
diagnosis for a sexual predator is rare, according to Baker. They are more likely to have a personality
disorder (such as a anti-social, or narcissistic) or to have been sexually abused themselves.
The "Mrs. Robinson Syndrome"
Robert Weiss, executive director and founder of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, who provided
his expertise in one of the episodes, says sexual compulsions on the Internet are male-dominated.
But female predators are beginning to use the Internet - not in an anonymous way to find children
but to stay in close touch with those they are involved with. Rice, the former Tacoma teacher,
communicated online often with the 10-year-old she had sex with, according to court records.
Then there is the ultimate double standard: The wink wink, nudge nudge, of boys getting their sexual
initiation from grown women.
"Society sees it as they got 'lucky' " to receive a sexual initiation
from a woman, according to Dr. Keith Kaufman, chairman of the department of psychology at Portland State
University. "But their brain maturation isn't complete. Boys aren't in a position to give consent to
a sexual relationship. Girls see it as abusive much more quickly. Boys won't want to see themselves as a
There is a prevailing sense that boys are not harmed by sexual liaisons
with older women. It's called the "Mrs. Robinson Syndrome," after the character in the 1967 film "The
Graduate." But Benjamin, Mrs. Robinson's target, wasn't a child; he was in his 20s, had just
graduated from college and was contemplating that career in plastics.
"We tend to see the female teacher-male student relationship as less abusive and less harmful
psychologically," according to Dr. Susan G. Kornstein, a psychiatrist and director of the Institute for
Women's Health and the Mood Disorders Institute at Virginia Commonwealth
University. "But in fact, a sexual relationship between a female teacher and a male student can be
just as harmful and can have both short- and long-term consequences on the child's emotional
stability and psychological and sexual development."