When predator is a woman, are rules relaxed?
Cristina Rouvalis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 16, 2008
Jason Eickmeyer was a 15-year-old sophomore at Hammonton High School in
New Jersey the night he said he had sex with his gym teacher. From that
moment on, he counted the days until he would be old enough to marry her.
Male classmates who heard the rumors would nudge him on the shoulder, he
said, and give him a knowing smile.
"I got respect," he said.
Two years later, after the police came to his house and took his
statement against teacher Traci Tapp, Mr. Eickmeyer was shunned and
mocked. He became a Jay Leno punch line.
Friends would ask him,
"How could you say you were victimized by having sex with a teacher? She was hot. She was young. She was the best thing
that ever happened to you."
Turns out, he said, it was the worst thing. He stopped going to many
classes, dropped out of wrestling (his ticket to a college scholarship)
and became depressed. And now the 20-year-old has sued the school
district, the township and Ms. Tapp, who lost her job but served no jail
time after pleading guilty to harassment by offensive touching.
"When we find out it is a male teacher having sex with a female student,
he should be locked away and the key should be thrown away," Mr. Eickmeyer said. "If it is a female teacher, she isn't looked on as
harshly as a male."
Is there is a double standard?
Are female predators an under-reported danger or merely a titillating
In recent months in Western Pennsylvania alone, Abbie Jane Swogger, a
34-year-old special education aide at Highlands Senior High School, was
charged with drug violations and corruption of minors after police found
her in a New Kensington hotel with students.
Beth Ann Chester, 26, a former Moon Area teacher, is headed to trial on
accusations of having sex with a 14-year-old boy.
Julie Stimmel, a North Allegheny High School teacher resigned after
being suspected of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old
student and has surrendered her state teaching certificate. Prosecutors
said they could not proceed with the case because the student was
unwilling to testify.
Gordon Finley, psychology professor at Florida International University
in Miami, believes such cases are just the tip of the problem.
"We need to remove the veil of political incorrectness and look at it honestly.
We have tons of research on male sexual predators and very little on females. We need to acknowledge that it is not insignificant numbers. It
is not the occasional mentally disturbed female. It is not 2 or 10 percent. It is much higher than that."
Dr. Finley believes female predators often get lighter sentences than
males . So does Robert J. Shoop, a Kansas State University professor and
author of "Sexual Exploitation in Schools: How to Spot It and Stop It."
"The female is likely to get a suspended sentence," he said. "A male is
likely to get a 20-year sentence. Many of these female teachers who have
sex with a child go on national talk shows and say, 'I was an excellent
teacher except I had sex with a 14-year-old.' It is a hard sell for many
people to believe that the punishment should be the same. But they are
Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who
wrote a 2004 Department of Education report on school sexual misconduct,
disputes the notion of a double standard in punishment.
"You see two or three cases where women are not getting sentences" and people take that
as evidence that women get off light generally, she said. Her research,
however, suggests there aren't gender differences in severity of
Though sexual abuse is considered an underreported crime, Dr.
Shakeshaft's report showed that 10 percent of all students said they had
been the victim of sexual misconduct by an adult working in a school.
And in nearly a third of those cases, the students said the incidents
occurred with female teachers and employees, who make up the
overwhelming number of staff.
Among all adults, sexual predators are 95 percent male, said David
Finkelhor, director of Crimes against Children Research Center at the
University of New Hampshire. Some men are pedophiles, who tend to be
repeat offenders with children 12 and younger, leaving a wider swath of
destruction, he said. But when females are sexual predators, they tend
to abuse teenagers.
Dan Barber, an Erie private investigator who has tracked down many
molesters, agrees with Dr. Finkelhor that female predators tend to be
less dangerous than males. Mr. Barber hates to read headlines about them.
"We have these Playboy foldout young women seducing high school boys.
Most responsible adults would clearly say this is wrong. We are not paying these people to have sex with the kids. 'Fire that witch.'
"But let us not make a federal case out of this. It happens. It is not a
crisis. I know there are these monster pedophiles in class.
Statistically, they are all men."
But others say female seducers can be devastating, too, even though they
often act like love-struck teenagers themselves. For example, police
have accused Beth Ann Chester, the ninth-grade health and physical
education teacher, of sending a male student nude photos of herself and
lurid text messages.
"They flirt and carry on a friendship," Mr. Shoop said. "They write
their name on their books. They text-message them. They are not in love
with the child, but they are using them for sexual gratification."
Owen Lafave was arguably the most humiliated man in the country in June
of 2004 when his wife, Debra, a Tampa teacher, was booked for having sex
with a 14-year-old student. She pleaded guilty, but got no jail time.
"Some of the things she did were outlandish," Mr. Lafave said in a phone
interview from Florida. "She had the boy's cousin drive them around while they had sex in the back" of the car.
At first, when the case broke and sexy photos of his wife were splashed
all over the paper and people questioned his masculinity, Mr. Lafave
said, he wanted to hide in a cave.
But then he started to talk to some of the male victims of female
predators and realized how it had devastated their lives.
"As a kid, you don't have the perspective. You might think of it as a good thing. As
times goes on, they have intimacy issues, substance abuse, obsessive compulsive disorders. It destroys them."
That was the case for Mr. Eickmeyer, the former New Jersey high school
student, who has sued Ms. Tapp for sexual assault and harassment and
sued the school district and the township.
Arnold Mellk, Ms. Tapp's attorney, said,
"We believe that Mr. Eickmeyer's allegations will be shown for what they are."
He also said Ms. Tapp's plea agreement concerned an incident with
someone else, not Mr. Eickmeyer. But Police Detective Joel Frederico
said it was Mr. Eickmeyer's statements that led to the plea. Two other
males, including one who had moved in with her at age 18, were unwilling
to testify, Mr. Frederico said, so the case centered on Mr. Eickmeyer.
Though she did not go to jail, Ms. Tapp has been barred from public
Mr. Eickmeyer said Ms. Tapp first approached him in February 2003 in the
gym, telling him,
"Oh, Jason Eickmeyer. So the rumors are true?"
"What rumors?" he asked.
"I heard you were pretty cute," he quoted her as saying.
They started flirting with each other in school and began talking for
hours on the phone.
He asked to go over to her apartment, getting a lift from a cousin, and
stopping on the way at a gas station to buy a rose. They had sex, he
said, and he stayed the night, leaving totally smitten with the
He said that was their only encounter, and that she turned her attention
"I lost control," he said.
"Boys are taken to emotional places they can't cope with," said Dr.
Shakeshaft. "They are asked to keep things secret and to lie, which does
harm to them. They often feel exploited and used."
"He was clearly shattered by it," Mr. Frederico said. After talking to
police in 2005, Mr. Eickmeyer said, he got angry phone calls from
friends, he said, and even a staff member.
"Suck it up," a friend told him. "So you had sex with a teacher. It is
not the worst thing."
Cristina Rouvalis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or