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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 equally destructive." 

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 sentences."

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 
then-26-year-old teacher.

He said that was their only encounter, and that she turned her attention 
to others. 

"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 or 

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