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More women charged in sex cases

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In courtrooms nationwide this month, at least seven women -- four of them teachers -- have been charged or sentenced for having sex with boys, mostly teenagers. One of the women is pregnant.

Tuesday in Georgia, Lisa Lynette Clark, 37, was indicted in the molestation of her son's 15-year-old friend, who she says is the father of the baby she's expecting. She was arrested one day after marrying the boy, legal under Georgia law if the bride-to-be is pregnant.

No definitive data exists on whether more women are sexually abusing children. Yet the number arrested for sex crimes has risen in five of the past six years as more people consider molestation of boys as heinous as that of girls.

"There's been a decline in the double standard. That's why you're seeing more of these cases," says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. As more women enter law enforcement, he says the old attitude that boys are willing, even lucky, participants has changed.

Richard Gartner, a New York psychologist and author of Betrayed as Boys, says scandals involving Catholic priests and the case of Mary Kay Letourneau helped focus attention on boys as sexual victims. Letourneau, a former Washington state teacher, had two children in the late 1990s with a former student, whom she married this year.

Advances are confusing

"It's hard for boys to think of themselves as victims," Gartner says. He says adult sexual advances are confusing to boys, who are easily aroused physically but may be uncomfortable emotionally. He says boys are led to believe they should take sex whenever offered and if they don't, something may be wrong with them. "It is a trauma for many boys," he says, adding they may -- as adults -- realize they lost some of their childhood.

Experts, including Finkelhor, don't know how often women molest kids, because most offenses are never reported. They say boys, the target of most female offenders, are less likely than girls to report them. Yet women account for a rising share of arrests for all sex crimes since 1995, according to FBI data.

Females account for 4% of those sexually abusing children under 18, a July 2000 Justice Department report found. The report says they account for 12% of those molesting kids younger than 6.

In the past 18 months, at least 25 cases nationwide involved female teachers molesting students, says Robert Shoop, a professor at Kansas State University and author of Sexual Exploitation in Schools: How to Spot It and Stop It.

In a U.S. Department of Education report released in June 2004, at least 20% of students reported sexual misconduct -- whether verbal or physical -- by a female teacher or aide.

"It is a big problem," says the report's author, Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Hofstra University.

Shakeshaft says few schools train teachers in how to identify and handle it. Four former teachers this month have been charged with or sentenced for molesting teen boys: Kimberly Ann Cordrey-McKinney, Margaret De Barraicua, Sandra Geisel and Debra Lafave.

Teen boys are less likely to have sex with older women than teen girls with older men, but when they do so, the age gap tends to be larger, according to a report released in September by Child Trends, a non-profit research group.

At least three women sentenced or charged this year were pregnant or delivered babies: Clark, Tani Leigh Firkins and Rebecca Ann Boicelli. "These women are psychologically not much older than their victims," says Gartner. "They're attracted to kids they can handle. They're 14, too."

Shoop says men are more apt to be serial offenders while women typically focus on one child and go through a falling-in-love courtship. "They see this child as a significant other," he says, even if they have husbands or kids. He says they like the sense of power.

"The female sex offender has more social and sexual inadequacies" than other women, says Susan Strickland, a forensic social worker in Atlanta.

"They come from really weird, bizarre families where they don't get clarity about boundaries," she says. "They have issues relating to adult partners." She says female offenders, especially those molesting pre-pubescent kids, are more likely to have been sexually abused or otherwise traumatized as kids.

'I'm not the same boy'

Silvia Johnson, a 41-year-old Colorado woman sentenced this month to 30 years in prison for plying teen boys with alcohol and drugs and having sex with them, says she wanted to fit in with her daughter's friends.

"I think I fell in love with being part of the group," Johnson said in a police interview, "because that was never something I was part of, growing up. I was never in the popular group. Here I was considered the cool mom. Guys would flirt with me."

Gartner says victimized boys have trouble developing age-appropriate relationships. He says they are more likely as adults to suffer depression, anxiety, drug addiction and resort to pornography and one-night stands.

Boys themselves have described their pain in courtrooms. As underage sex victims, their names are withheld to protect their identities.

"I'm not the same boy. At school I became the center of attention. Everyone knew my name," said a 16-year-old boy in a letter read in court in Sacramento, Calif., this month. De Barraicua was sentenced to a year in jail for having sex with him. The boy's mother also wrote a letter saying he has been so traumatized "his hair is falling out."

The father of a boy molested in Colorado told the court that the offender, Silvia Johnson, "took away my best friend, my hunting buddy. I can't have him back now. He is gone."

Some boys defend the adults who molest them. The 15-year-old boy who married Clark says she never seduced him. "She's done a lot for me, you know," he told Atlanta TV station WGCL. "She's been good to me."

Yet his grandmother and legal guardian, Judy Hayles, is appalled. She told ABC her grandson is too young to get a driver's license, let alone become a father. Georgia law lets minors wed without parental consent if the bride is pregnant. Asked about Clark, she says, "My skin just crawls thinking about her."

While more women are getting attention for molesting children, their jail terms often are less than what men receive. Last week in Tampa, Lafave, 25, avoided jail time for molesting a 14-year-old student. She got three years of house arrest and seven years' probation.

With jail time, says Gartner, "we definitely still have a double standard."

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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