Monday, September 22, 2014
Women make up small percentage of sex offenders
Posted: Tuesday, September 16, 2014
They connected on a mental level, authorities say. She was 29 and he was 14.
They talked and exchanged text messages, some with sexually explicit photos that she sent him, police said. During at least three secret rendezvous, they had sex before the six-month relationship ended with the 2011-12 school year, they added.
Fast forward two years and the Central Bucks School District band director, Bridgett Szychulski, now 31, is facing criminal charges for her alleged sexual contact with the boy who was her student when she worked at Lenape Middle School.
The case is the latest in a series of local women accused of engaging in sexual relationships with children.
On Monday, the day before Szychulski, who is married, a mother and pregnant, surrendered to police, a 26-year-old woman was arrested by Middletown police accused of plying a 13-year-old boy with vodka before sexually assaulting him last month.
Since 2012, four more Bucks or Montgomery county women — all but one a school teacher — have been accused of inappropriate relationships with students.
Still, the number of women sex offenders is low compared to the number of men who commit similar crimes.
In Pennsylvania, eight of the 1,142 registered sexually violent predators — considered at highest risk for re-offending — are women, according to the state’s Megan’s Law registry. Among Bucks County’s 375 registered sex offenders, seven are women. In neighboring Montgomery County, women account for 17 of the 631 registered sex offenders.
In a potential demographic shift, a significant increase was seen in the number of adolescent girls entering the juvenile court system for sex offenses between 1997 and 2002, according to the federal government. Among this age group, incidents of female-perpetrated forcible rapes, other violent sex offenses and nonviolent sex offenses jumped 6 percent, 62 percent and 42 percent, respectively, the Department of Justice found.
Behavior experts have suggested that more research into female-driven sex crimes is needed, suggesting that a new offender typology needs to be developed. Women sex offenders share some common traits with male sex offenders, particularly grooming behaviors, choosing victims they know, and using emotional manipulation, not physical violence, to continue a relationship, behavior experts said.
Women sexual predators are often overlooked because society historically views them as nurturers, not dangerous, behavior experts say. Many alleged female sex abusers are young (31 is the average age of a first offense), attractive, even married, according to studies.
Lingering stereotypes about sexual contact between adult women and teen boys also often minimizes its seriousness, according to studies and experts.
Researchers have found that most law enforcement training ignores women as potential sex offenders. Studies have found police officers reacted with “disbelief” to allegations of sex crimes involving women, minimized the seriousness of the reports, viewed female suspects as less dangerous and were more apt to label a case as “unfounded.”
Females don’t fit sex offender stereotypes, according to psychologist Julia Hislop, who has extensively studied female sex offenders. Hislop’s research has found that women who engage in sex acts with juveniles rarely show an exclusive sexual preference for children. Many, but not all, female abusers have experienced childhood sexual abuse. Women also tend to focus on one or two individuals, rather than multiple victims as is more common among male abusers.
In her research, psychiatrist Janet Warren, of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, says she has never encountered a woman pedophile. Neither have any of her colleagues, including Hislop, she said.
She believes that many of these adult woman/teen boy relationships aren’t about sex and control as much as emotional attachment. She described women sex offenders — particularly teachers — as “situational offenders.”
“I don’t think of these women as predatory,” Warren said, adding that studies suggest the rate of sexual abuse in schools is higher than most anticipate.
A common denominator among young sexual assault victims is frequently their abuser is someone they know, trust and often love, according to Patti Levenberg, counseling coordinator for the Bucks County Network of Victim Assistance. Often they don’t see the sexual contact as wrong, she said.
“If someone knows the victim and the victim trusts that adult, in that relationship it creates access,” Levenberg said, adding that “Secrecy is the key to maintaining the relationship for the offender.”
Bucks County authorities say the now 16-year-old accuser notified Szychulski — a married mother of a 4-year-old boy and expecting a second child — that he told a friend in July about their past relationship.
Authorities said the allegations of inappropriate contact were reported Thursday by an anonymous “mandated reporter” to the Pennsylvania Child Abuse Hotline in Harrisburg. The boy was interviewed that day at the Bucks County Children’s Advocacy Center in Warwick, where he also disclosed the alleged sexual contact, according to court documents.
That such behavior could take place under the noses of adults isn’t unusual, NOVA’s Levenberg said. The secret nature of the relationships makes it harder for other adults to see “red flags” that something is wrong, especially if the adults around the child also trust the offender.
“It’s difficult for children, especially kids in their early teens, to really look at this through the perspective of abuse or victimization because it’s a relationship that is built,” she added. “They see it as a relationship, not a situation in which they are being forced or controlled or manipulated. It’s harder for them to view it as that.”