Debra Lafave: The case against female sexual predators
By Gordon E. Finley
Debra Lafave's case was over on March 21, 2006, and she immediately moved on to a new man, a national interview on CNN, and a new book to write. What an exciting and empowering outcome to this sordid event for her.
But, what of the 14 year old school boy she sexually molested and -- by all media accounts -- whose life never will be the same again? Will the male victim also move on to a new woman, a book, and a CNN interview. I think not.
I suspect, rather, that his life has been irreparably damaged and I shudder to think how this experience will shape his future relationships not only with his peers and parents but above all -- his adult relationships with women and perhaps even his role as a father – if ever he becomes one.
Ironically, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Tragically, I find nothing in this story that even remotely hints that any female sexual predator ever will be deterred by the legal outcome of the Lafave case. If anything, I would expect the legal resolution to encourage female sexual predators since they now know that they need not fear prosecution. Of perhaps greater concern, there already is evidence that Debra Lafave is not alone.
Evidence that she represents but the tip of the iceberg can be found in a 2004 U. S. Department of Education report titled "Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature." This report includes data from two large scale surveys wherein students report that 43 per cent of their molesters were female. Such a proportion of female sexual predators is high by any measure and demands action.
So, you may ask: "what is to be done?"
In my view, as a society we must come to face squarely the politically incorrect reality that female sexual predators do exist, do prey, and do so in substantial numbers. We need to create a paradigm shift wherein we reframe the sexual abuse debate to acknowledge the existence of both male and female sexual predators.
I believe that every state legislature needs to create and fund a Female Sexual Predator Act. As the Debra Lafave case makes clear – we need an Act to protect our sons and daughters from female sexual predators just as existing laws protect them from male sexual predators.
A Female Sexual Predator Act will serve two urgent purposes: First, and foremost, such an Act would provide immediate services and shelter to the victims of female sexual predators. By all media accounts, the victim in this tragic case clearly needs protective, therapeutic, and rehabilitative services.
Second, the Act should mandate and require equal treatment and equal punishment under the law for both male and female sexual predators. The double-standard in this case is blatant. Debra Lafave has made not only Tampa but also Florida synonymous worldwide with a reeking double-standard in the punishment of female and male sexual predators -- jail for males and fame and fortune for females.
Required changes in thinking and feeling are something that society is not going to find easy to make. First, we must acknowledge that the victims of female sexual predators are harmed just as the victims of male sexual predators are harmed. Second, for centuries it is females to whom we have entrusted our children for nurturance, care, and emotional support – not sexual abuse. As a society, we must open our hearts and minds to the reality that females can be sexual predators and that children can be victimized by these female sexual predators. However difficult these changes of heart and mind may be, they are nonetheless necessary for the sexual safety of our children.
Delay in passing a Female Sexual Predator Act only continues to leave our children at risk from further female sexual predation.
Gordon E. Finley is Professor of Psychology at Florida International University in Miami.
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