Sex abuse double standard

I often write about the double standard in sex abuse cases. When women commit the same sex offense as men, women often receive lighter sentences and social praise for their actions. Prosecutors, judges, and juries tend to take female-perpetrated sexual violence less seriously, and one need only watch late-night talk shows to see how the public regards the issue.

Since Mary Kay Letourneau made national news for being convicted of raping her 13-year-old student, female sex offenders no longer remain hidden. There has been more research and discussion about women who commit sexual violence. However, we do not see what the situation is like for prosecutors. We do not get to see the double-bind they are in, and that ignorance may make some more cynical about prosecutors’ attitudes (see the previous paragraph). A recent article provides an insight into what prosecutors go through:

[Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders] tried his first female defendant sexual abuse case in 2000 when such cases were still almost unheard of. He said he took a very principled approach to the case and made the same plea offer he would have offered to a male defendant.

“After a three-day trial that included a confession, the case promptly went down in flames when the jury came back not guilty,” Sanders said.

“Afterward, jurors told me they believed the defendant was guilty but didn’t want her to go to prison.

“The victim, then about 15, was devastated because he thought no one believed him.”

With that child in mind, Sanders said he offered the next female defendant a probated sentence in a case that wasn’t nearly as strong. She pleaded guilty, and Sanders said he was accused in the press of having a double standard.

“So as a prosecutor, it’s a no-win situation,” he said.

“You can be principled and take a substantial risk of no justice, or account for society’s bias and get accused of bias yourself.”

Sanders later stated about the double standard towards female offenders, “By contrast, our juries have no problem sending male sex offenders to prison for long periods of time. We often get lengthier sentences from juries in male defendant sex cases than we do in murder cases.”

None of that is astounding. As a society, we view women as victims rather than abusers. We view them as innocent rather than responsible. Even feminism, with all its talk about equality, still presents women as completely at the mercy of men. No woman who commits a crime is solely responsible for her actions, nor should she be punished the same as any man.

When one looks at how jurors responded to the women Sanders prosecuted, it becomes clear that the issue is never the pain caused to the victims, but rather the potential “pain” caused to the woman. Our social narrative that women must be protected and sheltered, along a heavy dose of feminism’s “only women can be raped” nonsense, creates this dynamic, and it is a hard one to change.

In the case that sparked the article, the prosecutor gave former Bengals cheerleader Sarah Jones a deal that allowed her to walk out of court with no jail time because the victim reportedly would not cooperate with the prosecutors. According to a CBS article, the boy and his family now side with Jones.

Unfortunately, Sara Farmer, the Louisville prosecutor in the Jones’ case, sends the message that these cases simply will not be taken seriously. While Sanders gave an explanation for why prosecutors make these decisions, I cannot help but notice that even the plea deals are lighter for women than they are for men. If Jones were male and received the deal, what are the chances that Jones would not serve any jail time? What are the chances that the charges would be reduced from first-degree sexual abuse and unlawful use of electronic means to induce a minor to engage in sexual or other prohibited activities to felony custodial interference and misdemeanor sexual misconduct?

Farmer had a choice in the matter, and decided to choose the lowest amount of punishment possible. These are the decisions that prompt people like me to believe prosecutors like Farmer have a double standard.

The attitude is changing, but it is not changing fast enough to counteract cases like Jones’. There are far more cases like Jones’ than there are where women who prey on children, even small children, face real or any jail time. There is also this element:

[Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation] who leads the victims support group in Las Vegas, said boys molested by women may be further damaged by unhealthy coping behavior.

Boys who are abused are more likely to anesthetize with alcohol and drugs, drop out of school and commit suicide, she said.

Male victims overcompensate for being dominated by a woman at a very young age by becoming violent toward women as adults.

That lie that male victims will become abusers comes from someone who supposedly advocates on behalf of male victims. How can you possibly help abused men and boys if you tell the public that the only reason we should care about them is because they will become abusers?

We need to take female-perpetrated sexual crimes seriously, and we need to stop making excusing for women who offend and treating their victims like abusers. That is the way to make things change.

12 thoughts on “Sex abuse double standard

  1. “The damage that is done is done for the rest of their life,” Miller said. “They are going to be in a state of coping and dealing with that on different levels throughout their life.”

    While I think there’s some truth to that statement, for women it gets offers of a lot of help, and for men and boys,…. it’s like a recognition there’s nothing left to do for them, or with them… We want to bury them as dead.

  2. While I was going through court dealing with my sexual abuse as a child a guy I was going out with at the time told me that when he was about 14 a friend’s mother invited him to go with her for a ride to the next town. As this was something that he didn’t get to do he said yes and was excited to go. His friend was away at the time so he just figured she wanted the company. They all knew each other for many years. So once they got to the town they went to the park and bought food and ice cream. Then she said it was too late to drive back so she got a hotel room and pretended that he was her son so she’d only have to get one room. He didn’t think anything of it. This was his friend’s mother after all. Even when he called his parents to let them know he was okay and that they were staying the night all was fine. His words to me were that she asked him if he wanted to learn about how to love a girl. She was willing to teach him. He thought it was great. The only thing was he couldn’t tell a soul especially his friend; her son. That was the first time. It happened a couple of times after but at her house when no one was there. The last time was when his friend came home surprised that he was there and he had to lie and say he had come for him. By this time he figured he knew what he needed to know. He said he felt very uncomfortable.
    When I told him that he was sexually abused by her he flipped at me.He really believed that she was teaching him. I explained to him that him being 14 and her being in her 30’s it was sexual abuse. That she had no right to do what she did. He was only 14 after all. He argued with me. This woman lived up the street from him. When I said he could go to the same police officer who took my statement and I would go with him he really got mad. He was 32 at this time. He said that I was over dramatic. That guys would love to have what he had from her. No odds what I said there was no changing his mind. I have often wondered if I should have tried harder, but, he was an adult and I was going through my own case. He made excuses not to see me after that. Alcohol was an issue for him growing up. He said he was an alcoholic and that he goes to AA. When I saw him a couple of years later he was drunk. He had broken out a window at a club and he called me. I took him to hospital because he’d hurt his hands and they were bleeding. Afterwards, I took him home put him to bed so he could sleep it off. I watched him all night because I was afraid that he might get sick and smother in it. He made it through the night; got up the next morning and had coffee and toast, apologized, then left to go home. I called his mother to let her know he was on his way home. I never heard from him after. I have often wondered how he was and could only hope he was okay.
    Maybe you could give me some suggestions on what I could have done differently.

  3. Carol, sorry to hear about your friend. I think you handled the situation okay. Calling what happened to him “abuse” was not the best move. Many men do not think what happened to them was abuse, regardless of the sex of the offender. However, when the abuser is a woman, it is especially difficult for men to see it as abuse because of the social narratives and because many boys simply want to have sexual experiences (the same as many girls). It is difficult for them to think that something that they may have enjoyed was bad for them.

    Did he ever mention why he started drinking or anything about his relationships? If he had, those might have been a way to pivot to addressing what this woman did to him without calling it abuse. For instance, if he began drinking around the time he was with this woman, you could have asked if the woman’s actions had anything to do with that. If he had trouble with relationships, particularly trusting women or bonding with women, you could have asked if he thought what happened with the woman played a role in that.

    I know it sounds like a roundabout way of dealing with abuse issues, but for many men talking about it as abuse or addressing it directly is very hard. Overall, I think you did fine. There is nothing more you can do if he does not want to talk about what happened. Hopefully he is doing better.

  4. I think that it is very plausible that abused men will become abusers. I think that same idea holds true for females that were abused also. It doesnt mean that all abused individuals are like that but I feel it definately makes them more vulnerable to that kind of behaviour. By the way, good post.

  5. That lie that male victims will become abusers comes from someone who supposedly advocates on behalf of male victims. How can you possibly help abused men and boys if you tell the public that the only reason we should care about them is because they will become abusers?
    Simple. Men and boys are only worth paying attention to for the sake of the harm that they cause or may cause. When it comes to paying attention to men and boys for their own sake that’s just tabboo.

    Helping men and boys so that they can live on past their own abuse and lead healthy lives? Not worth it. Helping men and boys so that they won’t become a threat to other? Well now that is actually worth something.

  6. I apologize for the misquote in the Cincinnati Inquirer. I mean no disrespect to male survivors. In a study: Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Nov. 1998
    Gender role socialization and male-on-male
    vs. female-on-male child sexual abuse, By
    Lauren E. Duncan

    “For students
    offended by a teacher of the same sex, they
    fear the stigma of becoming a homosexual.
    “Additionally, boys offended by a female may
    live their lives overcompensating for having
    been dominated by a woman by becoming
    sexually violent/physically violent with women.
    Furthermore, students’ academics suffer
    when they are mentally obstructed by fear,
    confusion and anxiety. Many of these effects
    can last a lifetime and can be fatal.”

  7. Hello, Terri. While I understand that you meant not disrespect to male survivors, the study you cited is highly problematic. The researchers’ sample base was 105 predominantly African American, working class men. That is hardly representative of the general male population.

    Secondly, the researchers based their hypothesis on “the arguments of Black feminist scholars to examine how gender dominant group membership intersects with race and class subordinate group memberships in trying to understand the effects of sexual abuse on African American males.” That is an ideological perspective being tacked onto these men’s experiences, allowing the researchers to reach conclusions that maybe contrary to what the men actually think and why they behaved as they did.

    I could not find any of the quotes you cited above in the study. However, what I did find raises two issues. The researchers claimed:

    The sexual abuse of males by females also violates traditional gender norm because the female takes a dominant role and the male is placed in a submissive role. Sexual abuse by females, therefore, may represent a threat to victims’ masculine gender identity. The victim may try to compensate for this threat by exaggerating masculine role characteristics, which might be reflected in “hypermasculine” attitudes about gender roles and distorted masculine behavior in heterosexual relationships. Thus, the male victim of abuse by a female may be come more aggressive and dominant, especially in intimate relations with females. This might lead to more sex offending and higher levels of physical violence in heterosexual intimate relationships.

    But the studies they cited just a few paragraphs before that suggest otherwise:

    In addition, there may be a relationship between childhood sexual abuse and later sexual offending, although recent studies have questioned this conclusion on methodological grounds (c.f., Williams & Finkelhor, Gender Role Socialization and Child Sexual Abuse 7671990; Williams, Siegel, Banyard, Jasinski, & Gartner, 1995; and Burgess & Holmstrom, 1974; Groth, 1979; Groth & Burgess, 1980; Longo, 1982).

    There are two problems with this. One, at best, the researchers make conclusions without much or any evidence to support them. The evidence they do cite contradicts the researchers’ conclusions. Two, the ideological–in this case feminist–slant completely disregards that male survivors of male and female abusers may react in fear of those groups, and that fear may prompt what is perceived as homophobia or misogyny by others. Perhaps the “aggression and dominance” male survivors display towards women is just them trying to protect themselves from women they see as abusive. The researchers never factor that into their methodology.

    Speaking of their methodology, the questions they asked are so broad that it is difficult to reach any objective conclusions. The only objective element in their research was pulling the arrest records of the men interviewed. Thirteen percent of the men had been arrested for sex crimes as teens. However, the context of what happened is unclear, so the researchers’s conclusion that being abused by a female has any correlation with a male survivor becoming an abuser does not hold up.

    I think there is a huge problem with relying on a highly ideological study with a small sample size of deliberately picked male survivors (the majority of the men interviewed had been abused and taken to the hospital 20 years prior to the study and the researchers were essentially doing a follow-up) that is not representative of the male population.

  8. With all due respect, this is not the only study showing the severe trauma male survivors suffer by female victimization. Julie Hislop, Anna Salter, David Lisak all acknowledge in their studies that one of the many effects of men in this victimized category act out with anger or aggression. Like here:
    My whole purpose in the work that I do is to try to spare any child, male or female, the ‘soul’ injury that can potentially effect them for a lifetime or even end their lives. Again, I mean no harm or disrespect. I am passionately offended by adults who offend children.
    I wish you much success in your efforts to shine light on the darkness of child sexual abuse.

  9. Terri, I am not saying that no survivors of abuse ever become abusers (although I do think there is a difference between acting out in anger or aggression and abusing people). What I object to is the implication of your statement that “male victims overcompensate for being dominated by a woman at a very young age by becoming violent toward women as adults.” There is simply no evidence that all boys abused by women will become violent towards women as adults. That is what your statement implies, and after ten years of working with male survivors, reading studies, and speaking with people who treat male survivors, I know that statement is not true. The study you mentioned showed that. Kali Munro’s site shows that. The majority of the men abused by women as children do not abuse other people. They are more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else.

    I am not saying you do not what to help survivors. I am just saying that we need to be careful about how phrase statements about survivors becoming abusers because what we say affects how people treat them. We need to make sure people understand that while some abuse survivors become abusers, the vast majority do not. We also need to make that clear because it affects how male survivors view themselves. A recently published study addressed the impact that the “abused boys will become abusers” narrative has on fathers abused as children. We should not make male survivors view themselves as dangerous or untrustworthy because of something someone else did to them. And we should help male survivors because it is the right thing to do, not because we only care about them not abusing other people.

  10. Sticking female sex offenders in prison for long periods of time should be a feminist goal.

    They want women to have Agency, and be seen as responsible for their actions. This means being held to account and punished when they do something wrong.

    The fact that it is not says a lot about feminism.

  11. Pingback: You’re not helping v10 | Toy Soldiers

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