I was in an airport last week and struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me. After we discussed what we each did for a living, she pursed her lips and looked at me seriously. Then, she said, “What really disgusts me is that now women are becoming sex abusers.”
“It’s actually good news that you’re hearing about these cases,” I told her. She looked at me like I was nuts. That’s when I explained to her that women have been child sex offenders just as long as men have. But now … finally, their victims—girls and boys—are getting a shot at justice.
Why are these cases getting publicity and court time now? I think it’s a combination of factors:
First—Our overall societal awareness of sexual abuse has matured and our civil and criminal laws have become more victim-centered. More and more people recognize the signs of grooming. Most of us understand that it is never okay for an adult to have any kind of sexual or romantic relationship with a child, especially if the adult is in a position of power (like a teacher, pastor or coach).
Second — I think that we are finally shedding the stupid “hot for teacher” stereotypes. Most kids have innocent crushes on teachers. But these crushes are not “free passes” for female teachers to sexually abuse male or female students.
Third — It is NOT a “rite of passage” for a boy to be “broken in” by an older woman. It was not a rite of passage for me to be abused by my high school choir director and it was not a rite of passage for the more than 20 male victims of Msgr. Michael Harris to be molested by their high school principal. So why (for decades) when a 13-year-old boy was molested by his female middle school teacher, he was “ushered into manhood?” And why was it only okay when the teacher was attractive?
Fourth — Victims are breaking through the horrible stigma and shame that comes with being sexually abused by a woman. In the clergy sex abuse movement, male and female child sex abuse victims of nuns have been vocal advocates for change and accountability. As survivor Steve Thiessen so eloquently said:
I have heard from hundreds, who as kids, teens, and vulnerable adults (both male and female) have suffered the indignity of the loss of their innocence and trust by perpetrator nuns. I, like many others who were sexually abused by nuns, suffer the same life-long consequences as those kids, teens, and vulnerable adults (both male and female) that were abused by priests and religious men.
Stereotypes be damned. Abuse is a crime, no matter the sex of the perpetrator.