Former teacher Amanda Isles is accused of having sexual encounters with a 14 year old high school student in New York.(Photo: The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News)
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The exuberant comments were left on a story about a 27-year-old Catholic school teacher accused of raping a 14-year-old.
"Boy, did I go to the wrong schools!" said one. "I wish I had just ONE teacher like this!!!" said another. "I wish it happened to me when I was a teen in grade school," said a third.
It's a sentiment unlikely to be expressed when the perpetrator is a man and the victim a teen or preteen girl. In this case, though, the roles were flipped: the former teacher in court was a woman, Amanda Iles, and her alleged victim a male student at the White Plains school.
It's a double standard brought by society, experts say, to female sex offenders - one that not only minimizes the victimization of young boys, who are left with lifelong emotional scars, but contributes to lighter sentences for the women involved.
In 2005, Florida teacher Debra Lafave, who had a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old boy, received a sentence of house arrest for three years plus seven years probation. In 2010, Beth Modica, a former Rockland County, N.Y., prosecutor who had sex with two underage boys, was released from state prison after spending just 21 months behind bars.
According to the Center for Sex Offender Management, a Department of Justice project, in 1994, less than 1% of incarcerated rape and sexual assault offenders were females, or fewer than 800. By 2006, however, the FBI reported that females accounted for nearly 10% of sex crimes. And studies indicate that women commit approximately 20% of sex offenses against children.
Still, incidents are "severely underreported," says Curtis St. John, a spokesman for MaleSurvivor, a support organization.
"It's hard enough for a boy or a man to come forward when the offender is a male," said St. John, who was sexually abused as a 10-year-old boy by his male math tutor, a middle school teacher. "When it is a woman, society doesn't even let them (the boys) think of themselves as victims."
High-profile cases such as the one involving Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach, have gone a long way in helping men come to terms with their experiences, said Richard Gartner, a New York-based psychotherapist and author of the book, Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life after Boyhood Sexual Abuse.
Gartner said his private practice saw an uptick in male patients who had been sexually abused as children.
The online traffic to the website Malesurvivor.com, which has more than 11,000 registered users, doubled overnight after the Sandusky story broke, and doubled again the month of the trial, St. John said.
With stories of illegal sexual contact between women and teens - particularly female high school teachers and students - getting intense media attention lately, more people are likely to come forward and report these cases, experts say.
"Boys are socialized to think of the abuse as sexual initiation," said Gartner. But "these cases have contributed to an increase in awareness of females as sex offenders."
As for what drives the behavior of female offenders, particularly schoolteachers, Gartner theorizes that it is a combination of low self-esteem, a desire for power and a chance for a high school do-over.
For the victims, the effects can be devastating, including anger, depression, relationship issues and addiction.
It took St. John two decades and many therapy sessions to finally see himself as a victim.
"I always thought, 'It happened a long time ago; I am fine,'" he said. "Meanwhile, I am on my second marriage, with two kids, and deeply unhappy. It was my second wife who encouraged me to talk about my experience with a therapist."
In the Iles case, the boy's parents alerted law enforcement officials. The case is pending.
"That was the right thing to do," St. John said. "Listen to your children and believe your children. Perpetrators count on shame to help keep victims silent. As a male survivor you are not alone."
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News