The Los Angeles Times writes...
Female Sex Offenders Drawing Increased Scrutiny
Cases involving women and boys might make more headlines because of stricter enforcement and the public's fascination, experts say.
By Ann M. Simmons, Times Staff Writer
A casual observer of the news might think there was an epidemic of molestation cases involving women against boys.
Last week, a former Orange County middle school teacher was sentenced to six years in prison for committing lewd acts with boys. The same day, a seventh-grade teacher in Kern County pleaded not guilty to two counts of annoying and molesting a minor.
The next day, a probation officer was arrested on suspicion of having sex with a 17-year-old ward whom she met while working at a correctional facility in Fresno County.
Since November at least eight California cases have made the news, involving women either being accused or convicted of sexually exploiting boys. Most of the perpetrators were teachers or other school personnel.
In reality, the phenomenon is not new, sociologists and criminal psychologists say, nor is there a growing trend.
Statistics from the California attorney general's office show that the number of females convicted of sex offenses in the state averaged 386 per year between 2000 and 2004, a number in keeping with previous years. The average figure for men committing similar crimes during the same time period was more than 9,000.
It is unclear how the figures for California's female sex offenders compare to other states, because there is no nationwide information on the number of women who sexually abuse children, according to officials at the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.
More cases of women molesting boys might be making headlines because of stricter law enforcement and the realization that boys, not just girls, can be victims of sexual misconduct, experts agree.
"People are more willing to report these incidents if they hear about them," said David Finkelhof, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "Police are more willing to investigate them; prosecutors more willing to prosecute them; newspapers more willing to write about them."
"Everybody used to think that a 15-year-old male who got together with a 25-year-old female was just lucky," said Carla F. Grabert, a deputy district attorney in Kern County, who prosecutes unlawful sexual intercourse and statutory rape cases.
"But I think we are noticing a change of perception with the publicity that has happened nationwide," she said. "It gets thought about more. If it's publicized more, it generates conversation. There is a lot of talk about it."
In addition, studies show that there has been an overall decrease in sex crimes nationwide, so "criminal justice authorities have been freed up to investigate and prosecute cases that they would not have been able to do otherwise," Finkelhof said.
The Orange County middle school teacher sentenced last week, Sarah Bench-Salorio, 29, pleaded guilty in September to 29 counts of lewd conduct with boys. One of her victims was 12 years old when they met.
The Kern County teacher, Sherry Brians, 41, was charged with two counts of annoying and molesting a minor — a crime that carries a year jail term, a $1,000 fine, or both. She pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her alleged victim also was 12.
On Dec. 22, Jennifer Lynn Sanchez, a 31-year-old math teacher, also in Kern County, was charged with four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old student, and one count each of oral copulation and sodomy with the same student. A few days earlier, a former San Bernardino high school secretary pleaded guilty to statutory rape, also involving a 17-year-old pupil.
Grabert, the Kern County deputy district attorney, said that of the 20 to 25 sex crimes cases she prosecutes each quarter, on average, one-fifth of them involved female sex offenders.
Staff and students at Buttonwillow School, where Brians taught, expressed shock over her arrest.
"I was just stunned," said James Murphy, the school's principal, who described Brians as a teacher "adored" by faculty and students. "There was no indication whatsoever that could be considered that the alleged actions were committed by that person."
But some sociologists and psychologists say that fascination still tends to outweigh outrage among the general public when it comes to reports of female sexual predators.
Cases involving older teenagers having sex with an older woman are often viewed as a "coming-of-age scenario," said Paul G. Mattiuzzi, a Sacramento-based clinical forensic psychologist, who has testified in several court cases involving sex crimes.