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Ask Dr. Helen: Should Men Be Kicked Out of the Church Nursery?

There's a double standard in our society when it comes to sexual abuse, writes Dr. Helen Smith, who reminds readers of the fact that many choose to overlook: women also commit sexual offenses against children.

by
Helen Smith

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January 11, 2008 - 1:00 am

Should men be kicked out of the church nursery for the crime of being male? Reader Sarah thinks this is unfair–so do I:

Dear Dr. Helen,
My question is in relation to an incident that happened recently at our church. A friend of mine was assigned to teach our son’s nursery class (like Sunday School, but for tiny ones ages 18 months to 3 years). There are about a dozen children in this class, so there were supposed to be two teachers, but they hadn’t assigned anyone yet, so my friend’s husband volunteered to help his wife out. A parent of one of the children complained to the bishop that a man was teaching the nursery class, so my friend’s husband was asked not to help out with the class anymore.

I understand that there’s been a problem in my church in recent years (not in my congregation, but in other congregations) with some high-profile cases where a male teacher, teaching alone, sexually abused a child in the Sunday School class, so I thought it was a good idea when they instituted the two-teacher rule (every class is to have two teachers, which for practical reasons is a good idea). But I think this is going too far. Women can’t kick all the men out of positions of caring for children, and then turn around and complain that men don’t help out with the kids or that there’s a shortage of teachers. I would like to go to the bishop and complain about this, but I need some facts first. I am familiar with conditional probabilities and would like to crunch a few numbers for him.

My question is, what are the actual chances that a man would sexually abuse a child vs. a woman abusing a child? What is the incidence of sexual abuse in general? What percentage of sexual abuses of children are committed by men vs. women?

Thanks,
Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Your bishop may not be as safe as he thinks if he uses only female teachers. Although PC books and statistics would like us to believe that women do not commit sexual offenses against children, this is not the case. For example, here is some interesting information on female sex offenders from the Canadian Children’s Rights Council:

As recently as 10 years ago, it was a common assumption that females did not or could not sexually abuse children or youth. Even some professionals working in the field believed that women represented only about 1% to 3% of sexual abusers at most. However, mounting research evidence about sexual abuse perpetration at the hands of teen and adult females has begun to challenge our assumptions, though these earlier and dated views still tend to predominate.

The percentage of women and teenage girl perpetrators recorded in case report studies is small and ranges from 3% to 10% (Kendall-Tackett and Simon, 1987; McCarty, 1986; Schultz and Jones, 1983; Wasserman and Kappel, 1985). When the victim is male, female perpetrators account for 1 % to 24% of abusers. When the victim is female, female perpetrators account for 6% to 17% of abusers (American Humane Association, 1981; Finkelhor and Russell, 1984; Finkelhor et al., 1990). In the Ontario Incidence Study, 10% of sexual abuse investigations involved female perpetrators (Trocme, 1994). However, in six studies reviewed by Russell and Finkelhor, female perpetrators accounted for 25% or more of abusers. Ramsay-Klawsnik (1990) found that adult females were abusers of males 37% of the time and female adolescents 19% of the time. Both of these rates are higher than the same study reported for adult and teen male abusers.

Part of the problem is that “86% of the victims of female sexual predators aren’t believed, so the crimes go unreported and don’t get prosecuted.”

A July 2000 Justice Department report found that females account for 4% of those sexually abusing children under 18. The report also says they account for 12% of those molesting kids younger than 6. In a U.S. Department of Education report released in June 2004, at least 20% of students reported sexual misconduct whether verbal or physical by a female teacher or aide.

This latter statistic does not surprise me. I remember in junior high a female biology teacher who was notorious for having sex with the middle school boys. People thought it was funny. It really isn’t. Some boys can also have psychological issues that are as serious or more serious than girls who are sexually abused at a young age by an authority figure.

In terms of how many people say they are sexually abused, some sources say “about 25 percent of women and up to 17 percent of men say they experienced sexual abuse as children, ranging from seeing someone exposing themselves to intercourse. Boys are less likely to report abuse.”

Naturally, people are concerned– abuse by someone in authority against a child is a betrayal of trust and is a terrible thing. However, when a woman does it, it is often not taken as seriously. We seem to have a double standard in our society when it comes to abuse committed by men and by women. Female sex offenders are said to be few and far between,yet female teachers are making the news for abuse cases. However, excuses are made for these women but not for men:

“Men are demonized, women are diagnosed. Men are beasts, but women are troubled or mentally ill,” said media scholar Matthew Felling in an interview with Fox News. In fact, accounts of women sexual offenders are often more titillating than harsh. Felling calls the news coverage of young, attractive teachers involved with their students “part crime drama, part Penthouse letter.”

Part of the problem is that even when women commit sexual offenses or violent offenses, we often don’t consider that a crime, or society finds it much less threatening and tends to be more lenient. That makes all the statistics questionable.

But even if men do pose a greater risk, would that justify this discrimination? In our society, we generally oppose “profiling” of racial groups on the basis that they’re more likely to commit crimes of violence or terrorism. Why is this sort of profiling somehow different? Ask your bishop these questions and see what he has to say. I do want to add that the two teacher rule sounds like a good one in order to protect all parties.

What do you think–should men be kicked out of the church nursery? The other question I have is, have any male or female readers out there had any experience with a tryst with an older woman while they were very young? If so, were you scarred, appreciative, or did you feel somewhere in-between?

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If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question-if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee and blogs at drhelen.blogspot.com. This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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