Many still don’t see women as sex predators
Boys can have trouble eliciting sympathy – when they’re willing to come forward
Sunday, December 17, 2006
By SARAH VIREN
Diana’s grandson came to her with his secret on a Thursday evening. School had just started after another humid summer, and she and the 14-year-old, whose parents had their bowling league that night, finished cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. She took a glass of iced tea and her cigarette pack outside for a smoke.
Minutes later, he followed. The boy said he had something to tell her, something that had been bothering him for many months. And that’s when things changed.
“He had broke down,” recalled Diana, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her family’s identity. “And he told me about it.”
Diana won’t say exactly what “it” was. But the Harris County Sheriff’s Office detailed the teenager’s disclosure in criminal reports this fall. Her grandson, a football player who speaks in ma’ams and sirs, said he had been sexually abused the year before, when he was 13, by a woman nearly 20 years his senior. She was a former neighbor and his mother’s close friend in Highlands, the small town just east of Pasadena where his family once lived. The pair had sex at least twice and sexual contact another time, according to the reports.
The teenager had been saving himself for marriage, he later told his grandmother. He worried that God might not forgive what he did.
Police arrested Deborah Joyce Lux, 33, in September and charged her with two felony sexual assaults of children: one in connection with Diana’s grandson and a second in connection with another teenager, a then-15-year-old boy from Highlands who also said he had sex with her.
Lux, who denied the charges, was indicted Dec. 8 and returns to court this week. She is one of at least six area women charged in recent months with sexual crimes involving underage boys in Harris County. Three were women who police say had sex with teenage neighbors, and one was a teacher in Pasadena accused of trying to arrange sex with a 16-year-old former student.
This past week, police also filed charges against Brandy Lynn Gonzales, a former Houston elementary schoolteacher who they say sexually abused at least five students between the ages of 11 and 13 in 2004.
“It happens all the time,” said Detective William Lilly, who handled Lux’s case.
Shifts in the legal system and public opinion have made it easier to prosecute women who molest boys in their pubescent years, experts say. And cases continue to draw public attention. But those who work closely with victims such as Diana’s grandson say rite-of-passage myths still make it hard for many, including jurors, to sympathize with older boys in such cases, who are also less likely to tell parents or police about abusive relationships with older women.
A Houston Chronicle analysis of sexual crimes registered through the Texas Sex Offenders Database indicates that, despite the publicity of some high-profile cases, such cases remain rare. According to the database, 267 registered sex crimes in the past 10 years included older women and teenage boys. Such cases made up less than half a percent of all sex offenses registered in 1996 and about 1.5 percent of sex crimes the first part of this year. Sex offenses by incarcerated offenders are not in the database.
Pam Hobbs, who heads the children’s court services program in Harris County district courts, said she’s seen police and prosecutors taking underage boys’ allegations more seriously in the past decade. Potential jurors, though, are another matter.
“The general public still does not let boys be victims like they do girls,” said Hobbs, a 23-year veteran of the department. “And I don’t think they hold the offenders as accountable when the offender is a female.”
Light sentences in some notorious cases brought public outcry from groups that say female offenders are getting a slap on the wrist. Last year in Florida, the blond, blue-eyed Debra LaFave got three years’ house arrest and seven years’ probation for having sex with a 14-year-old male student. Her lawyer famously said she was too pretty to go to jail.
But the most famous of these women, Mary Kay Letourneau, served seven years in prison for her relationship with a 12-year-old student. She married him last year.
Studies have been mixed on whether female offenders get lighter sentences. Prison records do not detail specifics of crimes, such as age or sex of victims or severity of abuse.
The Highlands case shows just how differently people react on the subject of women sexually abusing underage boys.
When the nightly news began broadcasting stories about Lux, some residents expressed shock, quickly calling her a child abuser. But doubters are still easy to find.
Pam Ward bartends at The Sunset, a dimly lit beer joint in the one-highway town. News of the abuse was the talk among her patrons for a few days, she said. Most knew only about the older boy, and few had sympathy for him.
“My own kids said, `Why did he even say anything? It was kind of cool,’ ” Ward said.
Ward grew up in an age when few believed women could sexually abuse boys. Her own son, now grown, dated a 42-year-old when he was 16, she said.
Historically, many statutory rape laws applied only to female victims.
But in the late 1970s, state laws, including Texas’, began to change. Alabama waited until the turn of the century to adopt gender-neutral language.
The legal definition of rape and the Catholic Church abuse scandal have helped the public realize boys can be victims, said Richard Gartner, a New York-based psychologist who works with male sexual abuse survivors.
“People are coming forward more,” he said. “The charges are being taken more seriously.”
When Gartner started talking to fellow psychologists about the subject in the early 1990s, he said, he got a lot of “blank stares.” People thought he was exaggerating the problem. Now, there are national organizations, conferences and online listserves dedicated to the topic.
Hobbs said she also has seen a shift. Ten years ago, she said, her office never handled cases like Lux’s. Now, she sees six to eight a year but thinks there are still more out there.
“That’s even not a lot,” she said. “And I think that’s in large part because some of those boys still aren’t telling.”
`Lifelong bragging rights’
Often police find out through friends or family members. That’s what happened with the older boy involved with Lux.
Lilly, the child-abuse detective, said he got dozens of calls from the boy’s mother saying her son was raped, but the high school student didn’t want to talk at first.
“A lot of times, it’s their parents that come forward, and, a lot of times, the males are very upset about that,” Lilly said. “(For) 15-, 16-year-old males, that female is a trophy. To them, that is lifelong bragging rights.”
Counselors say societal pressure can keep boys from expressing discomfort. Many times, they may have crushes on an older teacher or neighbor but aren’t ready for the adult sexual relationship that follows, counselors say. It’s only later in life that they realize the adverse effects.
“In my experience, men do not come to treatment as adolescents for these things,” Gartner said. “They are more likely to come to treatment on their own in their 20s – or more likely their 30s, 40s or 50s.”
Jeff Pickthorn, a member of Sesame, a Nevada-based nonprofit that works with youths sexually abused by teachers, said he reached that point only a few years ago. The 53-year-old had a sexual relationship with his teacher when he was 12. She was fired from her job but never arrested.
He went on to have two failed marriages and gambling and sexual addictions – problems he blames on the abuse.
“It sounds cool. It felt great, and all these things, but, when the day is over and all is done, it’s not right, and it does not work out well for the guy,” he said.
At least 26 of the registered female sex offenders in Texas once held teaching certificates.
Changes in behavior
Diana saw subtle changes in her grandson months before she knew what had caused them. For one, his grades dropped. He also developed a “nasty attitude.”
He later told her what happened had been eating at him and that he avoided going home when he knew Lux might visit his mother.
The teen declined an interview request.
“He does not want to talk about it,” she said. “He wants to forget about it.”
This, too, is typical of male victims. Carine Meyer, a sexual assault services coordinator at the Houston Area Women’s Center, said the center recently started a group-therapy session for male sexual abuse survivors. Fewer than five attended.
“It is hard for them to let themselves be vulnerable and admit that someone could have had control over them,” she said. “Teenage boys especially are very resistant to admitting they were abused.”
Houston-area women recently accused in sexual cases with underage boys:
On Aug. 21, police accused Katy resident Dina Marie Blakley, 38, of having sex with a neighborhood boy for a year and a half, starting when he was 11 and she was 33. Police say she told the boy he was the father of her toddler. She was indicted on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child in October and is awaiting trial.
On Sept. 11, Deborah Joyce Lux, 33, was charged with sexual assault of a child and aggravated sexual assault of a child. She’s accused of having sex with two boys, who at the time were 15 and 13 years old. Lux lived in Highlands and had been neighbors with the boys, who are not related. She is expected to appear in court next week. Her attorney declined to comment.
On Sept. 11, police arrested 26-year-old Laniece Linthicum, also of Highlands. She is accused of having sex with the same 15-year-old as Lux. Police say Lux told authorities about Linthicum, who admitted to having sex with the older boy from Lux’s case. She pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of indecency with a child by exposure and got five years of probation and must register as a sex offender.
On Sept. 27, police arrested Holly Christine VanSumeren, 31, a Pasadena middle school teacher, after her principal found inappropriate e-mail between her and a former 16-year-old student. Her attorney, C. Logan Dietz, said that Van Sumeren has checked into an alcohol-treatment facility. “She feels horrible and is incredibly embarrassed and feels like that is really not her,” he said.
On Nov. 11, police charged Renee Skinner, 35, with sexual abuse of a child after a 16-year-old from her Friendswood neighborhood said he had sex with her. Skinner has not been indicted and has denied the charges. Her attorney did not return a call for comment.
Last week, police arrested Brandy Lynn Gonzales, 27, on child sexual abuse charges involving five male students, 11 to 13, at Piney Point Elementary. Her husband, Johnny Gonzales, 31, faces one charge of sexual abuse of a child and one misdemeanor charge of failure to report sexual abuse.
Sex crimes registered through the Texas Sex Offender Database have dropped in the past decade, but the percentage of these crimes committed by women against teenage boys has risen slightly.
Offenses involving women and boys ages 13-18
Year Total sex offenses Number Percentage of total
1996 4,263 20 0.47%
1997 4,080 27 0.66%
1998 3,990 38 0.95%
1999 3,709 31 0.84%
2000 3,396 24 0.71%
2001 2,878 22 0.76%
2002 2,549 18 0.71%
2003 2,444 20 0.82%
2004 2,168 29 1.34%
2005 1,885 22 1.17%
2006* 971 16 1.65%
* First half of year