Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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Women as sex offenders on the rise


An athletic trainer at Glen Rock High School sexually assaults a member of the girls' soccer team. A Clifton Middle School teacher has an affair with a 13-year-old boy.

In Bayonne, a high school guidance counselor is accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student. And at the Juvenile Detention Center in Paramus, a guard allegedly molests an inmate.

These cases represent a crime trend in New Jersey and throughout the country that has shocked communities and forced police, prosecutors, judges, and prison administrators to reevaluate their views of sexual predators.

That's because in all of these cases the accused is a woman.

Convicted female sex offenders were extremely rare 20 years ago. In 1980, state prisons nationwide housed barely 100. But the number has risen nearly every year since: Two years ago, state prisons held more than 1,200 convicted female sex offenders, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Little is known about their kind. Countless studies have analyzed male sex offenders, but only in the past couple of years have efforts been made to study their female counterparts. The very first state-sponsored treatment program for female sex offenders opened just two years ago, in the Texas prison system.

As a result, experts say, the damage that female sex offenders do to the lives of their victims is often underestimated. Many get away with their crimes - and those who are caught often receive comparatively light sentences.

"They are so out of character,'' said Philip Witt, a Somerville forensic psychologist who was previously director of psychology and research at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel, the state prison for male sex offenders.

idea that a woman is sexually predatory is often merely intriguing, and perhaps even titillating. They are not held to as strict a standard as men.''

A Glen Rock father experienced firsthand the havoc wrought by a female sex offender when high school athletic trainer Lois Weierstall sexually assaulted his 16-year-old daughter.

The girl was molested at Weierstall's River Edge home and in a car in Paramus. Weierstall, 50, pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault, and a judge sentenced her in September to four years in prison.

The father praised the sentence, but criticized the community's reaction to the crime. Instead of rallying around his daughter, some in town supported Weierstall. At her sentencing, one coach from the school called the veteran trainer "one of the finest people I've known."

Such statements belittled the impact of Weierstall's crime, the father said in an interview last week.

The girl felt ostracized. Some of her friends were told by their parents to stay away from her, he said.

"Many people looked at [Weierstall] as if she simply had a lapse in judgment,'' said the father, whose name is being withheld by The Record to protect his daughter's identity. "But the way I see it, she was very calculating and used her influence over somebody coming out of childhood.

"If it had been a male teacher, it would have been very different in terms of the community's reaction. In a way, the community wanted to ignore it.''

The parents of a boy who was molested by a female Clifton teacher also said their child's suffering was dismissed. Their anger, however, was directed at the judicial system.

Pamela Diehl-Moore, 43, assaulted the boy at least three times at her Lyndhurst home while she worked as a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. In sentencing her to probation - and no jail time - Superior Court Judge Bruce Gaeta said the affair may have been a way for the 13-year-old boy to "satisfy his sexual needs.''

The judge's leniency sparked such a public outcry that an appeals court voided the sentence and Gaeta was reassigned to civil matters. Diehl-Moore was resentenced in August to three years in prison.

"It was nice to see her led away in handcuffs,'' the boy's stepfather said at the time.

Diehl-Moore's original sentence was not unusual for a female sex offender.

In Minnesota, prosecutors recently sought the standard 12-year sentence outlined by state guidelines for first-degree sexual assault after a 42-year-old woman was convicted of raping a 15-year-old boy she tutored. However, the judge departed from the guidelines and gave the woman 20 years of probation and only a year in jail. For eight months of that time, she will be able to come and go in a work release program.

"The societal attitude in some of these cases is almost an inclination to congratulate these young men,'' Witt, the forensic psychologist, said of the victims. "There's a sense that he got a good initiation.''

Experts say there may not be more female molesters than in the past. Rather, they say, the increase may be at least partially the result of changes in the law.

New Jersey's sex crime statutes were filled with such male-oriented language before 1979 that prosecutors essentially had to accuse a women of using male genitalia to molest someone. A change to gender-neutral language made it easier for prosecutors to pursue female offenders.

In addition, experts say, more victims have been willing to report incidents than before, thanks in part to school-based programs and police investigators who are trained to work with rape victims.

"The whole thing has been demystified, and there has been the realization that women are capable of committing these acts,'' said William Plantier, the state Corrections Department's director of operations.

Even so, the vast majority of women who commit sex crimes get away with them, said Julia Hislop, a national expert on female sex offenders.

Compared with male offenders, women often have an easier time disguising deviant sexual behavior. They are protected by their traditional role as caregivers, and their victims are usually children with whom they have a relationship. For some, the role of teacher or baby sitter serves as a cover for abuse.

And it remains that many male victims are reluctant to come forward.

"Men and boys have to say they were victimized and had a bad sex experience, when they have been socialized to enjoy any sex they can get,'' said Hislop, a licensed clinical psychologist in Norfolk, Va., and author of "Female Sex Offenders: What Therapists, Law Enforcement and Child Protective Services Need to Know."

Efforts to break through the barriers are rising with the number of cases. When Witt, the former administrator at the sex offender prison, entered his profession 20 years ago, nobody talked about female sex offenders. Now the subject is on the agenda at most sex crime conferences, he said.

And treatment options are spreading. Following Texas' lead, Tennessee and Kentucky have established programs in their prisons that specifically target female sex offenders.

New Jersey has not. With so few convicted female sex offenders in the state, "it's cost-prohibitive,'' Plantier said. Despite the rising number of prosecutions, only 84 women have been sent to state prison in New Jersey for sex crimes since 1992, compared with nearly 6,000 men, state statistics show.

A profile of female sex offenders is emerging from initial studies. Nearly all the women were sexually abused themselves at some point, Hislop said. They tend to lead lonely lives with few friends and little family support, she said.

"These people are not emotionally very healthy,'' Hislop said.

The description fits Brooke Ann Hockenbury, 24, of Toms River, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for molesting a 7-year-old boy. Her husband, Scott Hockenbury, is also serving seven years in prison for the assault.

In an interview from prison last week, Brooke Ann Hockenbury said that getting arrested was the best thing that could have happened to her, because it saved her from an abusive relationship with her husband. She said he forced her to have sex with the boy.

"I think what happened was horrible,'' she said. "If I could take it back, I would. But this saved my life. It gave me the clear mind to get divorced.''

Some female sex offender cases are pending in North Jersey courts. In Hudson County, Diane West, 48, a Bayonne High School guidance counselor, faces second-degree sexual assault charges in the alleged rape of a 14-year-old male student in her home. And in Bergen County, 38-year-old Penny Rivera of Teaneck faces charges of criminal sexual contact for allegedly having a relationship with a 17-year-old male inmate at the detention center last year.

Hislop said it is important for everyone involved to know that the reality of being sexually assaulted by a woman is often very different from stereotypical fantasies.

The victims are left with feelings of guilt, depression, and a dysfunctional notion of relationships, she said. What's more, Hislop said, many men who go on to become rapists say that they were once molested by an older woman.

"When these women strike, they do a lot of damage,'' she said. "And when you are a victim, you don't care if it's a man or a woman who is assaulting you.''

Peter Pochna's e-mail address is pochna@northjersey.com

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