Sandra Cantu Case: Accused Female Molesters Rare, Often Accomplices
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
April 15, 2009
Police accusations this week that the woman charged with the murder of Sandra Cantu penetrated the Tracy, Calif., 8-year-old with a "foreign object" sent psychological chills up the spine of Americans.
The arrest of Melissa Huckaby, a 28-year-old mother and Sunday school teacher, on charges of kidnapping, rape and murder also sent up red flags for criminologists.
Women are rarely sexual predators -- only about 5 percent to 15 percent, according to experts -- and when they do molest children, they are more often accomplices.
Monday, San Joaquin County police accused Huckaby of murdering her daughter's playmate and stuffing her body in a suitcase that was found April 6 floating in a pond.
Huckaby, who is the granddaughter of the minister at Tracy's Clover Road Baptist Church and lived five doors down from Cantu in a mobile home park, could face the death penalty.
While rare, women do commit sexual acts against children. Research reported in a 2000 article in the Journal of Sex Research cites well-accepted studies by David Finkhor and Diana Russell that found women may account for up to 5 percent of the abuse of females and 20 percent of males.
These statistics include women either acting alone or with a partner. Six percent of sexual abuse against females and 14 percent against males is carried out by females alone.
"There are so few female pedophiles," according to Jack Levin, a criminologist who teachers the sociology of violence at Northeastern University in Boston. "There are some, but the ones I've seen who are sexually motivated have a partner."
"They go along with it for the love of the man," Levin told ABCNews.com. "So even when the crime is sexual, they may not be motivated by sex."
Women are stereotypically nurturing and less threatening, and therefore images of women who are accused of molestation, such as the defendant in the Sandra Cantu case, jar our sensibilities, said crime experts.
When women are the perpetrators, they are often psychotic, according to Judie Alpert, a professor of applied psychology at New York University, who works with adults who were abused as children.
Often unreported, cases of female abusers show they are often victims of sexual molestation or emotional abuse themselves.
"Males are motivated by a lot of things, but they are usually not as unstable," she told ABCNews.com. "Men are more likely to abuse alone."
"Sometimes women participate with their husbands and abuse when the partner abuses," Alpert said. "Sometimes a married couple does it as part of ritual abuse."
(To read original article, visit this ABC News link)