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December 11, 2005
Ideas & Trends
The Siren Song of Sex With Boys
By KATE ZERNIKE
WHEN Sandra Beth Geisel, a former Catholic schoolteacher, was sentenced to six months in jail last month for having sex with a 16-year-old student, she received sympathy from a surprising source.
The judge, Stephen Herrick of Albany County Court in New York, told her she had "crossed the line" into "totally unacceptable" behavior. But, he added, the teenager was a victim in only the strictly legal sense. "He was certainly not victimized by you in any other sense of the word," the judge said. The prosecutor and a lawyer for the boy's family called the judge's comments outrageous. But is it possible that the 16-year-old wasn't really harmed?
The last few months have produced a spate of cases where women are prosecuted for having sex with boys: Debra LaFave of Florida, another teacher, faces trial for sleeping with a 14-year-old student; Lisa Lynette Clark of Georgia was impregnated by her son's 15-year-old friend, whom she married a day before she was arrested; Silvia Johnson of Colorado was sentenced to 30 years for having sex with teenagers and providing drugs and alcohol.
Certainly no one doubts that a teacher who has sex with her students should lose her job. Or that a 37-year-old mother should not find herself pregnant by her son's 15-year-old friend. Or that a 41-year-old mother who provides sex, drugs and alcohol to teenagers so she can be cool among her daughter's friends is troubled.
But when the women face prison, questions are raised about where to set the age of consent. And because many of those named as victims refused to testify against the women in what they said were consensual relationships, not everyone agrees that the cases involve child abuse.
"We need to untangle the moral issues from the psychological issues from the legal issues," said Carol Tavris, the author of "The Mismeasure of Women" and a social psychologist. "That's the knot." She added: "You may not like something, but does that mean it should be illegal? If we have laws that are based on moral notions and developmental notions that are outdated, do we need to change the laws?"
Though it might seem that way from the headlines, women having sex with teenage boys is not new. A federal Department of Education study called "Educator Sexual Misconduct," released last year, found that 40 percent of the educators who had been reported for sexual misconduct with students were women.
Charol Shakeshaft, the author of the study and a professor of education at Hofstra University, said that even when the woman is not a teacher, the relationships are not healthy. "A 16-year-old is just not fully developed," she said. "Male brains tend to develop the part that can make decisions about whether it is a wise thing to do later."
Prosecutions of women have been rising slightly in the last several years, said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Mr. Finkelhor says he believes that the scandal involving sexual abuse by priests called more attention to cases with teachers and other authority figures. But the cases also reflect a decline in the double standard applied to men and women, brought on, he said, by increasing numbers of female prosecutors and police officers who may not buy into the traditional notion that a boy who has sex with an older woman just got lucky.
But several studies have raised questions about whether the recent cases should be filed under child sex abuse.
The most controversial study was published in 1998 in Psychological Bulletin. The article, a statistical re-analysis of 59 studies of college students who said they were sexually abused in childhood, concluded that the effects of such abuse "were neither pervasive nor typically intense, and that men reacted much less negatively than women."
The researchers questioned the practice, common in many studies, of lumping all sexual abuse together. They contended that treating all types equally presented problems that, they wrote, "are perhaps most apparent when contrasting cases such as the repeated rape of a 5-year-old girl by her father and the willing sexual involvement of a mature 15-year-old adolescent boy with an unrelated adult."
See! All statutory rapes committed by men are on 5 year old girls. Whereas those vixen female rapists only assault teens. All better!
In the first case, serious harm may result, the article said, but the second case "may represent only a violation of social norms with no implication for personal harm."
They suggested substituting the term "adult adolescent sex" for child abuse in some cases where the sex was consensual.
"Abuse implies harm in a scientific usage, and the term should not be in use if there is consent and no evidence of harm," said Bruce Rind, an author of the study and a psychology professor at Temple University.
This view could prove a hard sell, politically and legally. The article in Psychological Bulletin was roundly criticized by prominent conservatives and denounced in Congress, as was the judge in Ms. Geisel's case. In 2003, Bruce Gaeta, a New Jersey judge, was reprimanded by the state's highest court for characterizing an encounter between a 43-year-old female teacher and a 13-year-old boy who had been a student as "just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship."
Pamela Rogers Turner, a Tennessee teacher, was sentenced in August to nine months in jail for sex with a 13-year-old boy.
Thirteen? Professor Rind and others agree that that is too low to set the age of consent, making 12 truly out of bounds - the age of Vili Fualaau when he began having sex with the most infamous of the teachers in sex scandals, Mary Kay Letourneau. (The fact that a decade later the two are married and even registered for china at Macy's has not changed anyone's mind.)
But Professor Rind and others point out that Canada and about half of Europe have set the age of consent at 14 after recommendations by national commissions. To set it much higher, as most states do, they say, ignores the research, and the hormones.
Even those who argue for more protection of children agree that the laws in this country can be arbitrary. In Ms. Geisel's case, she was caught first with a 17-year-old student, but because he was of legal age, she was charged only after his 16-year-old friend came forward and said they had taken turns having sex. Can a few months make such a difference?
"I'm torn, I don't know," Professor Shakeshaft said. "Teachers are always wrong. And it would be my belief that people aren't formed by 16. On the other hand, my mother married my father at 16 and they were married 65 years."
Professor Finkelhor agrees that there is variability among cases and teenagers but says it's better to err on the side of safety.
Time to bridge the gender gap, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation
When it comes to heart disease and stroke, Canadian women's progress has not kept pace with men's, according to the 2007 Heart and Stroke Foundation Annual Report on Canadians' Health. Research shows that, compared to a man, a woman's risk of dying following a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke is higher, women are less likely to be treated by a specialist, are less likely to be transferred to another facility for treatment, and less likely to undergo cardiac catheterization or revascularization.
"It's a real concern that women's heart health has not kept pace with men's," says Dr. Beth Abramson, cardiologist and spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "There has been some progress in closing the gender gap, but when it comes to Canada's leading cause of death, there are women who may be under-served on the front lines compared to men."
For years, it was assumed that care differences occurred because women tended to be older and sicker at the point they were hospitalized. But recent analysis shows that even when you control for age and other health conditions, a women's risk of dying within the first 30 days is 16% higher for heart attack, and 11% higher for stroke, than a man's. The reasons for this are unclear - contributing factors may be systemic, social, and biological - but answers need to be found.
Further, the Heart and Stroke Foundation reveals that for the first time in 30 years, women have caught up to men when it comes to the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Number of Deaths From Heart Disease and Stroke: Women vs. Men, 1973 to 2003
Number of deaths from cardiovascular disease, Statistics Canada
In 1973, there were 23% fewer female than male deaths from heart disease and stroke (34,924 female deaths vs. 45,404 male deaths). By 2003, the number of male deaths had fallen (by 19%, to 37,004), while the number of female deaths increased (by 5% to 36,823). For the first time, the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke combined is virtually the same between women and men (36,823 vs. 37,004).
(For those of you who are mathematically challenged, 36,823 is now greater than 37,004)
"Canadians have this cozy misperception that having a heart attack or stroke is no longer a big deal - that you can be hospitalized, treated, and return home good as new," says Dr. Abramson. "But the reality for a lot of people - particularly for women - is very different.
"Almost 37,000 Canadian women will die of heart disease and stroke this year, and women have a higher risk of dying after a heart attack or stroke. We need to better understand why, and this inequity needs to be addressed. This is a serious health issue for Canadian women."
Other findings include:
* In 1973, there were twice as many male than female deaths from heart attacks (20,680 vs. 10,539). Although men continue to lead in heart attack deaths, by 2003, the gap had closed: male deaths dropped by 49% to 10,643 but female deaths had dropped only 24% to 8,019.
* Not enough Canadians are referred to a cardiologist following a heart attack and women fare more poorly than men. Only 32% of women see a cardiologist after a heart attack, compared with 38% of men. Seeing a specialist is important - when you account for age and other conditions, the risk of dying is 47% lower for patients treated by a cardiologist.
* In 1973, there were 10% more female than male deaths from stroke (8,523 female deaths vs. 7,702 male deaths). By 2003, the number of female deaths from stroke had climbed to 8,951 while the number of male deaths dropped (to 6,332). As a result, in 2003 there were 41% more female than male deaths from stroke.
* Studies have shown that at all ages, women have a higher in-hospital mortality rates following heart attack than men (see Table 1).
* Women also have lower rates of undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery and angioplasty (a non-surgical procedure to reopen blocked coronary arteries; see Table 2).
My Turn: The Stage of Grief No One Admits To--Relief
When my husband was killed in an accident, I refused to let society dictate how I should grieve.
By Jennifer Elison
Jan. 29, 2007 issue - I'm so sorry. we did everything we could." The surgeon's haggard face proved his words. My 31-year-old husband was dead, killed in a car accident on his way home from work. Doctors and nurses gathered around me, ready to catch me if I fell.
Then convention took over, and I found my voice. "Thawnk you," I said to the surgeon, taking his hands in mine, "for everything you did to try to save him." Mechanically, I turned to the next set of hands, and the next, thanking each person as they all watched me warily. I'm sure they thought that as soon as the words sank in, I'd fall to the ground.
I was in shock. But I was also aware of a bewildering mix of sadness, anger and, as hard as it was to admit, overwhelming relief. The truth was, I had been unhappy in my marriage for several years and had kept up appearances as I tried to salvage our floundering relationship. I was initially very confused about what to do with the feelings I was having. I was equally aware, even in those earliest moments, that I must be careful to act like a grieving widow, and hide my relief from a world that would surely misunderstand. It was the beginning of a masquerade I would carry on for the next two years.
From the outside, my husband and I had an ideal marriage. He was the successful young doctor and I was his lucky wife. People would never have guessed that I would have traded my "luck" for their unhappiness any day. My husband had rigid and unreasonable expectations of how a proper doctor's wife should look and act. He forbade me to go back to work or to school after the birth of our daughter. He belittled me, never treating me as his equal. Preoccupied with appearances, he always put my feelings last.
I was only 27, and couldn't face the prospect of spending the rest of my life in a failed and unhappy marriage. One day in February of 1985, I told him I wanted a divorce. The next day he was dead, killed almost instantly when his compact car was hit by a semi truck on a dark stretch of highway.
Years later, in my counseling practice, I encountered others experiencing losses like mine, losses in which the predominant emotion was relief. But I, their counselor, was the only one they felt safe admitting it to. To be glad someone is dead is a powerful taboo in our culture, and when the bereaved don't hew to society's expectations, they are ridiculed, feared and shunned--the last thing someone grieving, however "nontraditionally," needs. Americans have adopted the "five stages of grief" as a straitjacket, an edict on how to grieve, and woe unto the person whose behavior doesn't fit the mold.
But there are many reasons that someone might feel relief when someone dies. Mental illness and addictions can turn the person you love into a monster. One woman told me that she'd loved her husband only when he was sober. Often a family member is adept at presenting one face to the world and quite another to his family, much as my husband was. "I felt like I'd wandered into the wrong funeral," a woman exclaimed after her abusive, alcoholic brother died. She was stunned by the scores of flower arrangements and effusive tributes.
Relief when a child dies feels particularly shameful, yet who could criticize the couple whose baby, if he had lived, would have required round-the-clock nursing care? Or the mother whose severely mentally retarded preteen daughter died during an epileptic seizure? A woman whose mentally ill teenage son committed suicide still grieves the brilliant child she raised, but doesn't miss lying awake wondering if this would be the night the phone would ring with grim news.
And then there are those who suffered from chronic physical illness: the cancer that kept recurring, the Alzheimer's victims who had died inside years earlier when they stopped recognizing family members. Pain control during terminal illness is still inexact at best, causing both the dying and their families untold suffering. At the dawn of the 21st century, we're very good at prolonging life but not quality of life. One woman described her mother's death from a series of strokes: "She went through hell, and she took us with her."
It may make us uncomfortable, or even anger us, but we must realize that it's never our place to force someone to grieve in a way that we find acceptable. When someone dies, the bereaved family members must be forgiven if they are pleased to be getting their lives back, even if they can't say it out loud.
Elison lives in Helena, Mont.
January 14, 2007
Equal Cheers for Boys and Girls Draw Some Boos
By WINNIE HU
WHITNEY POINT, N.Y. -- Thirty girls signed up for the cheerleading squad this winter at Whitney Point High School in upstate New York. But upon learning they would be waving their pompoms for the girls' basketball team as well as the boys', more than half of the aspiring cheerleaders dropped out.
The eight remaining cheerleaders now awkwardly adjust their routines for whichever team is playing here on the home court -- "Hands Up You Guys" becomes "Hands Up You Girls"-- to comply with a new ruling from federal education officials interpreting Title IX, the law intended to guarantee gender equality in student sports.
"It feels funny when we do it," said Amanda Cummings, 15, the cheerleading co-captain, who forgot the name of a female basketball player mid-cheer last month.
Whitney Point is one of 14 high schools in the Binghamton area that began sending cheerleaders to girls' games in late November, after the mother of a female basketball player in Johnson City, N.Y., filed a discrimination complaint with the United States Department of Education. She said the lack of official sideline support made the girls seem like second-string, and violated Title IX's promise of equal playing fields for both sexes.
But the ruling has left many people here and across the New York region booing, as dozens of schools have chosen to stop sending cheerleaders to away games, as part of an effort to squeeze all the home girls' games into the cheerleading schedule.
Boys' basketball boosters say something is missing in the stands at away games, cheerleaders resent not being able to meet their rivals on the road, and even female basketball players being hurrahed are unhappy.
In Johnson City, students and parents say they have accepted the change even as they question the need for it.
Several cheerleaders there recalled a game two years ago, long before the complaint, when the squad decided at the last minute to cheer for the girls' team because a boys' game was canceled.
The cheers drowned out directions from the girls' coach, frustrated the players, and created so much tension that the cheerleaders left before halftime.
"They asked, 'Why are you here?' " recalled Joquina Spence, 18, a senior cheerleader. "We told them, 'We're here to support you,' and it was a problem because they kept yelling at us."
But, as the New York State Public High School Athletic Association warned in a letter to its 768 members in November, the education department determined that cheerleaders should be provided "regardless of whether the girls' basketball teams wanted and/or asked for" them.
The ruling followed a similar one in September in the Philadelphia suburbs, and comes as high schools nationwide are redefining the role of cheerleaders in response to parental and legal pressures as well as growing sensitivity to sexism among athletic directors, especially as more women step into those roles.
Federal education officials would not specify how many Title IX complaints concerning cheerleading the Office for Civil Rights is investigating. But a spokesman said the department received 64 complaints nationwide last year concerning unequal levels of publicity given to girls' and boys' teams -- which includes the issue of cheerleading -- most from New York state. That compares with a total of 28 such complaints over the previous four years.
In September, the Prince George's County, Md., public schools agreed to provide publicity equally for its male and female athletes, including cheerleaders at competitive events, as part of a lengthy list of changes after the National Women's Law Center raised Title IX complaints against the 134,000-student district.
Last February, a statewide group of physical education teachers in California called for cheerleaders to attend girls' and boys' games "in the same number, and with equal enthusiasm" as part of its five-year goals.
And for the first time this fall at Westborough High school in the Boston suburbs, cheerleaders were provided for all the varsity athletic teams, including girls' field hockey and volleyball. "In our minds, there's no major or minor sports," said Brian Callaghan, Westborough's athletic director.
Here in the Binghamton area, three schools named in the original complaint -- two in Elmira, N.Y., and one in Horseheads -- are rebelling against the ruling, in the latest in a series of arguments over fulfilling the requirements of Title IX, which has been a source of contention among educators, athletes and feminists alike since its adoption in 1972.
James Young, a lawyer for the Horseheads Central School District, said cheerleaders there compete in their own tournaments and are not seen as support players. He noted that the "Rowdy Raiders" pep group is already dispatched to cheer for boys' and girls' teams alike.
"We regard our cheerleaders as athletes, while they are working on a 1970s stereotype that cheerleaders are here to support the boys," Mr. Young said of the education department's ruling. "We have a really solid women's athletics program and we support it our way."
Richard T. Stank, president of the Southern Tier Athletic Conference, which represents the 17 schools in the Binghamton area named in the complaint, said even some of the school officials and coaches complying with the ruling question its validity. "I don't see how cheerleaders having to be at boys' and girls' games is what Title IX was set up to do," he said.
Under Title IX, all schools and colleges that receive federal money are prohibited from gender discrimination in any area, from academics to athletics. The education department has interpreted that mandate to mean, among other things, that girls' and boys' teams must receive equal treatment, from the salaries of their coaches to the condition of their locker rooms.
Intended to expand opportunities for female athletes, Title IX essentially requires schools and colleges to spend equivalent amounts on men's and women's sports programs. But some Title IX supporters complain that some schools have twisted the letter of the law to skirt its spirit, cutting lower-profile men's sports like wrestling or swimming to offset the costs of football rather than adding women's teams. But others complain that the law has expanded women's teams of limited interest at the expense of more popular boys' teams.
Cheerleading has long been a source of contention. Some women's sports advocates complain that schools count it as a varsity sport as a sneaky way to increase the numbers of the female side of the athletic department balance sheet without changing historic disparities. Others see the varsity letters as a mark of respect for the athletic and acrobatic feats the squads perform.
So while the complaint that originated here was based on whether the boys and girls basketball players were being treated equally, the ruling has renewed questions about cheerleaders' status.
Rosie Pudish, the parent who filed the original complaint, said she did so even though her own daughter, Keri, a varsity basketball player at Johnson City High School, did not particularly want cheerleaders at her games.
Ms. Pudish said that as many as 60 cheerleaders, along with their friends and parents, would attend the boys' games, injecting a level of excitement and spirit that was missing from the girls' contests.
"It sends the wrong message that girls are second-class athletes and don't deserve the school spirit, that they're just little girls playing silly games and the real athletes are the boys," said Ms. Pudish, an accountant who works for the federal government.
At most high schools, including those in New York City and its suburbs, cheerleaders traditionally follow the boys' basketball and football games, and only occasionally root for other teams -- like girls' basketball -- if a playoff berth or a championship is at stake.
So far, no one here has suggested that football cheerleaders have to show up for field hockey games next fall. But the education department ruled that if the Binghamton-area schools provided cheerleaders for boys' basketball games, then they must provide them on the same terms for girls' basketball.
To comply, nearly all of the schools have decided to send cheerleaders to an equal number of boys' and girls' games, and only at home to avoid overloading the cheerleaders' schedules. That drew complaints from cheerleaders who liked traveling to away games -- and from boys' basketball players and fans who were left cheer-less half the time.
"It's probably toughest on some of the parents," said John Allen, athletic director of the Chenango Valley Central School District, just northeast of Binghamton. "All of a sudden they're at games, and there are no cheerleaders."
At a small school like Whitney Point, with 525 students, the ruling has devastated a cheerleading program that had just begun to rebound after being eliminated in budget cuts in 2002. Some of the girls who dropped out just did not want to cheer for other girls, while others said the team was not as fun without traveling to away games and being able to check out routines by rival cheerleading teams. (Since most schools in the league are complying with the ruling by keeping cheerleaders on their home courts, the squads are now left to rah-rah without response.)
The girls' basketball players complained about the change, too; the coach asked cheerleaders to stay on the bench at crucial moments during the first few games so as not to distract his players. But after an awkward start, the girls have settled into a routine of sorts, and have posed together for post-game pictures.
Katelin Maxson, 17, a senior who is the cheerleading captain, said that while she does not mind cheering for the girls, it has doubled her workload: She has continued the tradition here of decorating the lockers of the basketball players on game days and bringing them treats.
"We joined sports to have fun, but they're basically taking the fun away and giving us more work," she said. "The interest is down so much, and it's going to keep dropping, until there's no cheerleading anymore."
"No one has the right to say that about any free-speaking American in this country."
The debate about how to get women more involved in gaming is a perennial one and one on which there is pretty wide agreement that not enough is being done.
"I wish it no longer had to be talked about as a separate entity but unfortunately it is the case that games still aren't designed or marketed towards women and that has to be dealt with," said Kirsten Kearney.
"But pink is not enough. There needs to be changes across the board. So, for example, if I go to choose a character to play as and they are all male then I am going to think this isn't aimed at me," she said.
"Even when peer-reviewed literature is cited, the selection seems highly filtered and biased. In many cases, the authors rely almost exclusively on anecdotes to support their claims. Sometimes, the statements are simply absurd."
However other sources have confirmed to The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers that early in the case, Black leaders, whose names cannot be revealed, were also allegedly approached by persons concerned about the fallout of the Duke rape controversy, and offered sums of money for themselves, NCCU and the alleged victim, if they could influence her to retract her allegations.
Working long hours worse for women than men
More likely to smoke and eat junk food, study finds
Updated: 10:03 a.m. PT July 12, 2006
LONDON - Working long hours has a greater negative impact on women than men because it makes them more likely to smoke, drink coffee and eat unhealthy food.
Both sexes consume less alcohol if they spend more time working, researchers said on Wednesday, but toiling extra hours makes women crave unhealthy snacks.
"Women who work long hours eat more high-fat and high-sugar snacks, exercise less, drink more caffeine and, if smokers, smoke more than their male colleagues," said Dr. Daryl O'Connor, a researcher at Britain's Leeds University.
"For men, working longer hours has no negative impact on exercise, caffeine intake or smoking," O'Connor said in a statement released by the Economic and Social Research Council, which funded his study.
O'Connor's team of scientists were studying the impact of stress on eating habits. They looked at what causes stress at home and at work and how people react to it.
The results show that one or more stressful events such as making a presentation, a meeting with the boss or missing a deadline was linked to eating more between-meal snacks and fewer or smaller portions of fruits and vegetables.
"Stress disrupts people's normal eating habits," he said.
The people who were most vulnerable were so-called emotional eaters.
"These individuals have higher levels of vulnerability and tend to turn to food as an escape from self-awareness," O'Connor said.
"When they feel anxious or emotionally aroused or negative about themselves, they try to avoid these negative feelings by turning their attention to food."
Stay calm at work to protect blood pressure
Job stress worse for men, researchers report
Updated: 8:09 a.m. PT June 30, 2006
NEW YORK - Workers who are under constant stress may start to show it in their blood pressure readings, researchers reported.
In a study that followed more than 6,719 white-collar workers for 7.5 years, Canadian researchers found that those with high job demands, and reported low levels of social support in the office, tended to have higher blood pressure than other workers.
The relationship was stronger among men than among women. As a group, men with high job strain had higher blood pressure and were at greater risk of blood pressure increases over time than those with less stressful work.
In addition, the study found that men and women who said they got little support from their bosses and co-workers seemed particularly vulnerable to the blood pressure effects of job strain.
"Our study supports the hypothesis that job strain, particularly in workers with low social support at work, may contribute to increased blood pressure," lead author Dr. Chantal Guimont of Laval University in Quebec told Reuters Health.
She and her colleagues report the findings in the American Journal of Public Health.
Many studies have examined the link between cardiovascular disease and job strain -- typically defined as work with high psychological demands, but with little independence or decision-making authority. Evidence suggests that chronically stressed workers are more likely to develop heart disease, but studies looking specifically at blood pressure effects have yielded mixed results.
Theoretically, job stress might raise blood pressure by chronically activating the nervous and cardiovascular systems. On the other hand, stressed workers may have little time or energy for exercise, may eat poorly or have higher smoking rates -- though, in this study, the researchers accounted for factors like smoking, exercise habits and weight.
According to Guimont, the current findings support the notion that curbing job strain could make a difference in some workers' blood pressure. For example, she said, employers might give workers more support or more say in how they accomplish their tasks, loosen up deadline pressure, or offer more chances for learning and growth.
Studies are underway, Guimont noted, to see whether such measures work.