Women as sex offenders on the rise
By Peter Pochna
Staff Writer, The New Jersey News
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
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
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.
The 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.''
“The 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
The girl felt ostracized. Some of her friends were told by their parents to stay away from her, he
"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
"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
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.
“...the vast majority of
women who commit sex
crimes get away with
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.
If we do not live what we believe, then we will begin to believe what we live.