National Post

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Friday, November 05, 1999

Unmasking the female predator
Patricia Pearson
National Post

The fantasies of the criminal were vile: to stalk and kidnap a teenage girl, to rape and torture her, to dispose of her like garbage. "We'll finish her," the criminal noted smugly in a diary.

They sounded like the fantasies of a typical sexual sadist, whose utter contempt for women lies at the heart of feminist critiques of male sexuality.

But lo and behold, they were scripted by a woman, one Crystal Henricks of Willow River, B.C., who was convicted last April of drugging and raping at least 22 victims, recording her adventures on videotape, and her fantasies in her diary, along with her husband, James Bennett.

The 20-year-old Henricks narrowly averted an application by the Crown that she be declared a dangerous offender, on the basis that she is a sexual predator, and, as such, a danger to our children.

The Crown faltered, I would suspect, because we live in a culture that can barely acknowledge robust female sexual desire, let alone the presence amongst us of female sexual predators. Nasty desires in women have to be the fault of a man. Or blame it on impressionable youth (not that male teens get any such break), or on mental illness, on depression, childhood abuse, on something. Just not on libido, nor taste for the thrill, nor on a will to power.

I was reminded of this by the latest self-righteous antics of l'il Miss Psychopath Karla Homolka, who appears to have received self-esteem boosts galore in prison, but not, as far as I can discern, anything approaching comprehensive sex offender treatment.

As I recall, having had to sit through that horrible, nervous-breakdown-making hell of a trial, Homolka was not exactly shoplifting when she broke the law. Sexual power was the name of the game she was playing, legitimate, illicit and murderous, and to think she'll just walk away from that toxic addiction is so naive it makes me cry.

But what can we do to reassure ourselves about that? Nothing. That's why news of her request to slink off into a Montreal halfway house triggers such an alarm. Do we know if she has her sexual impulses under control? Do we know if she can keep her paws to herself? Is her proclivity for serial rape intrinsic to her sexuality, or not? How would we know?

We wouldn't have a clue. Male sex offenders are subjected to all sorts of sophisticated tests that measure "deviant sexual arousal" and help prison officials determine their fitness to leave institutions.

Female sex offenders, according to Dr. Eva Chow at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, are instead given therapy on a case-by-case basis, usually to address "situational factors" such as abuse and depression.

To find a test that actually measures female deviance, I had to call as far afield as Texas. A treatment facility in Garland is pioneering programs that take female sex offences seriously, and has developed equipment to measure their levels of arousal when exposed to different stimuli. "Canada's not doing a whole lot with their women sex offenders," Maria Mollett, head of the Counselling Institute of Texas, told me. "We're finding that the research is totally outdated. The profession has allowed women to get away with it by treating them like victims. Bullshit. That's not what we're seeing. They have deviant sexual arousal."

Mollett gave me some examples of how the women she's treating actually think about sex with, for instance, young boys. "I saw his c--- ," one woman said in response to a displayed photo, "and I wanted to f--- him."

Studies of male paedophiles and rapists have shown that, when they themselves were sexually abused as children, roughly half were molested by women. Yet the notion that women can be sexual aggressors, capable of objectifying those they desire, and desiring them deviantly, is so politically incorrect, not to mention unpleasant, we have barely begun this sort of research.

We see female teachers arrested for sexual abuse of their students. We know there are female stalkers. We have a study, from 1996, in which 42% of a sample of New Jersey female college students reported being sexually aggressive with men.

But these are just glimpses. Much of the landscape remains hidden. You don't find what you don't seek.

"Have you ever heard of a woman arrested for exposing herself?" I remember one sex offence expert asking. "No, because female exhibitionists become topless dancers." And the deviance, which is watching, is attributed to men.

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