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Where are the female predators?

by Jesamyn Go, Dateline Web producer

After every 'To Catch the Predator' broadcast, the Dateline inbox always gets this question from viewers: Where are the female predators?

"They are out there," one e-mailer wrote. "I find it hard to believe given all the teacher scandals that there are no female Internet predators."

Perverted-Justice has only ever encountered one female predator, according to Del Harvey, who has been a Perverted-Justice contributor since 2004 and who has acted as a decoy in the group's investigations. The contributors use decoy profiles that are of girls and boys, but only men have shown up for meetings with what they thought to be underage teens.

Robert Weiss, executive director and founder of the Sexual Recovery Clinic in California (and who has been featured in one of our episodes), says that while their center treats both male and female offenders, sexual compulsions on the Internet do seem to be a male-dominated thing. "Women, in general, seem to look for relationships and not necessarily sex – although female offenders will have sex with a minor. They're just less likely to seek someone out randomly online."

He adds that men tend to me more visual (which is probably why pornography often factors into potential predators' online chats with decoys), and men tend to be more comfortable with sex detached from relationships.

Weiss also says that in relationships, women are generally less aggressive than men — and that this is also true in this case. "So a 'female predator' needs to cross more social and cultural lines to actually become an offender. But when they reach that point or seek out help, they are generally more troubled and are tougher to treat."

So what makes a 'predator'? For Weiss, a man or woman truly needs help if the desire to have a sexual relationship with an underage teen turns into attempts to do so. Weiss says, "You're not a predator if you have occasional fantasies about underage teens and don't take it further than that. Predators take it to the next step by seeking out images, chats and eventual meetings with kids. Any attempt to make that kind of fantasy into a reality is predatory."

Also, the person must be taking advantage of an inequity of power – due to age or the nature of the relationship. Perhaps this is why for many, including for those us working at Dateline, it is more upsetting to see people like teachers, doctors, and rabbis — people who are expected to protect youngsters — walk into the house.

Weiss hopes the series encourages more people who need help to seek it.  He says that the clinic has received numerous calls from people who, after watching the Dateline reports, identified with the problem and feared they could be potential predators. "There are a lot of things at play for those men — problems that exist and things that happen to an individual — before they end up showing up at the Dateline house," he says. "Compulsive sexual behavior is treatable," he says.