Women are not often seen as predators. The notion of female sexual abusers has never permeated the collective consciousness in the way the tabloids' parade of pedophilic bogeymen has.
But that's not to say they don't exist. Last month, Caroline Berriman, a 30-year-old teaching assistant in the UK, avoided jail after being found guilty of having regular unprotected sex with a 15-year-old male pupil. A two-month fling which the boy said left him "scarred for life."
Words like "sexual assault" and "rape" tend to be reserved for men who prey on women and girls. Women do not rape but instead, we're told, seduce their victims. This week, a 20-year-old woman who had sex with an 11-year-old boy she was babysitting received a suspended prison sentence after the boy's father said he was "sex mad" and "fully up for the experience."
Like the teenager in the Berriman case, my story started when I was 15. My teacher was a local woman, in her 20s, with a sibling in the year below me.
She was short—shorter than most of the older kids—and pretty with blonde hair and an athletic figure. She was one of those teachers who didn't mind chatting with the popular kids as if they were her best friends. The girls wanted to be her and the boys wanted to fuck her. I never thought I actually would.
One day, I pretended I needed to call my mom after school to ask for a lift. I asked to borrow my teacher's phone. But, instead of calling my mom, I sent a text to my own number, handed her phone back, and set off for my triumphant walk home. It was a decent practical joke, a small victory for a teenager. I had just bagged the number of the hottest teacher in school—who should I tell first?
I pulled out my phone and couldn't believe what I saw. Beneath the text I had sent myself was a second, longer message:
"Cheeky. When you coming round for a cuppa?x"
Sensing that this might be going somewhere it probably shouldn't, I saved her number under a fake name: "Mia."
I visited Mia at least two or three times a week after school, often still wearing my uniform. We would sit on her sofa, watching Friends, and kiss for hours. She would ask me about my day and we would laugh at the students and teachers neither of us liked. After two weeks, I lost my virginity.
This felt like more of a nightmare. The sex itself was pretty shitty. Any 15-year-old boy tasked with pleasuring an older woman is going to feel the pressure—let alone when it's his first time.
Mia was aggressive, demanding, and loud. I did my best to imitate what I had seen in internet porn and she seemed to make all the right noises. At times it was awkward as fuck and I was filled with uncertainty. Not long after, she made me promise that I loved her. The thing is I really did.
As the months went on, the relationship became a drain. Mia forbade me from hanging out with some of the prettier girls in my class. If she was annoyed she would ignore me as we passed one another in the hallway, knowing I couldn't ask her what was wrong there and then. She said she was jealous of her friends, who were getting married and moving away, while she was fucking around with me—"a kid."
She would visit my drama class, ostensibly to run a few things by our teacher, but always hang around to watch me perform at the end, eyes fixed on me the entire time. It was as things begun to get worse that she told me she had lost our baby.
We had been having post-sex cuddles one night when she started bleeding out onto the sheets. At the time, we both assumed she had unexpectedly had her period. I thought it was pretty funny, she was embarrassed, and I went home for the night. "It is a school night after all."
Mia called me the next night to say she had spent the day in the hospital after miscarrying our child. She'd only been pregnant a few weeks. At the time I couldn't properly comprehend it. It didn't compute in my head that I could create a child—I still was a child—I didn't know what to say. Mia didn't like talking about it. We never did.
Cannabis is a great recreational drug but it can do bad things to people with secrets. I was getting stoned at least three times a week by the time I was 16. My friends would spend hours chatting about their girlfriends sometimes—what the sex was like, what arguments they had, where they were going on vacation—and I couldn't say fuck all.
Sometimes I would come home, baked to high heaven, and just talk to myself about everything alone in my room. I couldn't tell anyone I was in love. Even worse, I couldn't tell anyone there was no way it could last. I decided to end it after one particularly stupid incident.
I had been out with my friends and said I was going home, I was too tired. I walked over to Mia's. We spent close to two days making our way around the house, having sex in every room. The outside world ceased to be and I hadn't stopped to consider what my parents might think of the fact my phone had been off for close to 48 hours.
When I got home my mom was in tears. The police had been around and were on the cusp of declaring me a missing person. Enough was enough. I sent Mia a text:
"We can't do this any more."
Professor Kevin Browne, a mental health expert at Nottingham University, says: "Female offenses against teenagers are largely a mystery because victims don't come forward. Boys are almost expected to enjoy that kind of abuse, to an extent, because of the patriarchal nature of our society, and not admit how scared they are by it."
I came close to killing myself three times. Twice trying to OD on painkillers and once throwing the steering wheel of my car off the highway at 90 miles per hour. I came out of all three incidents relatively unscathed (although I have to ride a bike to work now). My GP prescribed antidepressants to balance out my moods.
After hearing Mia had supposedly slept with more kids from school, I reported her anonymously to the police. I told them I didn't want to make a statement but if they had a look through her Facebook messages they would find everything they needed. The last I heard she was no longer working at the school, her house had been sold, and her social media profiles deleted.
Female abusers are relatively rare. They are estimated to make up as little as 5 percent of offenders. But they do exist and, even today, more needs to be done to encourage their victims to speak publicly. I am still trying.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts contact the Samaritans at 212-673-3000.
As told to Martin Coulter. Identities have been altered to protect anonymity.
Image via Static Pexels