Former Portland High School math teacher Sandy Binkley and husband Doug sit together with their hands clasped in unity. They are the picture of a thirty-something couple from an outskirt town. Their gold jewelry is modest; their business casual attire freshly pressed.
Gone is the vacant stare, straggly bleached locks and darkened roots from Sandy's September mug shot, when she was arrested for the statutory rape of a 17-year-old student. (Age of consent in Tennessee is 18.) She now sits comfortably with an almost serene glow, her salon-cut hair a glossy auburn as she prepares to deliver her defense: It was she who was raped.
"No one disputes the encounter that happened in a classroom at Portland High School," the Channel 5 broadcast begins. Then it cuts to Binkley in prim pastel, shaking her head. "But I can tell you that there was one incident, and only one incident," she says with a thick Southern accent, her eyes narrowing on the reporter.
That incident took place in March of last year, when, according to police, Binkley and the student had sex while classes were going on nearby. But Binkley insists the student forced himself on her in the office of the girls' volleyball locker room.
"There was one incident with one student who was a month away from being 18," she asserts with quiet calm. "He was bigger than me and he forced himself on me."
It's a puzzling assertion from a rape victim, this emphasis on the student's near-adult status and the insistence that only one interaction took place. Absent is the rage of a victim or the defiance of someone wrongly accused. Instead, Binkley fidgets with her fingernail, answering questions with an embarrassed smirk. "It's very absurd," she says with an almost imperceptible laugh. "It's very hard to believe someone would accuse me of this."
"Did you resist?" the reporter asks Binkley in the broadcast.
"Yes I did," she says matter-of-factly. "But he crossed the boundary and there was nothing I could do."
Since that TV interview, Judge David Gay has placed a gag order on all participants in the Binkley case. But it's easy to discern from court documents that prosecutors will tell a different story. They will likely portray an educator dubiously popular with students—the sort of hip teacher who maintained a Facebook page and courted students as friends, even working out with some at a local gym.
They will argue that she had sex with not one, but three different boys—two of whom are brothers. Together, the official complaints describe multiple encounters over nearly two years—sex in storage closets, classrooms, in Binkley's car on rural roads and even in the driveway of one student's home—from early 2007 to late 2008.
They will emphasize that she never filed a complaint about the alleged rape at Portland High. "She only reported the encounter as rape when faced with the evidence that we had proving that sexual activity did occur between her and the victim on school campus," reads a statement from Assistant Police Chief Richard Smith. "Her story is not consistent with a rape victim."
They will point out that a rape victim doesn't usually continue to text message, call and hang out with their assailant, as Binkley did. Nor do they typically buy their rapist expensive graduation presents.
Perhaps they will paint her as unhappily married, seeking out the comfort of boys—her bubbly, outgoing persona merely a mask to hide a troubling depression.
If they draw at all from the prosecution of other female sex offenders, they will show her as a dangerous sexual predator who groomed her victims, forming intense friendships with students she fancied until they let their guard down so she could seduce them.
They will point to the words of a 17-year-old, who said he knew Binkley intimately enough to know her tubes were tied, so he didn't need to wear a condom.
"She laid down on the desk and I began to have intercourse with her," he said at one hearing. ". . . She said this isn't what you expected when you signed up for a teacher's aid."
Binkley would only be caught after a student's mother found a confusing text message on her son's cell phone. "I'll have to mark you absent," it said. The mother dialed the number and got Binkley's voicemail. She wondered why the teacher would text a student rather than call his parents, so she got in touch with administrators and police.
The evidence seems mounted against her as she heads for a September trial on seven counts of statutory rape and two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. But if the past offers any prediction, she's almost sure to get the female discount if she's convicted.
Reported sex offenses by women increased tenfold from the '80s to the '90s, yet their prison time remains but a fraction of what men receive. A Kansas State professor found that, on average, male teachers faced up to 20 years in prison for sex abuse, while female teachers were handed probation, house arrest or a maximum of three years of jail time.
That's because the public—and judges—still can't imagine women as sexually aggressive.
"The speculation is that people are less likely to see the woman as a predator," says Vanderbilt law and psychology professor Chris Slobogin. "Also, there is perhaps the sexist assumption that boys who tend to be the victims of women aren't really victims, but in fact consented to the act and enjoyed it."
Twenty-nine-year-old Michael Ingersoll, a social studies teacher in Santa Fe, is serving five years for having sex with a 16-year-old student at his home in 2008. Compare that to former McMinnville elementary phys-ed teacher Pamela Rogers.
In 2004, Rogers had been married just a year to high school basketball coach Chris Turner. With her cascading blonde tresses and bee-stung lips, the former Ms. Monday Nitro for World Championship Wrestling still posed in a bikini for a motorcycle shop's ads.
She and her husband often discussed the potential of budding young athletes. According to news reports, Turner asked Rogers to keep an eye on one rising talent, a mature 13-year-old boy that he expected to make varsity team by the next year.
Instead, Rogers became infatuated with the boy. "I think you're cute," she allegedly wrote one afternoon in an online chat witnessed by a friend. "We started laughing because we thought she was joking," the friend told the Southern Standard, a paper in McMinnville.
"I think you're hot," the teen responded. And that, it seems, was all it took to fuel a three-month relationship that involved dozens of encounters at the boy's home as well as Rogers'.
Husband Turner filed for divorce. Rogers moved out, even shacking up briefly at the boy's home, claiming her water heater was broken at her rented place.
But an anonymous tip would lead to 13 counts of statutory rape and 15 counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. She entered a no-contest plea, surrendered her teaching certification for life, and got nine months' jail time. She was out in six on good behavior with one stipulation: She could never contact the boy again.
But within months, Rogers was back to texting him, sending explicit photos and a cell phone video of her dancing around in thigh-highs and a garter belt. Her parole was revoked and she was charged with two more counts of sexual battery. She's now serving 10 years.
The publicity no doubt led to a harsher sentence. But in a pattern that emerges over and over, it remained much less than a male teacher would receive.
On a summer night in 2006, 23-year-old Angela Rudy pulled her car over just up the street from West Perry High School in Pennsylvania and had sex with a 14-year-old boy. The boy was a friend of Rudy's family. She wanted to wait until he was 16—the state's age of consent—but she'd been drinking that day. Desire gave way.
Nearly a year passed before a tip reached police. By then Rudy was pregnant, weeks away from giving birth to the victim's son.
The boy protested charges against her. "I made a choice. I had sex," he told Harrisburg's Patriot News. "I decided to do it. It's not like I was raped or anything."
Yet Rudy pleaded guilty. The prosecutor implored the judge to make her punishment on par with that of any male defendant.
But to the judge, the coming child meant teacher and boy now owned a "lifelong relationship." She also didn't want to deny the mother the critical bonding of infant and mother. Rudy walked with two years' probation.
"She's only out because she's a woman," the victim's mother told the press.
The ironic twist: The boy's 23-year-old brother is serving four years for impregnating a 15-year-old girl.
True: Female sex offenders aren't like their male counterparts. Men are responsible for 99 percent of violent rapes and 91 percent of all other sex offenses. To hear defense attorneys tell it, women are merely misguided souls, looking for love in all the wrong places.
"When women do it, it's much more likely to be consensual," says Vanderbilt forensic services director Dr. William Bernet.
A woman predator is much more likely to mirror typical courtship—the flirting, seduction and attendant bonding that occurs between consenting adults. These are women who fall in love.
There are generally three types of female offenders: The most common is a mother or grandmother with constant access to her victim and a pattern of incest. Then there's the woman who rapes alongside a male partner. Finally, there's the teacher-lover.
Since nearly all rape data tracks men, it's hard to say which category is more prolific. But the teacher-lover is easily the most publicized. These women tend to be young—in their early 20s and 30s. They are often immature, seeing themselves as friends of their students, rather than authority figures. A psychologist who spoke on Rogers' behalf said she was a sex addict who was "stuck in junior high."
They are also often unhappily married, and usually have young children of their own.
"They see themselves in this almost adolescent lifestyle and haven't grown up themselves," Bernet says. "That in particular isn't necessarily serious in and of itself—it's true of lots of people in their 20s and 30s. The problem is a combination of being immature, and a strong attraction which may be stronger than it should be, and being irresponsible and doing things that are stupid, and not being responsible in the role that they have."
Clinical psychologist Michelle Golland takes it a step further. "They're very needy themselves and dependent," she says. "They have lonely lives. And this is the way of getting attention. Of feeling special. Of feeling attractive."
Women rarely engage in forcible rape. Instead, they employ their womanly wiles—manipulation and flirtation—to lure randy young men. There is no threat of bodily harm. Theirs are crimes of the heart.
"The law recognizes that physically violent sex offenses are more blameworthy and result in more time than sex offenses that don't involve physical violence," says Slobogin. "That would also help explain any sentencing differential."
The time they spend courting leaves little time for multiple conquests. If they do repeatedly offend, it is after the arc of the relationship has fizzled. And they take advantage of situations they're already in, like the classroom, rather than stalking strangers To Catch a Predator-style.
Which is why they often feel justified in their actions. They are, after all, in love.
The most famous case is that of Mary Kay Letourneau, who apparently found her soul mate when the boy was only in second grade.
At the time she was a Seattle teacher and 35-year-old married mother of four. She thought Vili Fualaau was special, and she initially encouraged his growth as an artist, buying him supplies and pushing him to play piano. By sixth grade, Fualaau was her pupil and her lover. When he was 14, Letourneau bore him a daughter.
Her husband discovered letters between the two and filed for divorce. Letourneau's newborn daughter was taken to be raised by the boy's mother. But her crimes resulted in just six months in jail and a three-year rehab program.
Like Rogers, she immediately violated parole. Letourneau was caught in a car with the boy, a passport and $6,000 in cash. She would end up serving seven-and-a-half years.
These days, the two are married and even going public with their fame. They recently hosted at a "Hot for Teacher" theme night at a Seattle bar, where they danced and spun records.
Pamela Rogers also claimed to be in love with her victim. She created a MySpace page where she wrote coded messages disguised as blog posts to her victim, using his basketball jersey number, calling him her hero and professing to wait three years before falling in love again. She pleaded with him to listen to the song "Far Away" by Nickelback, a ballad about lovers waiting to reconnect.
While male offenders are viewed as pathetic or worse, female offenders are often celebrated and ogled. There is, for instance, no website devoted to celebrating hot male teachers who rape underage students. ItsGuyCode.com, however, has an entire section devoted to "Female Jailbaters." The site's mission is simple: "This collection is of mostly hot teachers who committed these indecent sexual liberties with males under the age of 18."
It goes on to chronicle high-profile cases like Letourneau's to lower-profile cases such as Binkley and Portland, Tenn.'s Holly Hatcher.
Hatcher, a 25-year-old history teacher and girls' volleyball and softball coach, faces nine counts of statutory rape for a relationship with a 17-year-old student. According to news reports, the two behaved liked any couple, visiting the zoo and carving pumpkins. But police also allege they had sex on six different occasions.
"The charge should have been against the guy for not hitting that more than 6 times," ItsGuyCode.com argued, then went on to analyze how a young boy might "mount" a woman who purportedly stands a towering 5-foot-10.
Pamela Rogers even had a sex offender doll created in her likeness. Creator David Johnson, a Colorado artist, reportedly sold one for as much as $150 in an online auction. Depictions paint the now defunct item as a 6-inch tall replica of the Traci Lords look-alike, outfitted in black lingerie and sporting a single, long black glove, the same getup she wore in a cell phone video she sent to her victim—an unimaginable keepsake in a case involving a male perpetrator.
"It's so important that we get it out there that this is child abuse," says Golland, who writes on the subject on the website momlogic.com. "This whole belief that the boys are 'getting lucky' doesn't help. It will only allow these women to continue to do this and others to feel like it's OK to do it."
The fact remains that most male victims aren't OK with it. Even those who've reached adulthood rarely speak out on the matter. But those who do paint the same portrait as girls who've been sexualized before they've even learned to drive.
"Hollywood, they think it's such a hot thing when a guy gets laid at a young age," said Jeff Pickthorn in an Associated Press story from 2007. He began having sex with his 24-year-old teacher when he was only 12. The teacher was forced to resign, and at 54, Pickthorn says he's experienced a lifelong downward descent into gambling addiction, affairs and failed relationships.
"I tell you, it's not a hot thing," he says. "They say that guy's lucky. I say, no, he's not lucky at all."
Rape is underreported in general, but men are less likely to report the abuse. Playing the victim is akin to admitting you're not a real man. And if the boy doesn't like the attention from an older woman, he may think something's wrong with him.
Moreover, these same victims are more likely to go on and abuse, Golland warns. Studies show roughly 30 percent of sex offenders have a history of sexual abuse in their backgrounds.
"They may abuse little girls because they experienced that power and abuse model, or they may go and perpetrate it on younger males," Golland says. "It can confuse their sexual identity, particularly when they don't want the advances. They may begin to think, am I gay?"
Another oft-cited study suggests that there is a background of female abuse in the history of rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men—anywhere from 59-80 percent.
"They can feel sexually violated in the same way girls can," says Dr. Bernet, "and so that might cause them in terms of their own future sexual activities to be more sexually inhibited because of a bad sexual experience. Or the reverse can happen, where they sexually act out because of an early sexual experience. It can go either way."
Yet in the eyes of the court system, female offenders still have trysts, while men are rapists, plain and simple.
The Sandy Binkley case doesn't fit the usual pattern.
" 'Cause it's a teacher—all teachers are guilty," she told Channel 5 when the Rogers case was raised. "With all the things recently—it's a teacher story and teachers have to be guilty. I don't see myself that way."
It's likely she wouldn't. For one thing, Binkley's husband didn't split upon news of her alleged crimes. And she'll have a tough time arguing that her indiscretion was passion-driven, a onetime lapse in judgment—she is accused of having multiple relationships with multiple boys.
Moreover, most female teachers admit to their antics. Binkley insists she was raped. Her defense hinges on discrediting her accusers.
In a preliminary hearing, her lawyer began establishing the shaky ground the boys allegedly stand on. They've had a problem recalling specific dates, and one boy initially denied an encounter, only to later confess.
"The warrants that we have in this case were so vague that it was hard for us to prepare for this hearing today, because there were absolutely no dates, and still, after a two-hour-long hearing, we don't have any dates, we don't have any real firm timeline," Binkley attorney David Ridings said in December.
If she is found guilty, history says she'll get a female discount. And if she's found innocent, the boys may find themselves looking at rape charges—and employing the oldest trick in the book.
"Did you pick her up and force her on the desk and have sex with her?" asked an attorney who questioned one 17-year-old boy.
"Not at all," he replied.
"You did not pick her up?" the attorney asked again.
"I picked her up, but she wanted it."
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