The San Jose Mercury News ran a story this weekend about how women’s role in sex crimes has resurfaced as an issue. Citing a handful of recent crimes in which women have played significant parts, the article delves into women’s roles in the crimes and the leniency they sometimes receive in the courtroom.

Charlene Williams of Sacramento lured six teenage girls and four young adults to their deaths as her husband demanded the perfect “sex slave.”

Michelle Lyn Michaud, also of Sacramento, customized curling irons to help her boyfriend torture and murder a 22-year-old student abducted from a Pleasanton street.

In Utah, Wanda Eileen Barzee was accused of helping her husband kidnap 14-year old Elizabeth Smart at knifepoint from her Salt Lake City bedroom so that he could secure another “wife.”

Now along comes Nancy Garrido of the Bay Area. Like the others, Garrido is accused of teaming up with a male partner — in Garrido’s case, her husband of nearly three decades — and allegedly committing unthinkable crimes against other women and children.

The arrests Aug. 27 of Nancy and Phillip Garrido revealed a stunning story about the 1991 kidnapping of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard, snatched off the street near her home in Meyers. Authorities say Jaycee, now 29, had been living for 18 years in the Garridos’ backyard near Antioch and is the mother of two children fathered by Phillip Garrido.

While attention focuses on Phillip Garrido’s history of sexual assault, his reduced prison term and evasion of parole oversight, the case also raises haunting questions about what role his wife may have played.

The article draws upon sociological commentary from Jack Levin…

One noted criminologist said he believes that some female offenders actually have benefited by the persistent notion that women could not possibly be the leaders — especially in a sex crime.

“The court typically throws the book at the man, believing that he was the instigator — that he initiated the attack. So he’ll get the death penalty,” said Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.

“His female companion is considered an accomplice who went along for the love of her man. She gets a much lighter sentence.”

That view is not always accurate, said Levin, an expert in serial murder and hate crimes.

In one case in Canada, he said, a woman caught up in a rape and murder case involving teenage victims testified against her husband in exchange for leniency.

In a move decried in Canada as the “Deal With the Devil,” Karla Homolka got a 12-year sentence in 1993 for manslaughter in the murders of two Ontario teens.

Motivations vary widely

She is now believed to be living in Paris, Levin said. Her former husband, Paul Bernardo, was sentenced to life in prison in Canada, which does not have the death penalty.

But after the deal was struck, Levin said, videotapes showing the rape and torture of the schoolgirls revealed Karla Homolka was a willing participant.

“She was seen enjoying herself and participating fully,” he said. “Karla Homolka was just as guilty as her husband.”

But women in these types of cases can also fall into the category of being so passive they “just go along with the plan,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

He said besides women who are battered or psychologically controlled, some are simply “low-functioning” and dependent on their mates.

“It’s not like there’s a single profile,” he said.

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