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Experts say sexual abuse of boy, 8, likely to leave scars

by Abram Katz, New Haven

First the mystifying games and secrets shared with a friend’s mother, then the angry adults.

Both the alleged abuse — and the aftermath — will likely leave imprints on the confused and scared 8-year-old Stratford boy allegedly raped by his playmate’s 29-year-old mother, psychological experts said.

Being torn from innocence into the maelstrom of adult sexuality can leave immediate and longer-lasting problems, psychiatrists and psychologists said.

And this trauma may be compounded by the natural and unquenchable rage of his relatives.

"I just feel justice needs to be served and it’s going to be," the boy’s mother said recently. "She ruined my child."

The third-grade boy still attends school, but is now in counseling, said his mother.

Tammy Imre, 29, of Stratford, was arraigned Monday on charges of first-degree sexual assault, fourth-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor.

Imre’s bail was set at $250,000. If convicted, she could face more than 20 years in prison.

Though sex was involved, there was no sexual relationship, experts said.

"An adult having sex with a child of either gender is a gross violation of social standards," said Dr. Robert Trestman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

"It’s important to understand that this is not a sexual relationship. It’s sexual abuse," said Dr. John Leventhal, medical director of the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic at the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital.

The man or woman is not simply taking advantage of a child’s body, he said. The adult subsumes the boy’s or girl’s identity and sense of self.

The boy may also be left with the terrible sense of having done something wrong, Leventhal said.

News of men preying on girls is more common than cases of women molesting boys. Trestman said psychologists had assumed that girls were the most frequent victims.

But the Imre and other cases suggests that victimization of boys by women may be more prevalent, yet underreported.

Infamous cases include Mary Kay Letourneau, the then-34-year-old Seattle teacher who in 1996 had sex with and later bore children with her 13-year-old student.

Debra Lafave, a 23-year-old Tampa, Fla., newlywed teacher, allegedly sexually assaulted her 14-year-old male student earlier this year.

Both cases shocked and outraged the nation. Then came the mind-boggling Imre case.

"There are significantly more female offenders than arrest records suggest," said David A. D’Amora, director of Connection’s Center for the Treatment of Problem Sexual Behavior.

The center is treating 800 male offenders and 14 females, D’Amora said.

Cases involving female sex offenders are often pleaded down to non-sexual charges, he said.

Women sexual abusers tend to have more psychiatric problems than men, are more likely to have been abused and have more substance abuse problems, he said.

Women are also more difficult to treat than men because they have more problems, "and we don’t know as much," D’Amora said.

Even if the sexual abuse is nonviolent, it can cause significant disruption in normal development, Trestman said.

"Abuse changes normal exploratory behavior. Children may display sexually precocious acts," he said.

Many are fascinated by the Imre case because of society’s strict expectations about sexual behavior, he said.

"This kind of case makes us nervous. We spend a lot of time resisting bad behavior. Forbidden sex is very interesting," Trestman said.

Imre’s alleged relationship with the boy surfaced after the boy’s mother intercepted a letter from Imre to her son.

"You can come over (and) we can (you know what)," Imre allegedly wrote.

Imre acknowledged to having sexual relations with the boy, police said, and told police she considered him her "boyfriend" and future husband.

"That goes way beyond the normal pattern of sexual transgression," Trestman said. "This goes beyond emotional problems to reality problems."

An 8-year-old is interested in relationships and interested in his body, but not interested in sex, said Julian Ford, associate professor of psychiatry at the UConn Health Center.

"To be ready for sex, a person has to understand relationships, trust, dominance and intimacy," he said.

Premature sex confuses all of these issues, Ford said.

"The woman could have a lot of confusion and unmet needs that can be safely met with an 8-year-old," he said.

"The kid cares. That’s the saddest thing," Ford said.

Perhaps the boy’s biggest loss is his innocence, Ford said.

"Betrayal takes away innocence. When a child trusts an adult and the adult uses him, he loses his innocence," he said.


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