Only One Woman Held Under Ryce Act
Sexual Offenders Are Committed Under Law
Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act allows for the indefinite civil commitment of sex offenders after they have served their time behind bars. The 1998 law is named for a 9-year-old Miami-Dade boy kidnapped, raped and murdered by a handyman - 14 years ago on Friday.
Judy K. Taylor of Ocala holds the distinction of being Florida's lone woman committed involuntarily and indefinitely to a psychiatric facility, after completing her four-year prison term for having sex with underage boys ranging in age from 13 to 16.
"Men typically abuse because they are sexually aroused by children, and women typically abuse because they are trying to get emotional needs met," according to Fort Lauderdale forensic psychologist Amy Swan, chairwoman of the Florida Board of Psychology and an evaluator for the DCF.
The 45-year-old Taylor is one of just four women nationwide held under sex-offender civil-commitment laws, according to data from the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network.
The laws, whose constitutionality has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, allow the 20 states to hold sex offenders determined by a court as likely to engage in future acts of sexual violence.
As of August 2008, the most recent data available, just more than 3,600 men across the country were civilly committed. One woman each from Illinois, Florida, Minnesota and Washington were held under the same laws.
When the prison term of someone who has committed a sexually motivated crime is nearing completion, the DCF reviews the case file. Mental health professionals do face-to-face interviews with about 10 percent of those prisoners and 4 percent of them get recommended to state attorneys for civil commitment, according to Dr. Suzonne Kline, director of DCF's Sexually Violent Predator Program.
Only about 1 percent actually are committed, which requires the offender to be declared a sexually violent predator likely to reoffend. This is done at a civil jury trial - as in Taylor's case - or by the offender voluntarily entering into an agreement with the state.
In the 10 years since Florida began civilly committing sex offenders, the DCF has reviewed more than 35,000 cases, of which only 435 have been women.
Men are housed in a secure facility in Arcadia, which is quickly nearing its 720-person capacity. Taylor is held in a Miami psychiatric facility, where she's separated from the other residents.
The DCF would not permit the evaluating psychologist to discuss Taylor's case, but Swan is familiar with the case and said that Taylor has been diagnosed with pedophilia. Taylor also has "significant mental health issues," a common theme with women sex offenders, Swan said.
Scientific literature indicates a "best-guess estimate" that 4 percent of women sexually touch children, compared with 7 percent of men, according to Markus Wiegel, an Atlanta psychologist specializing in female sex offender research. Collecting data on women offenders is challenging, he said, because so little research exists.
Whether more women will be snared under civil commitment laws is the subject of debate, though prosecutors and mental-health professionals agree that the number of women likely will increase, though probably not in great numbers.
"I don't think it's an anomaly that there's one woman, but I don't see the numbers growing significantly," said Kristin Kanner, Broward County's Jimmy Ryce prosecutor.
With women only recently - in the past 10 years or so - being more aggressively prosecuted for sex crimes, the civil-commitment numbers may begin to increase as their prison sentences near completion, according to Barbara Burns, who prosecutes Palm Beach County's Jimmy Ryce cases.
Sex offenders are a heterogenous group, but there are some general differences between men and women who abuse children.
About half of women who commit sex crimes have had a psychiatric hospitalization and have a history of taking psychotropic medications, she said. Forty percent of sexual abuse perpetrated by women occurs in a day care setting.
Complicating the research is that boys abused by women are far less likely to report it "since our society still views it for a boy as scoring," Swan said.
More than half the time, women abuse children with a man, who will have coerced the woman into participating, according to Wiegel.
There is not enough research to reliably estimate the recidivism - or reoffending - rate for women, but it's thought that they reoffend less often than men, perhaps as little as 1 percent, according to some experts.
And while much debate exists about whether sex offenders can ever be cured, Wiegel says they can, indeed, rejoin society.
"A child sex abuser can be taught not to do it again, just like an alcoholic is taught not to drink even if they still have urges," he said. "Sex-offender treatment is very effective, if done correctly."
Missy Diaz can be reached at mdiaz@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5505.