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There was a time when an adolescent boy who got seduced into a sexual relationship with an attractive older woman was considered lucky. But make no mistake: There's a reason the law defines such liaisons as a crime. When an adult — man or woman — lures a vulnerable minor into a situation that allows him to be sexually exploited, it's a form of abuse, not love, and it can have serious consequences for the victim emotionally and psychologically. No teenage boy ever was better off afterward for having been the victim of sexual abuse by an adult.

That's why authorities were right to take with upmost seriousness allegations that Molly Shattuck, 47, the ex-wife of former Constellation Energy CEO Mayo A. Shattuck III, engaged in a months-long sexual relationship with a boy young enough to be her son. Ms. Shattuck was arrested on Wednesday and charged with third-degree rape and unlawful sexual contact with a 15-year-old boy identified as a classmate at the same school her son attends.

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Ms. Shattuck, who in recent years has emerged as something of a celebrity in her own right, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and she must of course be accorded the presumption of innocence unless proven otherwise. But the charges in her case, which involve an older woman allegedly preying on a much younger boy for sexual gratification, have revived an undercurrent of opinion questioning whether a teenage boy in such a situation actually suffers any harm. There's even a school of thought, rooted in the idea that all males want to have sex whenever possible, that suggests the experience of being seduced by a much older woman actually may have been good for the boy.

Child psychologists and psychiatrists have long known such beliefs are a myth, however. While it's true that many adolescent boys do occasionally fantasize about having sex with an older, "experienced" woman — a teacher, close relative or family friend — there's a big difference between dreaming about such encounters and actually participating in one, willingly or unwillingly. Either way, the effect on how the youngster feels about himself, his partner and women in general is liable to be traumatic, especially if the predatory adult is someone he has been taught to trust and who he believes will protect him.

The effects of that trauma can be mild or severe, easily overcome or difficult to cope with. Some victims experience guilt, shame, low self-esteem and anger toward the perpetrator while others may face more serious psychological disorders. Victims can find themselves unable to establish bonds of trust or set limits and boundaries on their own and others' behavior because as youths their personal boundaries were invaded by someone they trusted.

Such feelings can cause victims to question their own sexuality and inhibit their ability to participate in intimate relationships as adults. Victims can blame themselves for having been exploited sexually and struggle for years to overcome the stigmatization, isolation and alienation attached to the abuse. Many try to cope with such feelings by overuse of alcohol or drugs, or by engaging in high-risk behaviors.

It's important to recognize that the effects of the sexual exploitation of minors vary widely, depending on the severity of the abuse, how long it goes on and, crucially, whether victims are supported by family and friends who acknowledge the emotional toll exacted by the abuse and the seriousness of the crimes committed against them. Some youngsters are remarkably resilient and can recover quickly with minimal counseling or other treatment, while others have more difficulty adjusting. But it's important to point out that having been victimized as a child doesn't automatically mean one's life is ruined forever.

Still, the belief that boys who are sexually exploited by predatory adult women are somehow "lucky" to be victimized is a recurrent theme whenever cases such as the one against Ms. Shattuck arise. Regardless of the guilt or innocence of the alleged perpetrator in this case, as a society we need to recognize that the sexual abuse of adolescent males by adult women is never a laughing matter and that parents need to be as alert to the danger of predators in their midst who threaten their boys as they are to those who threaten their girls.

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