What do we know about female sexual offending?
Some things are so difficult to talk about or even contemplate that we could think of them as ‘nettlesome knowledge’. In other words, knowledge that is so difficult to face that we, as a society, shy away from it. Female sexual offending is one such topic and is invariably surrounded by myths and stereotypes that awash within our culture and the general media.
When considering why we don’t want to even contemplate the possibility that a female may be a sexual offender we should understand that we are brought up to view women as mothers, nurturers and perhaps even less sexually driven than men. An unconscious question that may play on our minds go something like, if women are not safe to leave our children with who is?
The figures estimating the rate of female sexual offending vary from 1-20% depending on the source and how the figures were obtained but what is clear is that female sexual offending is likely to be under-reported. In part this may be due to the hands-on caring role that females have within a family that may lead to children being confused about what happened to them. There are also barriers that may inhibit children and young people from disclosing their sexual abuse such as the fact that children are less likely to be believed when the perpetrator of sexual abuse is a female.
A female who sexually abuses a child or young person may be viewed as being coerced by a stronger and more dominant male co-abuser or of having been involved in a distorted lover relationship with the young person. There may also be the misconception that a young male will not be distressed or impacted by such a sexually abusive circumstance and the female abuser concerned may be portrayed in the media as a ‘cougar’.The reality is completely different. The sexual abuse of a child or a young person by a female can be just as distressing and detrimental as sexual abuse perpetrated by a male, both, at the time of the sexual offence and throughout the young person’s life trajectory.
It is the case that females who have been coerced or otherwise sexually abuse alongside a male co-abuser represent the largest proportion of females who have been convicted of a sexual offence, but females do sexually offend alone and for their own reasons.
Although it may be difficult for some to accept it is still worth noting that females do sexually offend within their home environment, and this includes offending against their own children.
Here are a few other things to think about in relation to female sexual offenders –
- Females sexually offend, just like men for a variety of reasons and they are not one homogenous group.
- There is a myriad of reasons that lead to females sexually offending which may include gratification, control of another, to feel powerful, to maintain a dysfunctional relationship with a co-abuser or for sadistic pleasure.
- Female sexual offenders often have reported histories of significant life trauma including exploitative and abusive relationships, childhood maltreatment or abuse including sexual abuse, substance misuse and poor mental health.
- Most of the adult victims of female sexual offenders are other females.
The research in relation to female sexual offending is still relatively sparce and there is a need for more theoretical frameworks specifically developed in relation to female sexual offending. A developed theoretical framework will assist future research, enhance assessment protocols and inform future treatment strategies.