In part 1 of this three-part mini-blog series, the commonness of female sexual offending was reviewed. In part 2, the nature of female sexual offending is described.
Characteristically, female sexual offenders are often between the ages of 20 and 40, Caucasian, single, socially isolated, of low socio-economic status, and often experience emotional and substance abuse problems. Females sexual offenders are more likely than male sexual offenders to be unemployed and to have experienced childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. They are also very likely to experience psychiatric disorders, depression, or mental retardation. Female sexual offenders are also more likely than male sexual offenders to target children and adolescents. However, mMale and female sexual offenders equally target victims of both genders and with whom they have a prior relationship. Recent research suggests that many female sexual offenders commit their first sexual offense alone. Female sexual offenders tend to have lower rates of re-committing an offense than male sexual offenders. However, many female sexual offenders have previously been charged with other criminal offenses or have repeat offenses in non-sexual criminal acts.
Research has identified five categories of female sexual offending:
Female abuse of adolescent boys. One category includes females who abuse adolescent boys (e.g., teacher-student). In these cases, the adolescent male is often treated similarly to an adult sexual partner and the male is often considered a willing participant by the offender. Studies that consider the personal histories of female sexual offenders have shown these have experienced less sexual victimization as children compared to other types of female sexual offenders but they have often experienced verbal and emotional abuse.
Female abuse of young children. A second category refers to females who abuse young children. These women will typically act alone and victimize their own children. They are likely to have severe or chronic histories of sexual or physical abuse committed against them in their childhood. These women’s adult relationships are often abusive and they often maintain deviant fantasies, engage in other sexually deviant behaviours, and use violence while offending.
Female co-offending. The third category, which accounts for the largest proportion of female sexual offenders, is women who have co-offenders. Female offenders in this category fall into two subgroups, those that are coerced by the male co-offender and those that are not. Those that are coerced appear to engage in the sexual offense to avoid punishment. These women tend to be non-assertive and emotionally dependent, and they will often fall into a stereotyped gender role. There is little information that characterizes the non-coerced female sexual offenders from the coerced female sexual offenders but it is suggested that the non-coerced female offenders may fall into the other categories.
Female abuse of adults. Women who sexually abuse adults is one of the smallest categories found. While some evidence suggests this group is primarily composed of homosexual offenders, there is little information on the nature of these offenders. It is possible that female-perpetrated sexual offences against males are also underreported.
Female sexual homicide. A fifth category of female sexual offenders that is beginning to emerge are those women who complete a homicide in addition to the sexual offense. Little is known about this population but it is suggested that female sexual murderers are more likely to target male victims and that often the female sexual murderers were in a relationship with their victims.
This three-part mini-blog series continues. Part 3 discusses the mental health and treatment needs of female sexual offenders.
Dr. Stephen Rochefort is a registered psychologist in the province of Alberta. For more information on this or any other forensic or clinical psychology topic, contact Dr. Stephen by email (email@example.com) or phone (604.554.0469).
Gannon, T. A., & Cortoni, F. (2010). Female sexual offenders: Theory, assessment, and treatment. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.