The commonness of female sexual offending was reviewed in part 1 of this three-part mini-blog series. In part 2, the nature of female sexual offending is described. In part 3, the mental health and treatment needs of female sexual offenders are discussed.
There is evidence of significant mental health needs in female sexual offenders, as well as histories of physical and sexual victimization and drug and alcohol abuse. While female sexual offenders are not typically diagnosed with paedophilia, some female sexual offenders have an attraction to children. There is evidence that post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and impulse control disorder are prominent among female sexual offenders. Compared to female offenders who do not commit a sexual offence, female sexual offenders are more likely to present with borderline, avoidant, and dependent personality disorders, as well as depressive disorders. A large number of female sexual offenders also experience intellectual disabilities which can impact judgement and impulsivity.
Unfortunately, the treatment needs of female sexual offenders have not been adequately investigated and more often than not female sexual offenders receive treatments that have been developed for male sexual offenders. All sexual offender treatment programs target distorted thinking, deviant sexual interests, empathy, relationships, coping skills, mental health concerns, and historical victimization. However, adaptations of these treatments are needed to cater to the unique needs of the female sexual offender.
Canada has developed a female sexual offender treatment program. The Assessment and Treatment Protocol for Women Who Sexually Offend was developed by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to provide gender-specific approaches to the identification, assessment, and treatment of female sexual offenders. The treatment approach is designed to be offered individually or in small groups. The program helps the female sexual offender identify the factors that influenced the offender’s criminal behaviours and teaches the offender to deal with these factors more effectively, with the intent of reducing the risk the offender will re-offend. The treatment program is based on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and relational theories but it is adjusted to the specific needs of the offender.
In summary, the female sexual offender population appears to be underrepresented in the forensic and criminal justice systems. More research is needed to understand this population of offenders, develop effective and equitable assessment and identification approaches, and implement gender-specific treatment programs.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (604.554.0469).