There have been extensive studies regarding child sexual abuse, however, there have been minimal attention paid to sexual abuse by females (Denov 2001). During the last twenty years there has been a rise of interest in the issue of child sexual abuse with most research concluding that sexual offending is an exclusively male activity (Denov 2001). In fact, early research on sexual offenders suggested that sexual offending among females was so rare that it was "of little significance" and claimed that sexual offending was "virtually unknown among women" (Denov 2001). A 1984 study suggested that "pedophilia does not exist at al in women" (Denov 2001). However, findings from more recent studies have begun to acknowledge the existence of female sexual offenders (Denov 2001).
Indeed, official statistics lends to the conclusion that female offending is a rare phenomenon (Denov 2001). According to figures from the Canadian Center for Justice Statistics, only two percent of adults convicted in 1999 of a crime of sexual assault were female (Denov 2001). One 1995 Canadian study found that there were only 19 female federal offenders whose major offence was sexual, representing only 3% of the female federal offender population (Denov 2001). A 1989 study analyzed 87 validated cases of boys who had been sexually abused and subsequently referred to the University of Michigan Project on Child Abuse and Neglect (Denov 2001). The study found that 8% of the victims had been sexually abused by a lone female (Denov 2001). Another study of 205 cases of substantiated sexual abuse reported to a child abuse hotline between 1976-1979 found that 180 victims were females compared to 25 males and that only 1% of female victims and 4% of male victims reported having been abused by a female (Denov 2001). A 1995 study of 121 sexually abused males who were receiving therapy from private or community mental health clinics found that 60% reported childhood sexual activity with females, 14% indicated sexual interactions with females only, while 46% reported sexual activity with both male and female (Denov 2001).
A study reported in 2000 examined characteristics of accused women and their victims, and patterns of the alleged offenses and outcome of forensic evaluation (Lewis, Stanley 2000). The study revealed that women accused of community sexual offenses were likely to have past sexual and physical victimization as well as ongoing physical victimization (Lewis, Stanley 2000). Borderline, intellectual function and mental retardation were common and women frequently acted with codefendants, and moreover, the victims knew the perpetrator in every instance (Lewis, Stanley 2000).
Author Julia Hislop stipulates that although the incidence of sexual abuse by men is indeed much higher than of women, the actual number of children molested by women is high (Turner 2001). Approximately 23% of females are sexually abused in childhood and that 5% of the offenders are women. (Turner 2001). The Census Bureau estimates that 1.5 million females may have been abused by females and researcher C. Allen estimates that 7% of males experienced sexual abuse in childhood and that 20% of that number were abused by women (Turner 2001). Other findings reveal that multiple perpetrators were involved in significantly more cases in which females (25%) as opposed to males (6%) were the perpetrators (Kaufman 1995).
Hislop found most female offenders share histories of severe trauma, including sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and difficulty engaging in relationships and interpersonal dynamics (Turner 2001). Moreover, the study found that the majority of female offenders suffer from a myriad of mental health issues, which may include pathology, substance abuse, and feelings of low self-worth, confidence and esteem (Turner 2001). In fact the practice of sending delinquent girls who tested low in intelligence to state schools for feebleminded children dates back to the 1930's when institutions became a type of wastebasket for problem cases of mental, physical, or moral nature (Cahn 1998).
Female sex offending appears to be associated more with relationship and dependency issues than with deviant sexual preferences (Nathan, Ward 2001). Early research and clinical experience suggests that female sex offenders are a heterogenous group who can be placed into distinct categories according to their psychological and offence characteristics (Nathan, Ward 2001). Individuals who fall into the pre-disposed category might require intensive fantasy work, while those whose offending occur in the context of a professional relationship, such a teacher-lover, need to focus on issues associated with power and control (Nathan, Ward 2001). Research and clinical experience suggest that treatment programs for women have only provisional utility and evidence-based research is necessary to validate the usefulness of these programs (Nathan, Ward 2001).
Patterns between conduct disorder, attentional disorder and learning disability make young offenders a challenging population for clinicians, law enforcement/correctional personnel and researchers (Humber, Snow 2001). Most research suggests that the average age of female offenders is in the 20's and 30's, although, studies also indicate that there is a substantial age range (Nathan, Ward 2002). The majority of women are poorly educated and of lower socio-economic status (Nathan, Ward 2002). There are high rates of unemployment among female sex offenders and most occupy traditional occupational roles, such as homemakers (Nathan, Ward 2002). Early marriages and multiple partners are frequent among this population and a small gap between mother and child is common (Nathan, Ward 2002).
Findings from case studies and descriptive reports suggest that mental health problems may be common among female sex offenders, such as personality disorders, chemical dependency, depression, suicidal ideation, cognitive impairments, and poor coping skills (Nathan, Ward 2002). Recent studies suggest that post traumatic stress disorder, major depression, and deficits in impulse control and self-esteem were particularly dominant (Nathan, Ward 2002). One of the most consistent observations of female offenders is that the majority of sexual assaults only occur in the presence of a male accomplice (Nathan, Ward 2002). This suggests that females may be passive perpetrators and only sexually abuse children if encouraged by their male partners (Nathan, Ward 2002). Moreover, evidence indicates that females use less coercive measures than males and rarely physically injure or assault their victims (Nathan, Ward 2002). Furthermore, female offenders appear to prefer female victims and most of their offending is directed against this group of children (Nathan, Ward 2002). The majority of women have a maternal or enduring relationship with the victim and offences against unknown strangers are rare, in fact, incestuous relationships form the majority of the abuse situations (Nathan, Ward 2002). Most children are pre-school and school-age, although there have been cases of women offending against infants and adolescents over long periods of time (Nathan, Ward 2002). However, one case study revealed that the female perpetrator did not suffer from major psychotic, affective or substance use disorder, and her intelligence level was normal range and that she acted alone in her offences (Chow, Choy 2002).
Crime patterns among female sexual offenders have not been described in detail, however, the aims of one recent study are to describe alleged perpetrator, victim, and crime characteristics in an effort to better understand the phenomenon of sexual abuse by women (Lewis, Stanley 2000). This study found that the rate of known sexual abuse by female offenders to be significant lower than that of male offenders (Lewis, Stanley 2000). The authors found a high rate of molestation by their mother, and in most instances, these cases involved the husbands as a co-defendant (Lewis, Stanley 2000).
The sexual abuse of children adversely affects the physical and emotional well-being of children of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds (Kaufman, Wallace 1995). In a recent survey, 27% of adult women and 16% of adult men reported a history of childhood sexual abuse (Kaufman, Wallace 1995). However, the female perpetration of sexual abuse has been a subject largely overlooked, yet, females commit between 3% and 13% of all sexual abuse (Kaufman, Wallace 1995).
Literature suggests that people accused of sex crimes are a heterogeneous group and that not all sex criminals have paraphilic sexual disorders (Fedoroff 1999). "Some offenders are simply opportunistic criminals, some are suffering front major mental disorders, some act while intoxicated and many are a combination of the foregoing groups. In addition, some reported sex criminals are either falsely accused or their behavior simulates paraphilias" (Fedoroff 1999). Sex crime is itself a term which is applicable to a wide range of behaviors (Fedoroff 1999). The Criminal Code of Canada lists more than twenty different categories of sex crime that can be broadly subdivided into those of non-consensual victim (sexual assault) and those without (victimless crimes, prostitution-related offences) (Fedoroff 1999). More men than women are convicted of sex crimes with victims, whereas more women than men are charged and convicted of consensual sex crimes, particularly prostitution-related crimes (Fedoroff 1999). Because the majority of academics, physicians, judges, and indeed women themselves do not consider the possibility that females can harbor paraphilic interests, they are highly unlikely to recognize women with paraphilias (Fedoroff 1999).
The number of incarcerated women who are convicted of sex offenses is actually higher than believed and require…