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The Sex Offender Registry Leaves Female Sex Offenders Open to Abuse
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We end with an overall conclusion. Stereotypically, child sexual abuse implies the image of a male perpetrator sexually abusing a female child. However, due to an expanding research field since the s [ 1 ], it is well established scientific knowledge today, that part of all child sexual offences are committed by women [ 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 ].
Although research data on female child sexual offenders abbreviated female child sexual offenders FCSO in the following References [ 1 , 2 , 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 ] is available and can be used for reviews and meta-analyses, there is still a noticeable gap of information on what is known about FCSO as opposed to male child sexual offenders [ 15 ]. Additionally, most of what is known resulted from studies with only small clinical samples of female offenders registered by the criminal system [ 16 ]. Consequently, the assessment and treatment of FCSO is insufficient [ 2 ].
One reason for the low level of knowledge about FCSO could be that FCSO are rarely registered in official statistics and are therefore difficult to reach for clinicians and researchers. One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that child sexual abuse committed by women seems to be a powerful social taboo [ 18 ]. Therefore, there is a marked resistance against the disclosure of FCSO [ 19 ] even among professionals in the health care and justice system [ 20 ].
In order to encourage the disclosure of FCSO, enhance the thematic research, and improve the quality of child protection and prevention, we deem it particularly necessary for clinicians and researchers in the field of sexual health to overcome this taboo. This article is not a systematic review but is intended to provide a short narrative literature overview on the discrepancy between prevalence rates based on different sources official reports vs.
Secondly, we focus on FCSO as a social taboo that even percolates the health care and justice system. In order to overcome this social taboo, we provide some general implications for professionals in health care systems.
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In order to foster research activities on FCSO, we give specific recommendations for researchers in the field of sexual medicine. We focused on data from countries sharing similar cultural and societal backgrounds.
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We included some additional studies that were published before the year , but had an important impact on this research field and are still frequently cited. We excluded articles in which only juvenile FCSO or general female sexual offenders with adult victims were analyzed.
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When necessary, additional references were used e. Due to different methodologies and samples, prevalence reports of sexual child abuse committed by women vary within the literature. There are two main sources of information for estimating the prevalence of FCSO: Firstly, official reports i. An overview of the results of different studies and reviews is shown in Table 1 and Table 2. Due to this, it was not possible to specify the sample size by gender. The comparison of prevalence rates based on official reports Table 1 and those based on victimization surveys Table 2 clearly demonstrate a great gap.
Sexual offences against children committed by women appear to be underreported and not prosecuted adequately. Research so far indicates that FCSO are a rather heterogeneous population with different features [ 5 , 33 , 34 , 35 ]. However, some common characteristics of FCSO and their victims were found. The average age of FCSO seems to range from 26—36 [ 5 ].
The majority of FCSO in empirical research showed a rather low socioeconomic status [ 5 , 12 , 38 ] with little vocational qualifications [ 12 , 39 , 40 ]. FCSO further appear to be impulsive with low levels of emotional self-regulation [ 48 ]. Typically, FSCOs find their victims in their closer social circle [ 3 , 16 , 35 , 42 , 49 , 50 ]. The prevalence rates shown in Table 2 indicate that FCSO appear to sexual abuse male victims more often than female victims. However, research results so far are not sufficiently reliably to predict who may be at higher risk to be abused by an adult woman: boys or girls [ 5 ].
The discrepancy between official reports and victimization surveys on the prevalence of FCSO clearly demonstrates the under-recognition of women who behave in a sexually abusive manner. Official statistics only reflect those women who have had contact with the criminal justice or social service system. This indicates that reporting FCSO to the police or child welfare agencies seems to be a great obstacle. In fact, from the very beginning of scientific confrontation with FCSO in the [ 53 ], women who sexually abuse children have been a powerful social taboo [ 18 ].
Women are usually portrayed as victims and as being passive, innocent, and sexually submissive. Moreover, they are primarily normalized as the gatekeepers of sexuality [ 18 ].
In terms of anatomy, some have argued that women are receivers of sexuality which might make it difficult to imagine a woman as someone who sexually abuses others [ 54 ]. Instead, women are frequently seen as nurturers and protectors in positions of trust. They are thought of as mothers and those who provide care for others.
Women who sexually abuse children undermine such normative labels and challenge traditional gender stereotypes that are firmly established in society [ 18 ]. The way in which members of a society perceive and respond to certain events is significantly shaped by medial reports [ 55 ]. In an analysis of 29 newspaper articles published in Australian dailies, Landor and Eisenchlas [ 56 ] showed that male sexual offenders are strongly criticized in media reports, whereas female sexual offenders are usually described in a more sympathetic way.
Hayes and Baker [ 18 ] also analyzed the way in which the media reports on women who sexually abused children.
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The authors theorized that media reports tend to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes and therefore suppress the development of a public awareness of sexual offences committed by women. Examining media reports from Australia and the United Kingdom, they found that the media mainly presents FCSO as aberrations and pariahs in terms of outcasts , and thus do not contribute to an atmosphere supporting the safe and timely reporting of offences by victims [ 18 ].
Mackelprang and Becker [ 57 ] demonstrated that this unequal perception of men and women who sexually offend against children is in fact reflected in societal judgements. The authors asked undergraduate students to judge teacher sexual offence vignettes e. For all outcome measures reflecting punitive judgements and attitudes towards the offender, female teachers who had had a sexual relationship with a student were evaluated more leniently and judged less punitively than male teachers who did the same.
In addition, there has been an even greater tolerance for FCSO when they were described as attractive instead of unattractive. This effect was not observed for the vignettes on male child sexual offenders [ 57 ]. Professionals in healthcare, criminal justice, and child protection systems were also shown to respond inappropriately in cases of child sexual abuse committed by women [ 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 ]. A total of Australian psychiatrists, psychologists, probationary psychologists, and child protection workers were presented with a variation of vignettes describing women and men who had sexually offended against children.
Compared to male-perpetrated child sexual abuse, female-perpetrated child sexual abuse was more likely to be rated leniently. Psychotherapists who treat young patients experiencing mother-incest-abuse initially often struggle with the idea of reporting these cases [ 65 ]. As Haliburn concluded, the frequency of mental health patients reporting histories of child sexual abuse does not surprise clinicians anymore.
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As a consequence of FCSO being a social taboo, their victims often have difficulties in recognizing their experiences as sexually abusive [ 66 ] and feel intensly confused [ 67 ]. It is not unusual that FCSO disguise their abusive behavior as part of childlare activities [ 67 ]. This might in part be the reason why in fact even the offenders themselves have difficulties in recognizing their behavior as sexually abusive [ 68 ].
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