Female Sexual Offenders Part I

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BBC: Experts say there needs to be more research done into female child sexual abuse

This is the first of a two part series. Sexual offending by females is the main topic of these articles. Considered here are sexual abuse of minors, paedophilia and sexual assault of adult men.

The sexual assault of minors in juvenile correctional facilities by females is a sub- category of the first.

With regard to the sexual assault of adult men, in some cases this involves full sexual intercourse without the consent of the man  in question, but this is not recognised as rape.

Under Irish law a man cannot be raped by a woman, the same is true in England and Wales. Instead another category  of offence, that of  being forced to penetrate is considered or in the case of a minor the defilement of a child.

In the US the NISVS  (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey) defines five types of sexual violence one of which is Being made to penetrate someone else.

Most of what follows is taken from Chapter 20 of The Empathy Gap by William Collins; no data here pertains to Ireland.

Sex offender Prisoner Statistics in the UK

About 99% of prisoners for sexual offences are men. In June 2005 there were 6,951 people in prison for sexual offences in England and Wales; this rose to 10,935 by June 2011.

By Dec 2018 there were 13,512 prisoners comprising about 19% of the total prison population, a near doubling in 13 years. By March 2015 the average sentence had reached 5 years 3 months, a 58% increase from 3 years and 4 months in 2003. There were 1295 convictions for rape in 2015 out of a total of 6402 convictions for any sex offence which meant that 80% of the men contributing to that average sentence were convicted for a lesser offence than rape. There has been a slight rise in the number of women in prison for sex offences but the volume remains very small. In June 2015 about 2.5% of the total female prison population of about 3900 were sex offenders.

Is this a true reflection of the prevalence of sex offences by females? Are they really 100 times rarer than males? A major problem is that many people believe that female sex offending cannot be taken seriously, even against minors.

Women’s Sexual Abuse of Minors and Paedophilia

Collins lists 39 typical case studies of abuse of minors from 2010 to 2017 of which 23 did not go to prison but received suspended sentences.

He compares the leniency with which these offenders were treated by the courts with those of typical male offenders and the further leniency afforded by the media to boot, citing words used to describe the offences such as “tryst”, “affair” or “fling”, rather than “assault”, “abuse”.

In the US there are several hundred cases annually of female teachers being convicted of sexual offences against underage boys in their schools. One major study in a university setting in 2001 found that 57.2% of all students reporting sexual abuse cited a male offender, 42.4% a female offender.

In 2009 Esther Rantzen, reporting on calls to UK Childline, caused a sensation when she stated that more than half of the boys reported sexual abuse by a woman. The most prominent commentator in this context, Michele Elliott, started the charity  Kidscape in the mid-1980s and began to write about the matter. Evidence is beginning to accumulate that 20%–25% of paedophiles are women, a position long held by Elliott. Her book “Female Sexual Abuse of Children, The Ultimate Taboo”, appeared in 1993. Shortly before this, Elliott appeared on a radio phone-in show where she raised the issue of sexual abuse by women. This opened a floodgate, the line was jammed with calls nearly all of whom were reporting for the first time. Yet in 2023 the social narrative still resists acknowledging the reality. A UK study by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (2009) says that up to 20% of paedophiles are women. A US study by the National Centre on Child Abuse and Neglect gave a figure of 25%.  Boroughs (2004) Female Sexual Abusers of Children  Children and Youth Services Review, 26(5), 481-487.

One  video in which Elliott is interviewed on this subject is here 

Public Incredulity

There is a further sinister twist, that the abuse can be self-perpetuating: multiple studies show that the incidence of childhood sexual  abuse among adult sex offenders is significantly higher than in the general population. The best estimate is that around half of male sex offenders against women have a childhood history of sexual abuse by a woman. Collins gives an account of the work of Naomi Murphy, a psychotherapist at HM Prison Whitemoor, on the most violent sex offenders and their record of childhood abuse.

While the public may be resistant to the reality of female sexual abusers, even more serious is that the same bias is common among the professionals in therapy, a subject of two review papers. The role of the media in shaping and reinforcing public opinion on the sex-stereotyping of offenders is the focus of an Australian study, which ends with a denunciation of “the systematic denial of female agency when it comes to sex”.

Landor and Eisenchlas (2012) Coming Clean on Duty of Care:  Sexuality and Culture 16(4) 486-502

Other videos come from the Man Woman And Myth website  http://tinyurl.com/y5ytywqj

Female on male sexual abuse occurs with alarming frequency in juvenile correctional facilities, at least in the US. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013), the overwhelming form of sexual offending in juvenile facilities is male juveniles being abused by female staff.

One key finding was that 89.1% of the abused males  reported abuse by female staff and sexual abuse by staff was three times more common than that by another inmate. Further compounding this preponderance was that female staff accounted for just 44% of staff in the sampled facilities.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013) Sexual Victimisation in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth, 2012

A recent BBC documentary found that  between 2015 and 2019, the numbers of reported cases of female-perpetrated child sexual abuse to police in England and Wales rose from 1,249 to 2,297 – an increase of 84%. Dr Andrea Darling, a criminology researcher at Durham University said the File on 4 figures represented the “tip of the iceberg”.

She said that although all child sexual abuse was underreported, there was a particular “lack of understanding” of the extent of female-perpetrated abuse.


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