Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse by a Female

In a recent case in Texas a defense attorney, according to the media, made the following statement (the victim was 13):

Winfield told jurors that if given probation, Cosgrove would not be a risk, and that the boy enjoyed the attentions of an older woman and was not traumatized.

“It’s different with boys and girls,” she said. “I don’t believe he’s going to be scarred for life.” – Read the entire article here

Comments like that are all to common in cases like that. In another case an attorney said “In my opinion he’s an advanced 14-year-old,”. Comments like these and others are simply wrong and offensive.

Because I am seeing more and more reported comments like this I wanted to look at parts of a study that talked about the long term effects of sexual abuse by females. It has some interesting points that I would like to highlight (note all emphasis is mine):

The Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse by Female Perpetrators: A Qualitative Study of Male and Female Victims

 
Myriam S. Denov
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Oct 2004; vol. 19: pp. 1137 – 1156

Despite the minimal research dedicated to addressing the long-term effects of female sexual abuse on victims, emerging studies have revealed that the general public and professionals working in the area of child welfare perceive sexual abuse by women as relatively harmless as compared to sexual abuse by men. Broussard, Wagner, and Kazelskis (1991) asked 180 female and 180 male undergraduates their perceptions of the effects of child sexual abuse on the victim. Participants tended to view the interaction of a male victim with a female perpetrator as less representative of child sexual abuse. They also believed that male victims of female offenders would experience less harm than if the victim was a woman or girl and the offender was a man. Similarly, Finkelhor (1984) found that his survey participants tended to view the sexual offenses of women as relatively insignificant. When he asked 521 parents about the seriousness of different types of sexual abuse, they rated adult female perpetrators’ actions with male and female victims as less abusive than those of adult male perpetrators with male or female victims.

Now this might be expected of the lay person but professionals who work in the area of child welfare should know better. But then again think of how many of these professionals have the mother present when they are asking questions about sexual abuse to a child. How many of them even think to ask if the child has been sexually abused by a woman?

Research on professional attitudes to different types of sexual abuse reveals comparable perceptions to those of the general public. For example,Hetherton and Beardsall (1998) identified gender biases in the decisions of socialworkers and police working in child protection. The authors presented police officers and social workers with identical case vignettes of sexual abuse involving either a male or female perpetrator. Both professional groups considered that social service involvement and investigation were less warranted when the perpetrator was a woman. Case registration and imprisonmentof the male perpetrator was considered more important by both professional groups.

 Denov’s (2001) research explored psychiatrists’ and police perspectives on female sex offending. The study found that both professional groups viewed sexual abuse by women as less harmful than sexual abuse by men. Moreover, efforts were made by psychiatrists and police officers, either consciously or unconsciously, to transform the female sex offender and her offense, realigning them with more culturally acceptable notions of female behavior. This ultimately led to a denial of the problem.

And this group of professionals should know better also. Because of this many people who do mention they have been sexually abused by a woman are disbelieved or are told they are mistaken.

If you want to see how this denial plays out just look at one label that is used for some female sexual offenders. They are called Teacher/Lover. Yet there is no corresponding label for male offenders. Is it not offensive to call someone who sexually assaulted a child a “lover”? I do not think it would go over well if they tried to put that label on some male offenders.

This next piece is very important:

The professional assumption that sexual abuse by women is less harmful than similar abuse by men has potentially dangerous implications for victims of sexual abuse by women and their offenders. If professionals fail to recognize sexual abuse by women as potentially serious and harmful, child protection plans will not be made. Consequently, children in the care of or in contact with a female sex offender may be at risk and remain outside of the realm of professional attention and statutory intervention. In addition, such professional belief systems may work to diminish the level of harm inflicted on the victim. As a result, the experiences of victims who come forward to disclose sexual abuse by women may be trivialized, leading to delayed referral to social services, or failing to provide victims with the care and the necessary support services that they require (Hunter, 1990; Denov, 2004). Moreover, professional minimization or disbelief of victims’ allegations of female perpetrated sexual abuse may actually exacerbate the negative effects of the sexual abuse, ultimately inciting secondary victimization (Denov, 2003b). In a similar vein, female sex offenders who are perceived by professionals as largely innocuous will not be held accountable for their actions and may be allowed to drop out of the child welfare and/or criminal justice system without warrant. In such circumstances, female abusers will not gain insight into their behavior and may continue to pose a risk to children.

This next part looked at some of the data from the study:

The average age of onset of the female sexual abuse was age 5 and ended, on average, at age 12, with the average duration being 6 years. 36% reported being sexually abused more than once per week, 21% reported being abused once per week; 29% reported being abused once per month. 14% reported a single incident of abuse.

In total, 64% reported severe sexual abuse, while 71% reported moderate sexual abuse. 100% reported experiencing mild sexual abuse.

93% reported that the sexual abuse was highly damaging and difficult to recover from:

However, all of the victims who reported sexual abuse by men and women declared that the sexual abuse by women was more harmful and more damaging than the sexual abuse by men.

For example, one female participant, whose father attempted sexual intercourse with her at age 5 and had intercourse and oral sex with her until the age of 11, reported that her father’s actions were the least invasive of all the sexual abuse that she had experienced. To her, the sexual abuse by her mother and her grandmother was far more traumatic:

The [sexual abuse] done by my father was the least invasive. . . . The abuse by the females had far more of an effect on me than he did. . . . When looking at the big picture and the layers of hurt . . . out of all that happened to me, what my mother did was the absolute worst . . . far worse than what my father had done.

There is a deeper sense of betrayal [with a female perpetrator]. It’s like there’s no safe place. How can a woman face a world that belittles and condemns us because we’re women . . . and still turn her hand against her own sex? That’s a bitter betrayal.

100% reported a strong mistrust of women as a result of the sexual abuse experience.

29% reported having sexually abused children at some point in their lives. The men were charged and convicted. The sexual abuse by the women was never reported.

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4 thoughts on “Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse by a Female

  1. I agree with you, but I think highlighting an account of incest is not the best example for proving your point. A female victim who is abused by her mother during formative years is an especially perverse form of abuse, tampering with the mother-daughter relationship. Do you mean to say, though, that a post-pubescent boy who is abused by a non-relative woman receives the same level of psychological damage? It is certainly abuse, but I’m curious if the impact on him would be as acute as on the female victim in this example.

  2. The impact would have to be judged on an individual case by case basis. For some it might have less, for some more.

  3. I did some research on the internet of sexual abuses by female. Women are normally the most important caregiver of a child. The father plays an important role as well, but children are more attached to their mother. Being sexual abused by your mother is the worse thing that can happen to someone. A mother should be the person in your life you trust the most. People even questioned themselves if a women is able to sexual abuse a child (especially when the victim is a boy).

    You mentioned in your article that being sexual abused by a woman is worse and more effective than being sexual abused by a man. A Dutch website says that is doesn’t matter if the perpetrator is a man or a woman. What matter is who the perpetrator is. When the perpetrator is the mother of the victim it can definitely leave some deeper marks than when the perpetrator is the father. Which operations are preformed in sexual abuse by a woman is not worse than the operations preformed by a man.
    Also, in our society, still men have a different and more powerful role than women. The reason why not many boys admit they have been sexual abused is because when a boy is being sexual abused by a woman, people often do not believe him and see him as a weak person. Most men do not publish any book about being sexual abused, just because they feel more ashamed about it than women.

  4. I have a question regarding the numbers. You write: “In total, 64% reported severe sexual abuse, while 71% reported moderate sexual abuse. 100% reported experiencing mild sexual abuse.”. Shouldn’t the different rates combined add up to 100%?

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