Top Ten Myths about Female Sex Offenders

Top Ten Myths about Female Sex Offenders


Myth: Only males commit sex offenses

 FACT: Anyone, regardless of gender, can commit sexual offenses.  It has been known that women as well as men commit sexual offenses for well over 100 years.  In 1857 in one of the first formal texts on child sexual abuse Tardieu recognized that women as well as men commit sexual offenses.

MythSex offenses committed by females are very rare

 FACT: All sexual abuse is widely thought to be underreported and this is particularly true in regards to female sex offenders.  Numerous studies have shown that less than 10% of sexual abuse cases ever get reported and even fewer proceed into the judicial system.  Prevalence rates will vary depending on how the research is designed, how the questions are worded and asked, what definitions are used and the population studied.

 So what about official crime report numbers?  Here are a few:

 The United States Department of Justice found a rate of 8.3% for “Other sexual offenses” for females.

 The Australia Bureau of Statistics found a rate of 7.9% for “Sexual assault and related offences” for females.

 Like male perpetrated sex offenses, the number of incarcerated female sex offenders is not a good indicator of the number of females who perpetrate sexual offenses and make up at most a small fraction of all female sexual abusers.

 Rosencran’s (1997) study of female perpetrated sexual abuse found that only 3% of the female victims and 0% of the male victims told anyone about the sexual abuse during their childhood, even though 100% of them reported it was damaging.  Another study by Johnson and Shrier’s (1987) found that even though the male victims experienced the abuse as highly traumatic, none of them reported it to a mental health, social service, or criminal justice agency.

 Various other studies have found:

One in six adult men reported being sexually molested as children, and — in a surprise finding — nearly 40 percent of the perpetrators were female, a new study found. (Source Link)

In cases of daycare molestation, more than 60% of children who were molested, were molested by women. –  (Source link)

Approximately 95% of all youth reporting staff sexual misconduct said they had been victimized by female staff. In 2008, 42% of staff in state juvenile facilities were female. (Bureau of Justice Report)

In a study of 17,337 survivors of childhood sexual abuse, 23% had a female-only perpetrator and 22% had both male and female perpetrators. ( Dube, Shanta R et al. “Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender of Victim.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. (2005):28(5), p 430 – 438.

 According to a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education – In studies that ask students about offenders, sex differences are less than in adult reports. The 2000 AAUW data indicate that 57.2 percent of all students report a male offender and 42.4 percent a female offender with the Cameron et al. study reporting nearly identical proportions as the 2000 AAUW data (57 percent male offenders vs. 43 percent female offenders).. (Source .PDF Download)

There are other factors that come into play as well.  For example, frequently the term rape is used instead of a term such as sexual violence or sexual offences.  With many states and some countries having had, or like Idaho still have, laws that make it impossible for a female to be convicted of rape this causes a misrepresentation of the true numbers.  Some agencies have this same problem with outdated definitions.  For example the FBI’s definition of rape was limited to male-to-female intercourse.  Even today the UCR Program defines forcible rape as “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” (p. 19). .  Ohio’s Office of Criminal Justice Services has the following definition listed in their crime definitions:

 FORCIBLE RAPE = The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Assaults or attempts to commit rape by force are included here; however, statutory rape (without force) and other sex offenses are not included.

If you look at the FBI’s handbook about the UCR you will see this:

Carnal knowledge is defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th ed. as “the act of a man having sexual bodily connections with a woman; sexual intercourse.” There is carnal knowledge if there is the slightest penetration of the sexual organ of the female (vagina) by thesexual organ of the male (penis).

Agencies must not classify statutory rape, incest, or other sex offenses, i.e. forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, forcible fondling, etc. as Forcible Rape

By definition, sexual attacks on males are excluded from the rape category and must be classified as assaults or other sex offenses depending on the nature of the crime and the extent of injury.

So when someone says that 99% of rapes are committed by males do not let the statistics fool you because of the definitions being used.

MythFemales only sexually abuse others when coerced by a male

FACT: Numerous studies have shown that females sexually abuse others alone as well as with co-offenders.  The Dube et al. (2005) study found that 23% reported female only perpetrators.  Other studies have claimed higher and lower rates.

It is true that some female sex offenders sexually abuse because they are being coerced.  It is also true that sometimes they are an equal partner in the offending and sometimes they are the ones doing the coercing.


MythSexual abuse committed by a female has little or no harm

FACT: Sexual abuse by a female can be just as harmful and damaging as sexual abuse by a male.  Several studies have found that sexual abuse by a female may be more damaging for some victims than similar sexual abuse perpetrated by a male.  Other research has looked at the long-term effects that are unique to being sexually abused by a female.

For example Denov (2004) found in her study that:

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

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.

Denov also stated “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”.  Other studies also found thatthe trauma of sexual abuse for the victim(s) increases when compounded by prejudice and misunderstanding from the community and professionals.


MythFemale sex offenders do not use violence or cruelty

FACT: Just like with male offenders some do and some do not.  It depends on the population being studied.  Some research has found 60% of sexual abuse by lone female perpetrators or female co-offenders is severe.  For example Denov (2004) found that 64% reported severe sexual abuse.  There is evidence that some female offenders are capable of the same levels of cruelty and violence as males.  Some female sex offenders achieve sexual pleasure from sexual sadism with children.


MythFemales who sexually abuse others are “crazy” or not in control of their behaviors.

FACT: Some studies of incarcerated female sex offenders do reveal that some of these offenders have higher percentages of psychiatric diagnosis, prior histories of sexual and physical abuse and drug/alcohol issues.  Other studies have shown that females who sexually abuse are often not psychotic or on drugs when they offend.  Just like with male sex offenders it varies.


MythSexual abuse by a female is less damaging and less harmful than sexual abuse committed by a male

FACT: As pointed out in Myth #4 sexual abuse by a female can be just as harmful or damaging as sexual abuse by a male.  A study by Denov (2004) found that:

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.

Each case in unique unto itself no matter what the genders involved are.  Some may suffer more harm than others in similar situations.


MythFemale sex offenders only abuse males

FACT: Female sex offenders sexually abuse males and females, usually children and adolescents.  Various studies have shown different rates for which gender is most frequently sexually abused by females.  Finkelhor et al. (1988) found that female sex offenders tended to victimize both genders equally.  Vandiver and Walker (2002) found that females were the victims 55% of the time.  Elliot (1993) also found that females were more likely to be victims of other females.


MythBoys who are sexually abused by a female should consider themselves “lucky”

FACT: Sexual abuse is sexual abuse regardless of who is doing it.  Dube et al. (2005) found that the long-term impact of child sexual abuse was similar for both men and women.  Lishak (1994) had similar findings as well.  The damage can be made worse by the societal views and comments made to males (and females) telling them they were lucky, they should have enjoyed it, etc.  Kali Munro has a good article about this here.


MythFemale sex offenders do not sexually abuse young children

FACT:  Female sex offenders mainly target children and adolescents. Studies by Chow & Choy (2002), Denov (2004), Elliot (1994), Federoff et al. (1999), Rudin et al. (1995) and numerous others have shown that women not only can sexually abuse children but that they mainly target children and adolescents and often in a caregivers role (i.e. babysitter, mother, aunt, teacher, etc).




Article References:

Please note that you can view all 400+ studies at the Bibliography page by clicking here.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2005). Criminal courts, Australia, 2003-2004. (No. 4513.0). Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Denov, M. S. (2004). Perspectives on Female Sex Offending: A Culture of Denial. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Denov, M. S. (2004). The Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse by Female Perpetrators: A Qualitative Study of Male and Female Victims.  Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(10), 1137-1156.

Dube, S. R., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430-438.

Elliott, M. (ed.) (1994). Female Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: The Guilford Press.

Faller, K. C. (1987). Women who sexually abuse children. Violence & Victims, 2(4), 263-276.

Finkelhor, D., Williams, L. M., & Burns, N. (1988). Nursery crimes: Sexual abuse in day care. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Hetherton, J. & Beardsall, L. (1988). Decisions and attitudes concerning child sexual abuse: Does the gender of the perpetrator make a difference to child protection professionals? Child Abuse & Neglect, 22(12), 1265-1283.

Hunt, L.M. (2006). Females who sexually abuse in organisations working with children. Characteristics, International and Australian prevalence rates: Implications for child protection. Melbourne, Australia: Child Wise. (complete file in .pdf format at link)

Hunter, M. (1990). Abused Boys: The neglected victims of sexual abuse. New York: Ballantine Books.

Kaufman, K. L., Wallace, A. M., Johnson, C. F., & Reeder, M. L. (1995). Comparing female and male perpetrators’ modus operandi: Victims’ reports of sexual abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10(3), 322-333.

Krug, R. S. (1989). Adult male reports of childhood sexual abuse by mothers: Case descriptions, motivations and long-term consequences. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13, 111-119.

Lisak, D. (1994). The psychological impact of sexual abuse: Content analysis of interviews with male survivors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 7, 525-548.

Mathews, R., Matthews, J. K., & Speltz, K. (1990). Female sexual offenders. In M. Hunter (Ed.), The Sexually Abused Male: Prevalence, Impact and Treatment, (pp. 275-293). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Maynard, C., & Wiederman, M. (1997). Undergraduate students’ perceptions of child sexual abuse: Effects of age, sex, and gender-role attitudes. Child Abuse and Neglect, 21 (9), 833-844.

Ramsey-Klawsnik, H. (1990). Sexual abuse by female perpetrators: Impact on children. Proceedings of the National Symposium on Child Victimization. Tyler, TX: Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute.

Rosencrans, B., & Bear, E. (1997). The Last Secret: Daughters Sexually Abused by Mothers. Brandon, VT: Safer Society Press.

Rudin, M. M., Zalewski, C., & Bodmer-Turner, J. (1995). Characteristics of child sexual abuse victims according to perpetrator gender. Child Abuse & Neglect 19(8), 963-73.

Salter, A.C. (2003). Predators: paedophiles, rapists, and other sex offenders: Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. New York: Basic Books.

Sanderson, C. (2004). The seduction of children: empowering parent and teachers to protect children from child sexual abuse. London and New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Saradjian, J. (1996). Women Who Sexually Abuse Children: From Research to Clinical Practice. London: John Wiley & Sons.

Syed, F., & Williams, S. (1996). Case studies of female sex offenders in the Correctional Service of Canada. Ottawa, ON: Correctional Services of Canada. (Complete article at link)

Tardieu, A (1857) Étude médico-légale sur les attentats aux mœurs. Paris: Librairie JB Baillière et Fils.

United States Department of Justice. (2003). Crime in the United States 2002, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Washington, DC: USGPO

Vandiver, D. M., & Walker, J. T. (2002). Female sex offenders: An overview and analysis of 40 cases. Criminal Justice Review, 27(2), 284-300.

Whetsell-Mitchell, J., & Morse, J. (1998). From Victims to Survivors: Reclaimed Voices of Women Sexually Abused in Childhood by Females. Washington, DC: Accelerated Development.






Related Posts:

9 thoughts on “Top Ten Myths about Female Sex Offenders

  1. This is an invaluable study, stating some things that need to be understood and disspelling some dangerous misunderstandings about the issue. Well done.

  2. I especially like the “lucky” myth being pointed out. Honestly I’d always thought that was a joke. Even among the fully grown, you should probably listen a bit more and talk a bit less.

  3. Aside from the recent UK scandal so few cases of female on female abuse ever make the press. I wonder if the lack of reporting reflects a level of denial.

  4. The lack of press reporting of female abusers undoubted reflects a level of societal denial Pattaya and I suspect ever more so in the case of female on female abuse (i.e. mother-daughter/maternal abuse).

    Steve Lowe, director of Phoenix Forensic Consultants, which treats and assesses child sex abusers, said the true number of female paedophiles has remained hidden for too long.

    “As a society, we find women sex offenders difficult to acknowledge. But those of us who work with paedophiles have seen evidence that women are capable of terrible crimes against children – just as bad as men.” He said some female abusers remained hidden because they appeared before the family courts, where their cases were not publicised because of reporting restrictions.


    Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust, Cambridgeshire, UK

    The sexual abuse of a child always takes place in secret; therefore the true prevalence of any form of sexual abuse of children will always be secret. The more unthinkable, and consequently stigmatising, the form of abuse, the greater the
    likelihood that it will be under-reported and, if reported, that it will not be recognised
    as abuse and therefore the secret will be kept. Sexual abuse of children, especially pre-pubertal children, instigated by women is still unthinkable in society today.

    Since information about the sexual abuse of children has been brought into the public domain, professionals have reported that both men and women are involved. Yet because the social construction of women has been such that this behaviour remains ‘unthinkable’, that knowledge is dismissed. Consequently, each time it is ‘discovered’, it is again greeted with surprise followed by collective cognitive distortions relating to that knowledge, ensuring that the secret is kept.

    Gannon, T. A., & Cortoni, F. (2010). Female Sexual Offenders: Theory, Assessment and Treatment.

  6. Another myth about female sex offenders is that they’re whores and that they should get longer and harshers sentences than male ones because society doesn’t tolerate sexually aggressive females.

  7. Somehow I really don’t think rape and sexual abuse should be classifed as “being sexually aggressive.”

  8. This subject frustrates me practically to tears. Here is a story of an actual conversation with my best friend since grade school.

    We had gone to a bar and were getting a few drinks when my friend started telling me this “funny story” about what a co-worker of hers had done at a party. Her coworker was a large woman, very tall and not obese but overweight. She had body issues and did not put herself out there often because she often faced rejection. My friend had invited her coworker to come to a party at her place one weekend. At this party was a young man, also in his late twenties like the rest of us, that was very drunk. He passed out in one of my friend’s upstairs bedrooms and the next morning told my friend that her coworker had “climbed on him and took advantage of him”.

    I told my friend “What you are describing is rape. It is not a funny story.” My friend responded with more details – her coworker was “so lonely” and “hadn’t been with anyone for a long time” and the guy “could have stopped it if he wanted to”. All the while acting as if I were being unreasonable because I couldn’t see the humor in the story. A lonely girl taking advantage of and overpowering a blackout drunk guy at a party and forcing him to have sex with her. Switch the genders in this story and it would be splashed all over the papers and television as a clear case of rape.

    It had never occurred to me before that conversation that such an act was even possible. Now it frustrates me that it is never discussed and is so often met with mocking and victim blaming when it is discussed.

    Good on you for creating a fantastic support site. I hope this topic continues to get more attention and male victims get the support they need as time goes by.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *