August 21, 2017


Women who sexually abuse children are just as harmful to their victims as male abusers


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Early literature on sexual abuse, as exemplified by the 1972 quote above, often suggested abuse against children by women was unbelievable and, even if real, less harmful than when perpetrated by men. Despite these earlier beliefs, females are capable of sexually abusing children, with very damaging results.

In a recent US study, one out of every five child sexual abuse cases validated by child protection had a female as the main offender of the abuse. The types of sexual abuse females can commit on children is not limited to touching and fondling. Among many other sexual acts, females can penetrate children with objects, force children to have sexual intercourse with them, or to do sexual acts with animals.

Read more: Women also sexually abuse children, but their reasons often differ from men’s

While the public has started to realise females are capable of committing sexual offences against children, research shows the view is that female child sex offenders are less harmful to their victims than male child sex offenders. Yet traditional gender roles are misleading in this area. Not all females are nurturing, caring, and protective and therefore unable to cause much harm, especially towards children.

Harms of female sex offenders

Female child sex offenders can have disturbing and life-long impacts on their victims. These impacts are similar to the impacts for child victims of male sex offenders, including self-injury, substance abuse, depression, and difficulties with sexual identity.

Most alarmingly, research has found victims sexually abused by both females and males said the abuse committed by females was more psychologically damaging than the abuse committed by males.

There are also effects particular to victims sexually abused by females. These include intense rage towards women as well as difficulties in relationships with women.

Research has found female child sex offenders are much more likely to offend against their own children (or a child in their care) than male child sex offenders. In contrast, male child sex offenders are more likely to be other relatives of the child, a partner of the child’s mother, friends or neighbours. Many victims of female-perpetrated sexual abuse struggle with the deep betrayal of having the one person they trust most in their entire lives – their mother or caregiver – sexually abuse them.

In instances where the offender is the child’s mother, victims also report difficulty developing a sense of identity, even into adulthood. These victims have difficulty establishing a separate identity due to the highly entwined relationship between mother and child. As one individual who had been sexually abused said:

Sometimes I can feel her on my skin. I can’t explain […] I suppose it’s like as if we are some way, we are melted into each other. I scrape and scrape at my skin but I cannot get deep enough into myself to get rid of her.

Supporting the victims

We know sex crimes are generally under reported, but having a female perpetrator adds an additional layer of difficulty to the child’s disclosure of the abuse. Victims of female-perpetrated abuse report feeling silenced and isolated due to the unusual and less common abuse dynamic. Victims describe being fearful of not being believed, which can be linked to gender stereotypes such as females being nurturing and protective.

What about teenage males who appear to be in “willing” sexual relationships with older females? Some reader comments below a recent article about a female teacher charged with the sexual abuse of three male victims included sentiments that this is “every school boy’s dream”. Another person commented:

What is truly appalling about this is that as a lad I was never so victimized.

If we continue to underestimate the harm of female-perpetrated abuse, what message does this send to these victims and the perpetrators?

The ConversationImportantly, there are victims of female-perpetrated sexual abuse in our society who are not disclosing the abuse. They are missing the justice they deserve and the support they require. We need to challenge the perception that female child sex offenders are less harmful to their victims, and be more open to interpreting and discussing sexual abuse in gender-neutral terms.

Larissa Christensen, Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  • what is wrong with people! i don’t know how this happens and why can’t they just be normal! how do you even start to repair the damage caused by these monsters?


  • This is just disgraceful and shocking.


  • This kind of thing just points out why sexism is harmful to everyone in society.


  • I don’t think one sex is more or less evil than the other. If you are an offender, regardless of your sex, you are evil. Any child that is a victim of this would be traumatically scarred for life.


  • Both men and women can be evil – once found out they should be checked often on a sex offenders register.


  • Anyone who can do that to a child or an animal needs to be given a lethal injection.


  • Sexual abuse can be abused from both sexes,a sad study.


  • Just when I thought things couldn’t get bad enough for sexually abused children, now learn that even mothers can be guilty of abusing children in this way. What is this world coming to


  • Think indeed that the psychological effect of female abusers is more severe as they often often abuse their own children / children in their care. Sadly enough I’ve seen frequently the damaging affect what it can have on a person when I was working as a psychiatric nurse. Sometimes the effect is so severe that even young kids become totally psychotic or dissociative as coping strategy.


  • A balanced article. We need to be vigilant when it comes to the welfare of our kids, not paranoid, but vigilant.


  • Sexual abuse in any form is vile and disgusting and mentally disturbing, regardless of gender. However, I do find it interesting and surprising, the rates of female offenders.


  • Abuse is vile and the impact is life long regardless of the gender of the abusers.


  • Thank you for this article – as distressing as it is. We need to be aware of such acts and make sure our children know that such behaviour is wrong.


  • Interesting and informative article but one I wished did not exist. Oh if only we all were loving , kind and nurturing.. but alas the world is full of good and evil.


  • I would have never guessed. :-(


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