Most people who think of sex offenders automatically believe a male is the perpetrator. The fact is, the incidence of sexual violence or assault involving women who are the offenders is growing. While the tendency to commit sexual crimes can emerge in adolescence, many offenses involving teens or adults go unreported, regardless of whether the alleged offender is male or female.
Approximately 9% of youths report they were the victims of some form of sexual violence in a Growing Up With Media national study in 2010 in which information was collected online. The acts committed against these youths included coercive sex, forced sexual contact, attempted rape, and completed rape. Interestingly, the results of the study found that while males were more likely to commit a sex-related offense against a younger victim, offenses in which females were the perpetrators most often involved victims who were older. Additionally, the study concluded that males tend to commit sexual violence at an earlier age than females, which may suggest different developmental courses.
A 2013 New York Times article revealed that of those who have conducted research regarding sex crimes, most felt that women comprised only a very small percentage of the total number of individuals who commit sex-related crimes. Why is this? Apparently there are several factors that prevent many female sex offenders from being “found out” and prosecuted for their crimes.
While there have been several media reports in recent years regarding young female teachers and alleged sexual affairs with students, the reality is that most females are not as easily identified as males who commit sex crimes, as they rarely have a preference for young children, commit acts against strangers, or stalk their victims. According to the article which claims a “witch hunt” for female sex offenders is unlikely to benefit society, females may commit a sex crime against victims of all ages, and they may do so as prepubescent girls or grandmothers. With limited research regarding female sex offenders, it’s difficult for states to develop laws determining which offenders are the most dangerous, and therefore should face more severe punishment such as longer prison sentences.
The Growing Up With Media study found that males were far more likely to commit sexual violence as youths than were females, who are usually 18 or older when they perpetrate a sex offense against a victim. The study also concluded that females seem to be more likely to engage in sexual violence as part of a group than males. Ultimately, the study found that future research that focuses on clearer understanding of the differences in age and gender might better inform how prevention programs may be tailored and timed in order to reduce sexual violence both in adolescents and older individuals. It’s apparent that there is an age gap between genders and when they become involved in sexual violence, although there isn’t a clear explanation as to why this is.
What is sexual assault? The Department of Justice defines it as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” The term “sexual assault” covers a wide range of activities including fondling, forced sexual intercourse, incest, child molestation, forcible sodomy, and even attempted rape.
Few studies exist on the topic of female sex offenders, however across those that have been conducted it seems that about 75% of females who commit sex crimes were themselves sexually abused at some point in their lives. Most females were sexually abused at a young age, or the victims of offenses involving relatives or multiple offenders. Ironically, if sexual victimization on its own led to victims becoming the offenders there would be more female sex offenders than male offenders, so it’s clear that being a victim isn’t the only catalyst that drives some females to commit criminal sex acts.
While the few studies regarding female sex offenders have come to very different conclusions, one thing is for certain; females do commit serious sex crimes. Even though it’s likely females commit these offenses on a much smaller scale than men, it’s important that research continues and states require education related to female sex offenders be included in sex offender treatment programs.