Behavioral Sciences and the LawBehav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011)Published online in Wiley Online Library(wileyonlinelibra...
Women accused of sex offenses    729however, a number of studies have emerged attempting to elucidate the characteristicso...
730    S. G. West et al.concluded that they “idealized children, demonized men, distrusted other women andexpressed ambiva...
Women accused of sex offenses            731there would be a more frequent presence of co-offenders, and a different popul...
732    S. G. West et al.with skewed distributions. Analyses were conducted in Stata SE 10 (Statacorp, CollegeStation TX, 2...
Women accused of sex offenses        733                               Table 2. Characteristics of offenders by gender    ...
734    S. G. West et al.                      Legal and Violence Perpetration HistoryMost of the defendants (nine women, 7...
Women accused of sex offenses    73518 years old, with a mean of 16 years. Similarly, the men reported that their age at fi...
736    S. G. West et al.                           Crime and Victim CharacteristicsWomen were most frequently charged with...
Women accused of sex offenses    737women and men who offended were employed. A majority of both were parents, butvery few...
738    S. G. West et al.classification, while four of the women were referred for evaluations that could poten-tially serve...
Women accused of sex offenses        739                                         CONCLUSIONDespite society’s biases, women...
740     S. G. West et al.Vandiver, D.M. (2006). Female sex offenders: a comparison of solo offenders and co-offenders. Vio...
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Women Accused of Sex Offenses: A Gender-Based Comparison

  1. 1. Behavioral Sciences and the LawBehav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011)Published online in Wiley Online Library( DOI: 10.1002/bsl.1007Women Accused of Sex Offenses: AGender-Based ComparisonSara G. West, M.D.†, Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D.*,† andKi Dan Kim‡Sexual offenses committed by women are likely underestimated and under-reported.This exploratory study compares and contrasts women accused of sexual offenses andtheir male counterparts. Data were retrospectively compiled on all alleged female andage-matched male sex offenders who were referred for psychiatric evaluation to a largeMidwestern city’s court psychiatric clinic over a six-year period. Data were abstractedregarding their crimes, charges, demographics, social history, medical history, legalhistory, violence history, substance use, sexual history, psychiatric history and theirvictims. Like the men, women were most frequently referred for sexual predator clas-sification evaluations. Ages ranged from 19 to 62 years, and the majority had children.Most had prior arrests. One-third had a past history of psychiatric hospitalization, andmost were given a non-paraphilic psychiatric diagnosis. The majority of the womenreported past histories of sexual or physical victimization. While there were many sim-ilarities between female and male sex offenders in this psychiatric sample, women morefrequently had victims of both genders. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.Studies consistently demonstrate that less than 10% of sexual crimes are perpetratedby women (FBI, 2006). There is concern, however, that the sex offenses committedby women are under-reported, and thus underestimated. Societal views may accountfor why female perpetrators are less likely to come to the attention of law enforce-ment. Society has viewed an older woman seducing a teenage boy as a rite of passagerather than a sexual offense with significant and lasting consequences. Becausewomen are often the primary care providers of young children, they routinely havemore intimate contact with children during activities such as bathing and dressing.Therefore, inappropriate contact may not be obvious to an observer. Finally, in gen-eral, women are considered by society to be more loving, protective of children, andless violent than men – seemingly incapable of sexually violating another. TYPOLOGIESPerhaps due to the misperception that women are not capable of committing sexualoffenses, there is a dearth of research on female perpetrators. In the last several years,* Correspondence to: Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D., 24200 Chagrin Blvd., Beachwood Ohio 44122, U.S.A.E-mail:† Cuyahoga County Court Psychiatric Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio.‡ Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.This work was presented at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, Honolulu, Hawaii, May2011.Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
  2. 2. Women accused of sex offenses 729however, a number of studies have emerged attempting to elucidate the characteristicsof these women and their crimes, and their potential to recidivate. Born of out this re-search, a number of classification schemas have been proposed. The first well-knowntypology was published by Matthews, Matthews, and Speltz (1989, 1991) and is basedon interviews with 16 incarcerated women. They described five categories of femalesexual offenders: the teacher-lover (the woman believes she is engaged in a consensualromantic relationship in which she is educating her victim about sex); the predisposedmolester (the woman herself was abused as a child and often targets her own children);the male-coerced type (the woman participates in sexual abuse initiated by her malepartner); the exploration-exploitation type (the woman is often young and offends inthe context of babysitting); and the psychologically disturbed type (the woman has amajor mental illness). The second typology described in the literature (Vandiver & Kercher, 2004) wasbased on an analysis of 471 women identified in the Texas Department of PublicSafety databases. They proposed six categories: heterosexual nurturers (31%, similarto Matthews et al.’s teacher-lover category); non-criminal homosexual offenders(24%, lack a criminal history and often have a male accomplice); female sexual preda-tors (24%, often have prior offenses); young adult child exploiters (11%, target youngvictims often related to the offender); homosexual criminals (5%, often have a criminalhistory and may be driven by economic reasons, i.e. prostitution); and aggressive ho-mosexual offenders (4%, motivated by a desire for female sexual contact). Sandlerand Freeman (2007) examined 334 registered female sex offenders in the state ofNew York, with similar findings and categorizations.CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FEMALE SEXUAL OFFENDERVandiver (2006) described female sexual offenders as primarily Caucasian women whooften committed crimes in their 20s and 30s and had a personal history of victimization.Although there was often a history of substance abuse, there was no clear associationwith severe mental illness. In reference to the victims, Vandiver (2006) noted that theywere often minors and may have been relatives or acquaintances of the perpetrator butthat it was unclear which gender was more commonly targeted. Lewis and Stanley (2000) described the role of mental illness when they analyzed 15women charged with a sexual offense who were referred to a psychiatric facility inSouth Carolina for forensic evaluation. They noted that seven of the 15 had mild men-tal retardation or borderline intellectual function, five were depressed and three werepsychotic. The authors also noted that women did not frequently use drugs and alcoholin the commission of the crimes. Regarding the disposition of these cases, 13 of the 15women were found to be competent to stand trial, one was restored to competency andanother was not able to be restored to competency due to mental retardation. Finally,one of the cohort was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). Pflugradt and Allen (2010) examined the executive functioning of 35 incarceratedfemale sex offenders, who they categorized using Sandler and Freeman’s typology.They speculated that, “unlike some groups of male sex offenders, female sexualoffenses are not due to impulsivity/poor response inhibition, cognitive rigidity or atten-tional validity. Rather, females sexual offending is planned, intentional and goal di-rected” (p. 447). Additionally, Lawson (2008), describing 20 female sex offenders,Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  3. 3. 730 S. G. West et al.concluded that they “idealized children, demonized men, distrusted other women andexpressed ambivalence about themselves” (p. 340). Their social situation was unstable,and their interpersonal skills were limited. These women were “almost exclusively self-referential,” reporting the crimes and their effects in terms of how they made thewomen feel rather than focusing on their victim. Women do not always commit sexual offenses alone. According to Vandiver (2006),if they have a co-offender, it is often a man (72%) who is their significant other. Thisrelationship may be abusive; however, not all women with co-offenders are coerced intoparticipating in these crimes by their partners. Those who do offend with partners aremore likely to have more than one victim, to assault both males and females and to haveadditional non-sexual offenses. COMPARISON OF FEMALE AND MALE SEX OFFENDERSSeveral studies compared women and men who sexually offend. One compared 75men and 65 women who sexually assaulted children in their care (Allen, 1991). Thewomen were more likely to report histories of physical abuse and poor relationshipswith their parents. Other studies have demonstrated that women are more likely tohave psychological problems but less likely to use drugs and alcohol in the commissionof the offenses (Faller, 1995; Johannson-Love & Fremouw, 2006). Oliver (2007)noted that women were more likely to have a history of more severe sexual abuse, weremore likely to have attempted suicide and were more likely to have been diagnosedwith post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than their male counterparts. Anotherstudy indicated that, while women were more likely to have a history of sexual abuseand suicide attempts than men, their demographic factors were similar (e.g., age, eth-nicity, educational level) (Miccio-Fonseca, 2000). Yet another study (n = 315) notedlimited differences in male and female offenders. (Freeman & Sandler, 2008) Insum, previous research (CSOM, 2007) suggests that female sex offenders may havehistories of childhood maltreatment, mental illness, personality disorders, substanceabuse, and relationship issues. Women tend to victimize children, know their victims,have victims of the same gender, and are more likely to have a co-offender (CSOM,2007). Even the handling of the case may differ between male and females sex offenders.Gender role stereotypes regarding sex offenders are common, especially as related toteachers having sex with their students (West, Friedman, & Knoll, 2010). Hethertonand Beardsall (1988) presented identical vignettes regarding sexual abuse perpetratedby either a man or woman to social workers and police officers working in child protec-tion. Both groups reported that investigation, prosecution and incarceration were lessjustified when perpetrated by a woman. Given that sexual offending stands in stark contrast with what society expects ofwomen, the lay person may assume that those who commit these crimes are mentallyill. However, as described above, few studies have comprehensively examined thecharacteristics of these offenders. Based on previous research, it was expected thatmale and female sex offenders will have much in common. However, it was antici-pated that women would have experienced higher rates of maltreatment in both child-hood and adulthood, and lower rates of substance abuse. It was also anticipated thatCopyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  4. 4. Women accused of sex offenses 731there would be a more frequent presence of co-offenders, and a different population ofvictims. METHODSIn order to phenomenologically investigate the commonly occurring factors amongwomen who commit sex offenses, data were retrospectively compiled on alleged fe-male and matched male sex offenders who were referred by the Common PleasCourt to a large midwestern city’s court psychiatric clinic. Reports from the CourtPsychiatric Clinic of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas (encompassingthe Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan area) were reviewed, regarding defendants whowere alleged to have committed sex offenses and who were referred for forensic psy-chiatric evaluations. Included were reports for all adult females who were referred tothe clinic for a forensic evaluation subsequent to any sexual offense over a six-yearperiod. The male comparison group was matched by age at the time and year ofthe evaluation. Data were abstracted for approximately 50 factors, encompassing 10 subgroups offactors, regarding their demographics, forensic issues, legal and violence history, per-sonal and family history, victimization history, medical history, substance use, sexualhistory, psychiatric history, crimes and their victims (see Table 1). If the forensicreport did not mention the variable, the variable was coded as ‘unknown’. Theseresults were then analyzed for commonly occurring factors among women accusedof sex offenses, and compared with the counterpart males. Descriptive statistics wereutilized (means Æ standard deviations for continuous variables and percentages forcategorical variables). Because of the small sample size and the exploratory natureof the study, statistical tests of significance were often not feasible. For variables onwhich there were sufficient data, categorical distributions (including ‘unknown’ values)were compared by using exact tests of marginal homogeneity in matched data. Wilcoxonsigned-rank tests were performed to test equality of matched pairs on continuous variables Table 1. Factors coded in the study• Demographic – age at time of crime, race, educational history, employment, marital status, parenthood status• Forensic/legal – charges, reason for referral, outcome of evaluation, incarceration status, previous violent and non-violent charges, incarceration history, gang affiliation, violence history as child and adult• Personal and family history – primary caregiver, siblings, statements about childhood and disciplinary measures, history of domestic violence perpetration, family psychiatric history• Victimization history – history of emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, intimate partner victimization, and rape• Medical history – history of head trauma• Substance use history – history of substance use, substance use around time of offense, history of treatment• Sexual history – sexual orientation, age of first sexual experience, sexual partners, interest, utilization of materials/ services, sexual fantasies, sexual behaviors, participation in past offender treatment program, Abel Assessment for Sexual Interest scores• Psychiatric history – diagnoses, hospitalizations, past outpatient treatment, suicide attempts, psychiatric medications, symptoms reported at time of offense• Crime/victimology – number of victims and their age, description of crimes, grooming, threats, motivation, discovery, denial of offense, presence of codefendantsCopyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  5. 5. 732 S. G. West et al.with skewed distributions. Analyses were conducted in Stata SE 10 (Statacorp, CollegeStation TX, 2009). RESULTSOver six years in this major metropolitan area, 12 alleged female sex offenders wereevaluated in the Court Psychiatric Clinic, and 12 counterpart alleged male sex offen-ders were selected by matching age and date at evaluation. Demographic DataThe women’s mean (Æ SD) age at the time of the crime was 34.8 years (Æ 13.3; range,19–62) and men were age-matched. The majority of the women had completed highschool (see Table 2), with a range from dropping out of high school through attendinggraduate school. Half of the men had a high school diploma or equivalent, ranging fromdropping out of junior high school to holding an associate’s degree. When they were inschool, half of each of the women and men had been suspended, with three (25%)women and six (50%) men having been expelled. One woman and four men (33%)had been enrolled in special education classes. At the time of their offense, approxi-mately half, five women (42%) and seven men (58%), were employed; two womenand two men were receiving disability income assistance. Regarding their relationship status, a third of the women and men considered them-selves single. One woman was married and another separated. One woman and fivemen were divorced. The remainder of five women and three men were involved inlong-term relationships, with women’s relationships ranging from five to 24 years long.Regarding parental status, the majority, eight women (67%) and seven men (58%),were parents. The women had given birth to up to six children each, and the menhad sired up to three children. However, the minority, only two women and oneman, had child custody at the time. Personal and Family HistoryThe women’s primary caregiver during their own childhood was: their mother (6), bothbiological parents (4), their father (1) and adoptive parents (1). In contrast, men wereraised by their mother (5), their mother and stepfather (3), adoptive parents (2), and anaunt (1). Almost all (11 women and 11 men) had siblings, with defendants having awide range of placement within the birth order. In describing their childhood, women’s responses ranged from “good memories” of“loving caring compassionate mother” to “mediocre” to “terrible parents” and “roughchildhood”. Two women had been placed in foster homes and juvenile facilities relatedto “unruly” charges. Men’s descriptions of their childhoods ranged from “rather pleas-ant” to “shaky at best” to “It wasn’t too good at all.” “Discipline” during their childhood ranged from women reporting restriction of pri-vileges and grounding to “whoopings”, including with a whip, belt, or extension cord.Men reported a range of punishments from lectures or spankings to violent discipline.More than half of the perpetrators of each gender were physically disciplined duringchildhood.Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  6. 6. Women accused of sex offenses 733 Table 2. Characteristics of offenders by gender Female offenders Male offenders Concordant (N = 12) (N = 12) P-value pairsEducation Less than high school 3 25% 7 58% 0.38 5 High school or equivalent 5 42% 4 33% Some college 4 33% 1 8%Victimization historyChildhood physical abuse Yes 6 50% 1 8% 0.19 5 No 5 42% 7 58% Unknown 1 8% 4 33%Childhood sexual abuse Yes 4 33% 0 – 0.50 6 No 7 58% 9 75% Unknown 1 8% 3 25%Childhood emotional abuse Yes 4 33% 2 17% 1.00 4 No 3 25% 4 33% Unknown 5 42% 6 50%Adult intimate partner violence Yes 4 33% 0 – 0.06 6 No 2 17% 0 – Unknown 6 50% 12 100%Adult rape Yes 2 17% 0 – 0.50 10 Unknown 10 83% 12 100%Psychiatric historyPrior psychiatric hospitalization 4 33% 2 17% 0.63 8Past psychiatric medications Yes 5 42% 2 17% 0.63 6 No 6 50% 8 67% Unknown 1 8% 2 17%Prior suicide attempt Yes 2 17% 1 8% 0.13 5 No 9 75% 6 50% Unknown 1 8% 5 42%Substance use historySubstance abuse/dependence 7 58% 11 92% 0.13 8Substance treatment Yes 5 42% 2 17% 0.25 8 No 7 58% 9 75% Unknown 0 – 1 8%Gender of victimsAt least one female victim Yes 5 42% 11 92% 0.03 5 No 7 58% 0 – Unknown 0 – 1 8%At least one male victim Yes 7 58% 0 – 0.03 5 No 5 42% 11 92% Regarding their family history, a quarter (three women and three men) reported afamily history of psychiatric disorder (including parents, siblings, and a nephew).The majority (seven women and seven men) reported a family history of substanceuse disorder.Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  7. 7. 734 S. G. West et al. Legal and Violence Perpetration HistoryMost of the defendants (nine women, 75%, and eight men, 67%) had a history of pre-vious arrests (with a range of one to 10 prior arrests). Four women (33%) and sevenmen (58%) had been arrested for prior violent acts. The minority (four and two, re-spectively) had been previously incarcerated. Two women and one man had a known current or past gang affiliation. Five women(42%) and three men (25%) reported problems with fighting as a child. Contrary towhat might have been expected, two women (and no man) reported a history of perpe-trating intimate partner violence. Victimization HistoryA personal history of victimization was prominent among the women. (see Table 2).Half of the women reported physical abuse, a third reported sexual abuse, and a thirdreported emotional abuse. At least one-third of the women had been victims of intimatepartner violence and two women had been raped, despite missing data (see Table 2).By contrast, less commonly, two men reported a history of emotional abuse and onea history of physical abuse. Adulthood intimate partner victimization and rape victim-ization were not reported in any of the men’s reports. Medical HistoryOne woman and three men reported a history of serious head trauma. Substance Use HistoryFewer female offenders had substance misuse histories, including seven women but al-most all the men (11), although this difference was not statistically significant.Women’s substance of abuse most frequently included marijuana (6) but covered a va-riety of substances, including alcohol (5), cocaine (4), and opiates (1). All 11 of themen who abused substances abused alcohol. In addition, most used another substance,including marijuana (8), non-prescribed sedative-hypnotics (2), stimulants (1), PCP(1) and opiates (1). Yet, women with substance use disorders more frequently had beentreated than men; five of seven (71%) women and two of 11 (18%) men had attendedsubstance abuse treatment programs. Around the time of the crime, despite much missing data, it was known that onewoman used alcohol and another used cocaine. Two men used alcohol, one used opi-ates, and two used non-prescribed sedative/hypnotics around the time of theiroffense. Sexual HistoryFive women and five men self-identified as heterosexual, while two women self-identifiedas bisexual. The remaining subjects did not identify their sexual orientation. Of the 10women who identified their age at first sexual experience, it ranged from 13 toCopyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  8. 8. Women accused of sex offenses 73518 years old, with a mean of 16 years. Similarly, the men reported that their age at firstsexual experience ranged from 11 to 18, with a mean of 15 years. Of the 10 women who reported the number of sexual partners they had, this rangedfrom five to 35 partners, with a mean of 13 partners. Of the 10 men reporting the num-ber of sexual partners, the range was between one and 30, with a mean of 10 sexualpartners. With regard to the use of sexual materials, three women and seven men utilized por-nographic magazines, five women and six men used pornographic videos, and one manfrequented pornographic websites. No women had engaged the services of a prostitute,while two men had. Two women and two men went to adult bookstores; one womanand five men attended strip clubs. None reported calling phone sex operators. A soli-tary man admitted to sexual fantasies involving children/adolescents and none admittedsexual fantasies involving coercion of others. Despite routine screening questions, nodefendant reported engaging in exhibitionism, voyeurism, frotteurism, obscene phonecalls, urophilia, coprophilia, sadomasochism, stalking, bestiality, cross-dressing orfetishism. One woman and no men were known to have participated in a sex offender treat-ment program in the past. Psychiatric HistoryFour women (33%) and two men (17%) reported previous psychiatric hospitaliza-tions (see Table 2). Two women and one man reported that they had made a suicideattempt in the past. Five women and two men reported that they had been treatedwith psychotropic medications. Near the time of the offense, only one man (andno women) reported experiencing psychiatric symptoms; the man reported onlyanxiety. After their court clinic evaluation, the diagnoses proffered based on clinical inter-views for the women included primarily mood or substance use disorders. These in-cluded two women with severe mental illnesses (one with major depressive disorderand one with schizoaffective disorder). Additionally, the following diagnoses weregiven: adjustment disorder with depressed mood (2), depressive disorder not otherwisespecified (2), polysubstance dependence (2), alcohol abuse (2), cocaine dependence(1), alcohol dependence (1), cannabis dependence (1), and cannabis abuse (1). Twowomen were diagnosed with personality disorder in addition: one with antisocial per-sonality disorder, and the other with personality disorder not otherwise specified(NOS) with borderline and antisocial traits; and two women were given no psychiatricdiagnosis (on either Axis). No severe mental illness was diagnosed in the men. However, the following AxisI diagnoses were proffered for the men: depressive disorder NOS (2), dysthymicdisorder (1), adjustment disorder with depressed mood (1), PTSD (provisional)(1), anxiety disorder NOS (1), alcohol dependence (1), cannabis dependence (2),cannabis abuse (2), alcohol abuse (1), and pedophilia (2). Two men were diagnosedwith antisocial personality disorder. One was diagnosed with learning disorder andpossible borderline intellectual functioning while another was diagnosed with mildmental retardation. Three men (25%) were not diagnosed with any mentaldisorder.Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  9. 9. 736 S. G. West et al. Crime and Victim CharacteristicsWomen were most frequently charged with gross sexual imposition (6), followed byrape (3) and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor (3). Men were charged with rape(5), gross sexual imposition (4) and unlawful sexual contact with a minor (3). Significantly, all of the victims of the men were females which contrasted withwomen perpetrating against victims of both genders. The majority of both the women(9) and men (9) had only one victim. Two women had two victims and one had threevictims. Similarly, of the men, one had two victims and the other had an unknown plu-ral number of victims. Nine victims of women were children (as were seven victims of the men). The chil-dren victimized by women ranged in age from six to 15 years and were both boys andgirls. Child victims included perpetrator’s child, stepchild, their child’s friend, babysit-ting clients, a student and a young teenager whom the woman met online. The threewomen who had adult victims included the following victim relationships: female fel-low inmates, a female corrections officer, and a male mentally challenged fellow em-ployee. Child victims of men ranged in age from eight to 15 years, with relationshipsto the men including stepdaughter, foster niece, girlfriend’s granddaughter, brother’sstepdaughter, cousin, student, acquaintance, and strangers met online. The threemen who had adult victims offended against a girlfriend, prostitute, daughter, and dis-tant cousin. Two women had male co-defendants. None of the men referred had co-defendants.One woman and three men used threats in their offending. Seven women and threemen denied their guilt in the crime during the evaluation. Forensic IssuesDefendants were most commonly referred for their pre-sentence evaluation for sexualpredator classification (eight women and all 12 men). (In Ohio, a sexual predator wasstatutorily defined, based on an offender who, guilty of a sex offense, is likely to commitanother sex offense.) In distinction, two women were referred for mitigation of penaltyevaluation, and two women were referred for evaluation of competency to stand trialand sanity at the time of the act. The slight majority (seven women and six men) wereincarcerated in pretrial detention at the time of their psychiatric evaluation, while therest were living in the community on bail. The most frequent outcome of the evaluation for the women was that the risk of re-cidivism was unable to be determined. The two women referred for competency andsanity were opined both competent and sane. One woman was opined eligible for a pro-bation program for mentally ill offenders, due to psychotic disorder. Given that all menwere referred for sexual predator classification and women were referred for several dif-ferent types of evaluation, Fisher’s exact test was used to compare characteristics ofwomen according to evaluation type. No significant differences were found. DISCUSSIONIn this exploratory study of those referred for forensic psychiatric evaluations, strongsimilarities between female and male sexual offenders were evident. About half of theCopyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  10. 10. Women accused of sex offenses 737women and men who offended were employed. A majority of both were parents, butvery few retained custody of their children. The majority of both men and womenhad been arrested prior to their sexual offense charges. Regarding their sexual histories,men and women had, on average, similar ages for their first sexual experiences and sim-ilar numbers of sexual partners. The majority of both women and men had substanceabuse histories, although men had less frequently been involved in treatment. However,the only reports of childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner victimization were fromwomen in the sample. The men’s victims were all females, but the women’s victimswere a combination of males and females. Only women (two of 12) had co-defendants.In reference to the forensic referral question, all men were referred for sexual predatorclassification; however, two of the women were referred for mitigation, and two otherswere referred for a competency and sanity evaluation. These findings were largely consistent with the published literature. As in our study,prior research has indicated that female and male sexual offenders have similar demo-graphics (Freeman & Sandler, 2008; Miccio-Fonseca, 2000) That most of the offen-ders of both genders did not have child custody is indicative of prior problems. Sotoo were their histories of prior arrests. Clearly, both male and female perpetratorshad involvement with the legal system before. Overall, the differences between the two sexes were anticipated based on existent lit-erature. Allen (1991), Miccio-Fonseca (2000) and Oliver (2007) all noted that womenwere more likely to have a personal history of abuse. In future studies, it may be instruc-tional to study qualitatively the type of abuse experienced. Educational differences,with women being more likely to be educated, should be further explored. The majority of both men and women had substance use disorders in our sample.Women were more likely to have been treated, however. While research has indicatedthat female sex offenders have a history of substance misuse (CSOM, 2007; Vandiver,2006), multiple authors have also noted that drugs and alcohol are not commonly in-volved in the crime (Faller, 1995; Johannson-Love & Fremouw, 2006; Lewis & Stanley,2000). This suggests that women had other reasons, besides disinhibition and impulsiv-ity, fueling their behavior. As anticipated in a psychiatric sample, there was a history of suicide attempts andpsychiatric treatment among some perpetrators of both genders. While multiple offen-ders of each gender were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, interestingly only twowomen in the entire sample were diagnosed with a severe mental illness, while othersfell into NOS and adjustment disorder categories. Again, this lack of severe mental ill-ness or mental retardation in female sexual offenders is supported by the literature(Pflugradt & Allen, 2010; Vandiver, 2006) and suggested other motives for the perpe-tration of the crimes. This is congruent with what is expected, as committing crimessuch as these requires some degree of organization in order to avoid detection. Male offenders victimized females, but interestingly, it was discovered that womenoffended with both victims of both sexes. Support for this exists in the literature(CSOM, 2007; Vandiver, 2006). Women tend to offend against those whom they haveregular contact with, rather than specifically seeking out their victims. In addition, theremay be other elements of the offense that drive the women, such as a desire to feel lovedby the victim or accepted by her co-offender (Matthews et al., 1989, 1991). Likely related to society’s gender biases, women and men also appear to be treateddifferently within the legal system (Hetherton & Beardsall, 1988; West, Friedman &Knoll, 2010). In the current study, men were uniformly referred for sexual predatorCopyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  11. 11. 738 S. G. West et al.classification, while four of the women were referred for evaluations that could poten-tially serve to reduce or eliminate their legal consequences. This suggests that femalesexual offenders may not be punished as harshly as their male counterparts. Recidivism Risk in Female Sex OffendersRecidivism has only recently begun to be examined in female sexual offenders. Free-man and Sandler (2008) compared the likelihood of recidivism between male(n = 315) and female sex offenders (n = 6,315). They determined that men were signif-icantly more likely to be rearrested for sexual and non-sexual crimes; to have extensivecriminal histories; to have been incarcerated prior to their sexual offense; and to havehad previous violations of their supervision. Sandler and Freeman also noted that fe-male and male sex offenders had the opposite relationships between age and the likeli-hood of reoffending; more specifically, the likelihood of recidivism increased with agein women and decreased with age in men. In comparing the women who recidivated(n = 32) and those who did not (n = 1434), the recidivists were more likely to have moretotal convictions prior to their first sexual offense (Sandler & Freeman, 2009). Anothersmaller study found no significant differences between those who reoffended (n = 16)and those who did not (n = 41) (Bader, Welsh & Scalora, 2010). In Ohio at the time of data collection, a sexual predator was defined as “an offenderconvicted of a sexually oriented offense who is found by the court to be likely to commitanother sex offense in the future” (Ohio Rev Code 2950.01E). When classified as a sex-ual predator, an offender must register for life, verify their address with the sheriff quar-terly, and give community notification (Ohio Rev Code 2950.07B1). Most of thewomen in our sample were opined to have unknown future risk of sex offending dueto a lack of empirically supported risk factors. Without further understanding ofwomen’s risk factors, courts will have similar difficulties determining the appropriatelegal designation, especially with the standard of proof set at “clear and convincingevidence.” LimitationsAs with most of the literature regarding female sexual offenders, the cohort is small.Since the population was selected based on referrals to a court psychiatric clinic, thepresence of mental illness may be elevated compared with other populations of femalesexual offenders. That each subject had a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation is astrength of the study, which increased the volume and quality of data included. How-ever objective evaluators sought to be, though, the information gathered was primarilysubjective regarding sexual orientation and history. Also because evaluations took placewithin a legal context, some subjects may have exaggerated information they consid-ered exculpatory and minimized information they considered inculpatory. Despitethese limitations, this work highlights some differences in the genders and the needfor more information regarding these women. Additionally, deeper understandings ofcomparisons to their male counterparts will inform clinicians whether or not preventionstrategies and treatment options that are effective in male sexual offenders are applica-ble to these women.Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  12. 12. Women accused of sex offenses 739 CONCLUSIONDespite society’s biases, women are capable of committing sexual offenses that havesimilar devastating and lasting consequences to those brought about by their malecounterparts. Women and men who sexually offend have fairly similar characteristics(employment, child custody, marital status, family history, legal history, sexual history,psychiatric history, number of victims). A notable difference is that women had victimsof both genders. Differences may also exist in abuse history and substance abuse historyand treatment. There has been much more energy invested in studying male sexualoffenders, including prevention of their crimes and treatment of the offenders them-selves. Further, larger-scale comparisons to male offenders are critical to determine ifwhat is known about the efforts that are useful for prevention, treatment, and recidi-vism risk prediction can be effectively applied to women. ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThe authors thank Suzanne Yang, M.D., Jennifer Gordon, Ph.D., George Schmedlen,J.D., Ph.D., and Renee Sorrentino, M.D., for their contributions to this article. REFERENCESAllen, C.M. (1991). Women and Men Who Sexually Abuse Children: A Comparative Analysis. Brandon, VT: The Safer Society Press.Bader, S.M., Welsh, R., & Scalora, M.J. (2010). Recidivism among female child molesters. Violence and Victims, 25(3), 349–362.Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) (2007). Female Sex Offenders. Washington D.C.: US Depart- ment of Justice.Faller, K.C. (1995). A clinical sample of women who have sexually abused children. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 4, 13–30.Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2006). Crime in the United States, 2005: Uniform Crime Reports. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation.Freeman, N.J., Sandler, J.C. (2008). Female and male sex offenders: A comparison of recidivism patterns and risk factors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(10), 1394–1413.Hetherton, J., & Beardsall, L. (1988). Decisions and attitudes concerning child sexual abuse: Does the gender of the perpetrator make a difference to child protection professional. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22, 1265–1283.Johannson-Love, J., & Fremouw, W. (2006). A critique of the female sexual perpetrator research. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11, 12–26.Lawson, L. (2008). Female sex offenders’ relationship experiences. Violence and Victims, 23(3), 331–343.Lewis CF, Stanley CR. (2000). Women accused of sexual offenses. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 18, 73–81.Matthews, R., Matthews, J., & Speltz, K. (1989). Female Sexual Offenders: An Exploratory Study. Orwell, VT: The Safer Society Press.Matthews, R., Matthews, J., & Speltz, K. (1991). Female Sexual Offenders: A Typology. In Patton M. Q. (Ed.), Family Sexual Abuse: Frontline Research and Evaluation (pp. 199–219). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Miccio-Fonseca, L.C. (2000). Adult and adolescent female sexual offenders: Experiences compared to other female and male sex offenders. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 11, 75–88.Oliver, B.E. (2007). Preventing female-perpetrated sexual abuse. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 8(1), 19–32.Pflugradt, D.M., & Allen, B.P. (2010). An exploratory analysis of executive functioning for female sex offen- ders: A comparison of characteristics across offense typologies. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 19, 134–149.Sandler, J., & Freeman, N. (2007). Typology of female sex offenders: A test of Vandiver and Kercher. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research & Treatment, 19(2), 73–89.Sandler, J.C., & Freeman, N.J. (2009). Female sex offender recidivism: A large-scale empirical analysis. Sex- ual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 21(4), 455–473.StataCorp. (2009). Stata Statistical Software: Release 11. College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl
  13. 13. 740 S. G. West et al.Vandiver, D.M. (2006). Female sex offenders: a comparison of solo offenders and co-offenders. Violence and Victims, 21(3), 339–54.Vandiver, DM, Kercher G. (2004). Offender and victim characteristics of registered female sexual offenders in Texas: a proposed typology of female sexual offenders. Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research & Treatment, 16, 121–37.West SG, Friedman S. H., Knoll, J. L. 4. (2010). Lessons to Learn: Female Educators Who Sexually Abuse Their Students. Psychiatric Times, 27(6).Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Behav. Sci. Law 29: 728–740 (2011) DOI: 10.1002/bsl