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11.5 Assessing Adult Female Sexual Perpetrators

It is imperative that workers have some understanding about the differences known thus far around the differences between male and female sexual perpetrators as this will require some adaptation of the materials developed to assess male sexual perpetrators. Robinson (2002) noted some key differences that exist between male and female development/socialization worthy of note:

  • Females tend to develop their identities through relationships of intimacy and care, whereas males tend to develop their identities through independence and success
  • The moral judgment of females is based more on the ethics of caring, but the moral judgment of males tends to be based on logic, clear rules and justice
  • Females think in a more contextual and narrative manner, whereas males tend to think in linear and abstract terms
  • Females often engage in conversation to bond with someone, whereas males tend to converse for the purpose of problem-solving and giving advice
  • The emotional lives of females are expansive, but males are taught to limit their emotional displays
  • Females tend to be better at verbally expressing themselves, whereas the verbal ability of males takes longer to mature
  • The learning styles of females suggest groupwork and collaboration works best, while males tend to learn through competition and working independently
  • Females are socialized towards attachment, collaboration and emotional responsibility, whereas males are socialized towards independence, competitiveness and aggression
  • Females are less responsive to the strong motivators of status and hierarchy, whereas males are socialized to be motivated towards these elements.

There are also a number of other key differences noted in the emerging research around sexual perpetrating behaviours and these include:

  • Girls who sexually abuse are more likely than boys to have been sexually abused themselves. They are also more likely to be abused at younger ages, by more than one perpetrator, and experience more severe abuse
  • The victims of girls differ from boys. Girls are more likely to sexually abuse someone they know and less likely to abuse a stranger
  • Girls more than boys sexually abuse when they are in care taking positions
  • Girls who sexually abuse often lack positive female role models in their lives
  • Girls who abuse tend to have different mental health needs than girls. Girls tend to internalise their feelings and are thus likely to suffer with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self destructive behaviour; compared to boys who externalise (act out) their feelings, resulting in other types of criminal behaviour and defiance
  • Girls who abuse tend to be more dependent in their relationships than boys. They also tend to please others more, which is partly due to the fact that they develop their identities through relationships and do not want to risk losing them
  • Girls who abuse are often more physically and emotionally abused in their intimate peer relationships than boys who sexually abuse
  • Girls offend sometimes for different reasons than boys. Boys often abuse to feel power, be in control or feel sexually gratified. Girls abuse sometimes for relationship reasons - to get or re-establish a connection with someone - or as a reaction to their own history of being sexually abused. Females do not abuse as much for sexual reasons as do boys.
  • Girls who abuse are viewed differently in our society. They may be scrutinized more harshly than boys. They may also be perceived as victims needing protection
  • Girls do not tend to use as much force or violence
  • Girls will often sexually abuse at a younger age than boys
  • Girls are less likely than boys to enter the criminal justice system as a result of their sexually abusive behaviour

Saradjian (1996) set out a useful template based on such findings for the conduct of core assessments of female sexual perpetrators:

Issues Related to the Offending Behaviour

  • When her offending behaviour began, the number of victims, the degree of her sexual conditioning and arousal to children, i.e. how central sexual offending is in her life.
  • Level of responsibility taken for perpetration of the sexual abuse, including minimisation, denial and/or justification of the effects.
  • The degree of sadism in her offending behaviour.

The Formative Years: Infancy to Adolescence

  • Genogram (family tree) to look for patterns of relationships within her family history.
  • Details of relationships with her mother/maternal figure and her model of mothering.  Any real alternative models that were available to her and whether these had been internalised.
  • Details of relationship wit her father/paternal figure and her model of fathering.  Any real alternative models that were available to her and whether these had  been internalised.
  • Her own history of abuse: physical, sexual and emotional; and intervention, if any, that occurred.  The degree of empathy the woman has for herself as a child enduring the abusers.
  • The cognitive distortions the woman holds about herself as a result of her own abuse (hence the cognitive distortions that she is likely to make in relation to the child).
  • Relationships with siblings and/or peers throughout childhood, including both possible alternative positive models and/or negative figures.
  • Estimation of the kind of the kind of attachments she had in her early life, and the degree to which she repeats these as an adult.
  • Her experience of adolescence, particularly issues of separation and individuation; was it possible for her to separate from the family model, or was it further reinforcement of her childhood experience?

Relationship with Self and Others

  • Her self esteem and level of control she feels she has over her own life.
  • How aggressive she perceives herself to be.
  • Degree of impulsivity in her reactions and behaviours.
  • Her perception of her ability for closeness/intimacy.
  • Adult peer relationships and her experience of non-sexual, emotionally intimate relationships.
  • Her adult partners with whom she has sexual relationships.  Her feelings about these partners and those relationships.
  • The involvement any of these partners still has in her life, and the ability of that partner to be a non-abusive partner and an adult protectors of children (a full independent assessment of a permanent partner is recommended).

Stresses, Social Support and Coping Mechanisms

  • The levels of stress in her life at the time of offending and  currently.
  • The degree of social isolation, her current and present social support network, and her ability to realistically and effectively use social support.
  • Ability to understand, recognise and label her emotions.  How she deals wit her own stress and physiological arousal.
  • Her current and part mental health history.
  • Use of alcohol and other disinhibitors (e.g. child pornography).

The Children the Women Targeted

  • The beliefs and expectations the woman specifically holds about child/ren she targeted and their inter-relationship/s.
  • The cognitive distortions the woman holds about the children's experience of the sexual abuse, in particular how "sexual" she perceives the child to be, and the control she attributes to the child in relation to the abuse.
  • The beliefs and expectations the women generally hold about children and their relationships to adults.
  • The woman's understanding of child development.
  • The degree of identification she feels generally with children and her ability to separate from those children she abuses.
  • Whether or not the woman has tried to severely physically assault the child/ren.

The Woman's Experience of Sex

  • The woman's perception of her sexuality.
  • Her sexual feelings within adult relationships.
  • Her sexual feelings while sexually abusing the child.
  • Her use of "sexual fantasy", "sexual daydreaming" and masturbatory fantasies.
  • Alternative sources through which her biosocial goals could be met.

General

  • Her ability to recognise and describe her cycle of abuse.
  • Her motivation and commitment to undergo the therapy necessary for her to change her patterns of behaviour.

During the interview details of the woman's emotional and behavioural responses should be notes, along with any difficulties, reluctance or refusal to answer any questions.

References

Robinson S (2002) Growing beyond: a workbook for sexually abusive teenage girls: treatment manual. Holyoke, MA: NEARI Press

Robinson S (2004) Considerations for the Assessment of Female Sexually Abusive Youth. In Calder MC (Ed.) Children and young people who sexually abuse: New theory, research and practice developments. Dorset: Russell House Publishing.

Saradjian J (1996) Women who sexually abuse children: from research to clinical practice. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons

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