Findings: Characteristics of the Offenders
Age at Sexual Offense
A number of characteristics were examined - in particular age at first offence, abuse history, socio-economic status, education, substance abuse and degree of violence used. Information on the age of the offender at the time of their first sexual offence was obtained for all cases and averaged 33 years and a standard deviation of 9.7. One offender began offending at 17. It would appear that none of the offenders began offending as a child. These results must be interpreted with caution since file data are based on self-report of early abusive behaviour. The average age of the sample appears to be somewhat older than the norms described in the literature (Brown et al., 1984).
History of Abuse
Information on abusive history was available in 11 of 19 cases. Of these 11, 55% (6) had a history of past sexual victimisation while an additional 36% (4) had a history of verbal, physical and/or mental abuse. In other words, 91% (10 of 11) had experienced a history of abuse. In 4 of the 6 cases of past sexual victimisation, further physical, verbal or mental abuse was described. In 4 cases, the offender became sexually active in her early teens. Although it has been stated, that past sexual victimisation is common in the history of female sex offenders (Mathews, et al., 1989, Atkinson, 1995), only half of the offenders in this study indicated past sexual victimisation. However, over 90% indicated some form of abuse in their history.
Low socio-economic status is considered to be characteristic of female sex offenders (Mathews, et al., 1989). In this study, a rating of a low socio-economic status was based on principal support by social assistance and sporadic or lack of employment history. Information on socio-economic status was available for 9 of the 19 offenders. Of these 9, almost 90% (8) were rated as low in socio-economic status which is in accordance with data presented by Mathews, et al., 1989.
Mathews et al. (1989) have found that female sex offenders are often poorly educated. Information available on 9 of the female sex offenders indicated that the level of education obtained ranged from grade 5-6 to grade 11. None had pursued studies beyond high school and some had obtained further education while incarcerated.
Female sex offenders commonly have substance abuse problems (Mathews et al, 1989). In support of these findings, 12 of 13 women in this sample were found to have substance abuse problems. In 6 cases, no information on substance abuse was provided.
Offences committed by female sex offenders do not generally include violent force (Marvasti, 1986; Johnson & Shrier, 1987). In this sample, violence or its absence was noted in only 10 cases. In 7 cases, violence consisted of: hitting or beating the victim, handling the victim roughly, beating a victim with bottles and a piece of wood, holding the victim down forcibly during intercourse, threatening the victim at knife point, and killing a victim. In 3 cases, no extraneous violent force was used in the sexual assault. Information was either unclear or not available as to whether violence was part of the assault in the 9 remaining cases. Therefore, in 7 of the 10 cases, where case information was available, offenders used violence during their offences. This finding suggests that in a federally incarcerated sample of female sex offenders, violence is a common feature, contradictory to data obtained in other settings.
This study investigated the extent to which the profiles of these offenders fit Mathews et al. (1989) typology of female sex offenders: male-coerced, teacher/lover or predisposed. It was hypothesised that most women would fit the male-coerced category (Mathews, et al., 1989; Knopp & Lackey, 1987). Information on whether the women had co-offenders, was available in 18 of the 19 cases. Of these 18 women, 90% (16) had co-offenders and 10% (2) did not. Each offender's case will be examined independently in order to fully illustrate the extent to which these offenders fit a particular typology.
Of the two women who committed offences on their own, one, Offender 9, fits the typology of teacher/lover. A teacher/lover seeks a loving sexual interaction with the victim who is usually an adolescent male. She does not know she is harming
the victim in any way as the relationship appears mutually satisfactory. The offender's history includes a distant relationship with her father (Mathews et al., 1989). Offender 9's case possesses all these characteristics.
Anger as Motivation
Offender 5, the other woman who offended alone, does not seem to fit any of the typologies presented by Mathews, et al. (1989). The offender violently assaulted an adult male. The typologies neglect the occurrence of this type of offence which would appear more similar in typology to sexually assaultive men who are motivated by anger.
Male-Coerced or Male-Accompanied
Fourteen of the 16 women who had a co-offender, committed their offence(s) with a male. The other two women were co-accused for the same incidents, although inadequate information makes this unclear. Of the 14 women co-offending with males, 11 committed offences only with their husband or common-law spouse. Of the remaining three women who had male co-offenders, one woman committed offences with both her ex-husband (father of her children) and her current, common-law husband. Both an adult male friend and the offender's husband were co-accused in another woman (Offender 13)'s case. Finally, one woman committed very violent offences against her victims while accompanied by four males. This type of case is rarely presented in the literature.
Male-coerced offenders by definition commit a sexual offence with a male, primarily due to their fear of the co-offender (Mathews, et al., 1989). It is tempting to categorize all the female offenders who were involved in offences with males as male-coerced. However, a closer look at their cases reveals that such a categorization does not accurately reflect their motives or behaviour. Of the 14 women who co-offended with males, adequate information was not available to classify 5 of them into Mathews, et al's. (1989) typologies. According to file information, only 4 of the remaining 9 women can be classified as male-coerced. The first, offender was in an abusive relationship with her common-law husband at the time of the offences. She also seemed to be very dependent on her husband and was described as shy and underassertive. In addition to this, the victim of the sexual abuse was a young female. There is no evidence that this offender participated in the abuse on her own at any time. Therefore, it seems likely that she participated in the sexual as a result of force and pressure from him.
The second offender can also be classified as male-coerced. She was a victim of spousal abuse at the time of the offences, had low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, abused drugs and alcohol and victimized her own daughter. This appears to be characteristic of a male-coerced offender.
The third offender can be classified as male-coerced as she offended with her husband against 2 children. She was also described as passive and easily manipulated and controlled.
Finally, the fourth offender also seems to fit the category of male-coerced. Her victim was her daughter, she abused alcohol and had very low self-esteem. It is quite possible that her offences involved feelings of powerlessness in the relationship with her husband.
However, the five remaining women who co-offended with males do not fit the category of male-coerced for various reasons. Although one offender sexually assaulted her son and daughter with her husband, she does not seem to have the characteristics of a male-coerced offender. There is no evidence that she was victimized by the co-accused. Therefore, there is no evidence that she participated in the abuse because she was forced into it by her husband. In addition to this, violent force was used on her victims. This is also uncharacteristic of a male-coerced offender. She could more easily be classified as male-accompanied.
The second offender in this group, committed sexual offences with her ex-husband and current common-law husband against her three children. She was a victim of severe physical and emotional and sexual abuse as a child. Although information on this case is sparse, there is no clear indication that this offender was forced into sexually assaulting her children by a male.
Despite the fact that she offended with two males, the third offender in this group cannot be categorised as male-coerced for various reasons. First, she was described as a primary aggressor. In fact, this offender initiated the sexual assault on the victim. She also threatened the victim, mutilated and physically assaulted the victim. This offender was not only in control of the offence, but appears to have taken charge. Mathews et al.'s (1989) typologies do not include female sex offenders who violently offend against a non-familial female and who take a role equal to and, at times, greater than, her male co-offenders.
Similar to the third offender, the fourth offender in this group was very much in control of her choice to sexually offend. She committed very violent offences on two female victims while accompanied by four males. Instead of being victimized or helping the female victims, this offender was quite active by leading and participating in the assaults. The degree of violence described in this incident is rarely reported in the literature. Again, Mathews et al. (1989) do not adequately classify this type of female sex offender.
Finally, although the fifth offender offended with her husband at times, she more closely fits the category of a predisposed offender for several reasons. This offender initiated the abuse of her children on her own and carried out this very violent sexual abuse for a lengthy period of time. She later incorporated her husband as a co-offender in the sexual assaults. The victims were also physically abused and neglected by the offender, in addition to being sexually abused. The fifth offender was a victim of very severe abuse as a child. These conditions are characteristic of a predisposed offender.
In summary, of the 11 women for whom enough information was available, only one fits the classification of teacher/lover and one could be classified as angry/impulsive. Four were found to fit the male-coerced typology. However, 5 of the offenders fit into an older classification scheme developed by Mathews (1987): male accompanied. One of the five was both "predisposed" and male-accompanied. Male-accompanied offenders co-offend with a male and are more active participants in the abuse against their victims than male-coerced. It seems the distinction Mathews (1987) made between male-coerced and male-accompanied is important to maintain.
In summary, for this federally sentenced group of women, the two largest categories were male-coerced (4) and male-accompanied (5). The other two could be individually categorised as teacher/lover (1) and angry/impulsive (1).
The fourth objective of this study investigated whether victims of this sample of female sex offenders were generally female children of the offender; a common research finding (Mathews et al., 1989; Faller, 1987). Information on number of victims per offender was as follows: Although seven women had one victim, five women had two, one woman had three, two women had four, and one woman had six victims. In other words, of the 16 cases where victim information was available, just under half had one victim and the remainder had multiple victims. The mean number of victims was 2.44 per offender. Information was not available on the victims of one of the offenders in the sample (Offender 4). Information on the sex of the victims was not available in 15 of the 44 victims listed. Of the 29 remaining victims, 19 were female and 10 were male: there were almost twice as many female victims as male victims. This is consistent with previous research findings.
It is believed that female sex offenders tend to sexually assault their own children or those with whom they are well acquainted (Mathews et al., 1989;
Faller, 1987). In accordance with these findings, 25 of the 33 victims (76%) in this sample (where relevant information was available) were either children of the offender or children sharing a familial relationship with the offender, and 80% of these victims were the offender's own children. Where the sex of these
victims was known, seven were the offender's son, and nine were the offender's daughter. Information on sex was not available for four of the victims. Of the five child victims who were in a familial relationship to the offender, one was a stepson, three were nieces and one was a nephew.
Four of the women offended against eight adolescent or adult victims. All were strangers or acquaintances, and seven of the eight were female. In this sample of female sex offenders, victimization of individuals outside the family is relatively uncommon (24%).
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