Limitations and Contributions of the Study
Although the sample size was small (19) and quality information was not available on all cases, this study represents the first examination of female sex offenders under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada.
A number of important findings emerged. This study adds to the limited literature on female sex offenders. Examination of case studies illustrates details surrounding their offences and treatment programs as completely as possible.
This study also confirms a number of current ideas about the characteristics of female sex offenders, while it questions others. As expected, this sample were of low socio-economic status, poorly educated, and had substance abuse problems. They were also somewhat older than expected and tended to have abusive histories. One of the findings strongly challenges the belief that female sex offenders are rarely violent (Marvasti, 1986; Johnson & Shrier, 1987). Seventy percent of the female sex offenders used extraneous violence against their victims. It is important to acknowledge that this population of female offenders does exist.
In classifying the women into Mathews et al. (1987) typologies of male-coerced, teacher/lover and predisposed, it became evident that not quite as many women fit the male-coerced typology as expected. Although many of the women co-offended with males they did not seem coerced into doing so. Five of the women seemed better classified by Mathews (1987) preliminary typology as male-accompanied offenders rather than male-coerced. It is suggested that based on this study, familial and non-familial typologies be added to those described by Mathews et al. (1989).
Furthermore, some of the women offended violently on their own or in the company of males against "unconventional" victims. Mathews et al. (1989) tended to neglect this population. This study makes it evident that this population does exist. Their recognition as a distinct group will require that their distinctive treatment needs be addressed. In addition to this, identifying unconventional victims may make it easier for victims to come forward without shame. Hopefully, society as well as health care professionals will become more alert to sexual abuse of acquaintances and strangers in addition to family members.
A review of the treatment programs given to female sex offenders reveals that programming specific to their needs requires attention. There needs to be
further development of programs appropriately targeting the behaviour which resulted in sexual offending.
Atkinson (1995) has recommended specific interventions for each of the typologies described by Mathews et al. (1989). Teacher/lover, found only once in our sample, would need to deal with cognitive distortions, victim empathy, self-confidence and social skills. She describes this group as low risk to re-offend and requiring less intensive supervision.
The treatment of the predisposed requires treatment of the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse and deviant sexual fantasies. Intensive treatment is recommended but not detailed. Presumably cognitive distortions, victim empathy, anger management and social skills would also be included. It would seem appropriate to use a residential setting, with long term (5-8 months) daily sessions, in group format. Monitoring of fantasy content and orgasmic reconditioning would also be considered useful. Dealing with dissociation would require individualized treatment. Only one of the offenders in our sample fit the criteria for this typology.
Another woman who acted alone in an angry and impulsive manner against an adult male victim would benefit from many similar components: dealing with her own abuse, cognitive distortions, empathy and anger management. Deviant arousal and social skills deficits appear less likely in this case.
Male-Accompanied / Male-Coerced
Atkinson (1995) uses the Mathews, et al. (1989) typologies which do not fit half of the federal sample. Those who are, indeed, male-coerced may require little therapy if they express remorse, wish to strengthen their relationship with their victim(s) and discontinue their relationship with the abuser. Nonetheless,
intervention should be aimed at improving self-esteem and assertiveness, anger management and choosing a more appropriate male partner. Family/marital therapy may also be therapeutic. The programs examined by Atkinson, vary considerably. Some, such as Clark's, (Atkinson, 1995, p.9) focus on denial and minimization and taking responsibility, in addition to focusing on victim empathy, making amends and developing a relapse prevention plan. Larson and Maison (1995) are opposed to confrontative and goal-oriented approaches, and tend to focus on genuine respect, acceptance and love, apparently a more holistic, Rogerian approach. These issues mirror those found in working with male sex offenders. Therapists differ in style, with many preferring to slowly develop a therapeutic alliance - where respect and caring, rather than confrontation - increase the likelihood of the therapist and offender developing a positive working relationship. Programs for male sex offenders usually include work on cognitive distortions, victimization, victim empathy, social skills enhancement (assertiveness, relationship skills) as well as increasing the offender's control over deviant arousal. Developing an offence chain and relapse prevention plan are important components.
It would seem reasonable to consider male-accompanied offenders to require work on cognitive distortions, empathy fantasy/arousal and anger management, victimization and victim awareness. They would be seen as higher risk, since they are acting more independently than the male-coerced. Assertiveness and relationship (dependency) issues might be seen as less problematic than in those described as male-coerced. Although group may be the favoured form of therapeutic intervention for both men and women, there may be logistical issues which need to be addressed.
The small number of female sex offenders in any single regional facility might preclude the use of the group process. In addition, women vary in both risk level and needs. The lowest risk typology (teacher/lover) should probably not take part in a group with more aggressive, higher risk offenders. However, combining different typologies of similar risk level and need could be accomplished. In a small number of cases, the offender may be unable to take part in a group for security reasons. In these instances, although group might be the favoured format, individual therapy will be required.
Development of appropriate programs are essential for this small but high profile group of offenders. Building an appropriate evaluation strategy including long-term follow-up will help to determine the best strategy for intervening with them.
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