U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Female Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse: A Review of the Clinical and Empirical Literature

NCJ Number
Aggression and Violent Behavior Volume: 4 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 1999 Pages: 93-106
Alana D. Grayston; Rayleen V. De Luca
Date Published
14 pages
This paper reviews clinical and empirical literature on female sex offenders in order to develop a summary profile of female perpetrators that may be of value to professionals involved in the assessment and treatment process.
Although female perpetrators of sexual abuse are a heterogeneous mix, it is possible to draw some general and preliminary conclusions about the "typical" female offender based on the literature review. Caution must be exercised in interpreting these summary statements, however, given the small samples of perpetrators who have come to professional attention as well as the fact that studies have been uncontrolled. Tentative conclusions are that female perpetrators of child sexual abuse are young women in their 20s or 30s who are likely to have come from a dysfunctional family, possibly having experienced physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse as a child, adolescent, or adult. As an adult the female perpetrator is likely to be experiencing problems in many areas of her life. She is likely to be from the lower socioeconomic strata, and if employed may be poorly paid in a stereotypically feminine occupational role. Often, marital and peer relationships are absent, and those that do exist may be dysfunctional, abusive, or otherwise distressed. In many cases, the offender may be isolated from social supports and may suffer from a range of mental health problems. Although some female offenders may have deviant arousal and interest patterns, deriving some sexual gratification from their abusive behavior, current data also indicate that abusive women may act out for a number of other reasons, including distorted perceptions of motherly affection and unmet emotional needs. Female offenders are most likely to abuse a female child. The abuse is typically of moderate intensity, without the use of force or threats. In many instances, the sexual abuse may coexist with neglect or physical abuse. Assessment and treatment implications are drawn from these findings. 43 references