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Most Female Child Molesters Were Victims Of Sexual Abuse, Study Suggests

Science Daily, May 13, 2008  

A University of Georgia study that is the first to systematically examine
a large sample of female child molesters finds that many of them were 
themselves victims of sexual abuse as children.

The finding, published in the April issue of the Journal of 
Interpersonal Violence, has the potential to help break the cycle of 
abuse by improving treatment for offenders and their young victims.

"This study informs us about the pathway to becoming sexually deviant 
for females," said study author Susan Strickland, assistant professor in 
the UGA School of Social Work. "With that knowledge, we can improve 
treatment and reduce the likelihood of future sexual assaults on children."

Strickland said the sexual abuse of minors by women has been largely 
ignored by the general public, the legal system and by academic 
researchers. Many people believe that women are not capable of 
committing such acts, she said, and the abuse of boys by women is often 
dismissed as the boys sowing their oats or even being lucky. The truth 
is that both boys and girls are molested by female perpetrators and 
these victims often suffer a myriad of consequences affecting their 
sexuality, relationships and beliefs about themselves and others. 
Childhood sexual abuse also has been linked to a host of emotional and 
behavioral problems, such as substance abuse and eating disorders.

The true prevalence of female sexual abuse on children is unknown, but a 
commonly accepted figure is that five to seven percent of sex crimes are 
committed by females. Studies on female sex offenders are rare, and most 
have been descriptive in nature, used small samples and have not used 
valid statistical measures or control groups.

Strickland's study, the largest of its kind, surveyed 130 incarcerated 
females - 60 of which were sex offenders and 70 of which were nonsexual 
offenders - and examined factors such as childhood trauma, substance 
abuse, emotional neediness and personality disorders. While the majority 
of both groups reported being the victims of childhood maltreatment, the 
sex offenders were significantly more likely to experience pervasive, 
serious and more frequent emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect.

"We've pretty much known that the majority of women in prison have had 
bad childhoods and that many suffered childhood sexual abuse," 
Strickland said. "But the subgroup of female sex offenders has suffered 
significantly more abuse, particularly sexual abuse."

Sex offenders also exhibited more social and sexual insecurities, 
inhibitions and inferiorities. Strickland said the findings suggest that 
many female sex offenders struggle with relationships and lack the 
social skills to have their needs met with consensual adult partners. 
Therefore, treatment for female sex offenders should address their past 
trauma and focus on developing appropriate social skills and increasing 
arousal to appropriate sexual and emotional encounters.

Because victims are at increased risk of becoming abusers later in life, 
Strickland said their treatment should include offender prevention 
therapy, which addresses issues of power and control, appropriate sexual 
expression and boundaries, and cycles and triggers that may lead to 
offending behaviors.

"While it appears that only a minority of girls who are sexually abused 
become offenders," Strickland said, "we can reduce that number and 
reduce the potential for further sexual assaults on children - both male 
and female - by including offender prevention in our treatment protocols."

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