Sexual offending by women is surprisingly common, claims US study

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“Attention to female sexual perpetration serves important feminist goals,” the researchers said

By Christian Jarrett

A team of US researchers led by Lara Stemple at the UCLA School of Law has analysed data from several large federal crime victimisation surveys and they say their findings show that sexual offences by women against male and female victims are surprisingly common. Writing in Aggression and Violent Behaviour the researchers stress that they are in no way intending to minimise the human cost of sexual violence perpetrated by men. But they say their results are “sufficiently robust so as to compel a rethinking of long-held stereotypes about sexual victimisation and gender”.

Stemple’s team begin by pointing to data from the Center For Disease Control’s Survey of thousands of people for the “National Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Violence”. In 2011, for example, this survey showed that equal numbers of men and women reported being forced into non-consensual sex (either raped themselves or forced to penetrate someone else). Extrapolated to the US as a whole, this would represent 1.9 million victims among each sex during the preceding 12 months.

There are similar findings for sex of victim in the 2010 survey, the researchers said, and that year, the survey also included detail on the sex of offender. To illustrate the prevalence of female offending, the researchers highlighted the number of men who reported being forced by a woman to penetrate her. The survey estimated that nearly 4.5 million men in the US had at some time in their lives been forced to penetrate another person, and crucially, that in 79.2 per cent of cases the perpetrator forcing the sexual act was a woman.

Another survey the researchers looked at was the National Crime Victimisation Survey, pooling the data from 2010 to 2013. This showed that female perpetrators (without a male accomplice) were reported in 28 per cent of rape or sexual assault cases against men and 4.1 per cent of such cases against female victims.

Data from prisons collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics is equally surprising. Among female prisoners who have been the victims of sexual offences during their incarceration, they far more often report the offender to be another female inmate than a male member of staff. Indeed, contrary to stereotypes, another survey found that women prison inmates were more than three times as likely to be sexually victimised by another women inmate as compared with male prisoners’ risk of sexual victimisation by another male prisoner (bi-sexual women were at highest risk). For boys and men who are incarcerated, the prison data also show that they are overwhelmingly more likely to be sexually victimised by female staff than male staff.

National surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau are also revealing. A 2012 study asked respondents whether they had ever forced someone to have sex against their will: of those who said they had, 43.6 per cent were female (compared with 56.4 per cent of men).

Stemple’s team also considered data from college samples. Most recently, a 2014 study of 284 men and boys in college found that 43 reported having been sexually coerced, mostly unwanted sexual intercourse, with 95 per cent of the perpetrators reported as being female. An earlier survey obtained anecdotal descriptions of sexual violence from perpetrators. One woman described how she “locked the room door that we were in. I kissed and touched him. I removed his shirt and unzipped his pants. He asked me stop. I didn’t. Then I sat on top of him.”

Taken together, the researchers say that the data challenge the one-dimensional stereotype of women as only passive and harmless. Facing up to the reality of the prevalence of female sex offences actually serves feminist goals, they argue, citing another scholar who wrote that to be fully recognised, women must be “heard in all possible forms, whether in compassion, in protest or in violence”. The results also challenge stereotypes about men, they added, such as that they have “an insatiable desire for sex”, and they challenge rape myths such as that it is impossible for “a big strong man to be raped by a woman” (which the majority of students endorsed as true in a recent survey).

Moreover, it is only by recognising the reality of female sexual offending that the needs of those who offend can be properly addressed. “Female perpetration [of sexual aggression] is frequently intertwined with women’s past experience of their own victimisation”, the researchers said. For instance, evidence suggests that female offenders “have often experienced severe childhood sexual abuse themselves.”

Finally, the “culture of denial” about female sexual offending means that most female offenders are not convicted, and when they are, they receive lighter sentences, Stemple and her colleagues said. Male victims may feel pressure to interpret their victimisation experiences in a way consistent with masculine ideals, “such as the idea that men should relish any available opportunity for sex.” Meanwhile, “heterosexist” assumptions (that sexual violence is only ever perpetrated by men, usually against women) mean that lesbian and bisexual victims of female sexual aggression are “invisible to professionals”.

It’s also commonly assumed that female offenders nearly always co-offend with a male accomplice, the researchers noted, but while it is true that co-offending is more common among female offenders, data suggest they are still more likely to abuse alone.

“We call for feminist approaches – expansively interpreted – to challenge these stereotypes, making room to consider women who are abusive, power seeking, and sexually aggressive, while taking into account the troubled background many such women possess,” the researchers concluded. “Those victimised by women are doubly harmed when we fail to treat their abuse as worthy of concern.”

Sexual victimization perpetrated by women: Federal data reveal surprising prevalence

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

16 thoughts on “Sexual offending by women is surprisingly common, claims US study”

  1. Why do the new approaches have to be feminist approaches? Are we now so ideologically straightjacketed that we cannot even consider that there might be another useful and valid point of view? This axiomatic genuflection to feminist orthodoxy in the social sciences is now past the point of being ridiculous; it’s genuinely worrying. Are these researchers blinkered or frightened?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Given it was a feminist approach (thank you Mary Koss) that tried to define female on male rape out of existence, why should we use a feminist approach to female perpetration, when the feminist approach is the one that was used to protect rapists?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Why the call at the end “for feminist approaches” to consider this issue? Why not support research that doesn’t take it as a premise that all evil stems from patriarchy (a/k/a men)? A fair-minded approach seems more in order.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The patriarchy does not mean “men”. It is a way of structuring society with men held up as the head of the household, with the right to have the final say in all decisions, and consequently to take charge in all areas of society.

      Patriarchal ideas that have led us to the point where sexual violence perpetuated by women is seen as very unlikely. Presenting women as weak is what has caused this problem. Infantalising and stereotyping women as weak has harmed men as well as women. That doesn’t change the fact that we live in a patriarchal society (which holds up men as inherently superior to women). If we consider “the patriarchy” as a single entity you could say their opression of women has unintentionally backfired. Though I make this point with utmost sympathy to all victims of sexual violence where women were the aggressor.

      A feminist approach is required so that we acknowledge that the opression of women is what has led to this violence commited against all genders by women. If we acknowledge women are just as capable as men at all things, good and bad, we can go some way to combatting this problem.

      I would interested to know if, like domestic violence, a man is just as likely as a woman to have have been sexually assaulted but one gender experiences more serious and repeated assualts (in the case of DV women experience substantionally worse violence). I believe it can be an important distinction that we should not lose sight of. Previously anti-feminists have used DV stats to undermine the belief that DV affects women more than men even though male victims of DV experience less severe and sustained abuse, crucially they are less likely to die as a result.

      More concerning is the extrememly high rates of people admitting to rape, around 50% for both genders? That is really, really shocking. Clearly general education about coercion and consent needs to be upped immediately.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “A feminist approach is required so that we acknowledge that the opression of women is what has led to this violence commited against all genders by women.”

        No. That’s no more valid than saying that a Marxist approach is required, so that we acknowledge that it’s the oppression of the proletariat that has led to this violence.

        What is required, is a liberation from the intellectual, moral and imaginative straightjacket that feminism has become.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “A feminist approach is required so that we acknowledge that the opression of women is what has led to this violence commited against all genders by women”

        So, according to your feminist logic, men commit violence because they are the oppressor, yet women commit violence because they are oppressed? Laughable, and precisely why ideology such as this needs to be kept OUT of science.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s been gynocentric feminist approaches to the issue of sexual violence that’s hidden the true prevalence of female sexual offenders in the first place. Case in point:

    equal numbers of men and women reported being forced into non-consensual sex (either raped themselves or forced to penetrate someone else)

    Being forced to penetrate is rape. The reason it’s be treated as just some other unwanted sexual contact not as bad as rape is due to the efforts of feminist Mary Koss who said women forcing men into sex isn’t as serious as men forcing women into sex

    Even here:

    …to be fully recognized, women must be “heard in all possible forms, whether in compassion, in protest or in violence”…Female perpetration [of sexual aggression] is frequently intertwined with women’s past experience of their own victimization…Female offenders have often experienced severe childhood sexual abuse themselves.

    This gives the impression that a feminist approach to female predators would focus more on how female rapists are really victims themselves and just need support and compassion. Already there seems to be so much more sympathy and empathy shown towards female sexual offenders over their victims, especially if the victim is male

    A feminist approach isn’t needed to recognize that female predators are as depraved as male predators and that male victims of them are as important female victims of males

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “while taking into account the troubled background many such women possess,” the researchers concluded. “Those victimised by women are doubly harmed when we fail to treat their abuse as worthy of concern.”

    Even at our best, we can’t tear our eyes away from the story of women as victim. In an article about male victimization by women, this is the conclusion to be drawn.
    The reality is that nothing changes until women step down from their pedestal and men from their white horses. Nothing changes until we learn compassion for men.
    And feminism, whose beating heart is pure gynocentrism, is having none of that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s it. Women scarcely have to worry about what they do because in most cases they won’t be held responsible. In a very real sense women have utter freedom and almost no problems.

      Like

      1. Whilst I can empathise with your chagrin utter freedom and almost no problems is not accurate in any way about any group of people, particularly all over half of the human population.

        Like

  6. It is imperative that you do NOT use a feminist approach to follow up these findings, unless you want a result which is unscientific and skewed by ideology.

    Feminism has a clear history which is based in Marxism and seeing the gender and wider society through the lens of class conflict. This kind of thinking is inappropriate for doing any kind of scientific exploration.

    Liked by 1 person

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